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Gen Z in the MENA region wants to save. But just don’t know how

Gen Z needs new budgeting methods to save money in a volatile economy

Gen Z in the MENA region wants to save. But just don’t know how
[Source photo: Anvita Gupta/Fast Company Middle East]

Gen Z struggles to save money in an unstable economy, where they must recalculate what they’re spending on as inflation rises.

The online conversation surrounding Gen Z’s financial issues is ever-evolving. New budgeting trends, like “Cash Stuffing” and “Financial Cleanses,” appear every few months.

Cash Stuffing is a rebranded version of the tried and tested envelope budgeting method, which involves dividing your monthly income into different spending categories and physically placing cash in envelopes labeled for each category. You can only spend what you have allocated in each envelope.

Meanwhile, TikToker Seema Sheth created a “30-day financial cleanse” to help people manage their finances — she advises her viewers to break down their subscriptions and cancel anything that they’re not actively using or isn’t worth the cost.

This is to say that while Gen Z are money-conscious, they’re still struggling to find the balance between cutting unnecessary costs and living a comfortable life.

Twenty-five-year-old Mariam Solika uses the cash stuffing method, where all her expenses are categorized in a spreadsheet consisting of needs, wants, miscellaneous, and savings.

Rent, groceries, transportation, and medical expenses are some of the things that fall under Solika’s “needs.” Her “wants” include shopping, travel, and home decor, among other things, while “miscellaneous” consists of any emergency or unexpected expenses that would pop up throughout the month and, finally, savings. 

Solika says she did thorough research to learn how to manage her expenses; she explains that ideally, 50% of her salary would go to needs, followed by 30% for wants and 20% for savings.

She explains this strategy was super helpful for someone who’s first heading into adult life, “Learning to manage my finances took a lot of research. It was the first time I was responsible for my life without the help of my family.”

Twenty-six-year-old Omar Ibrahim shares his strategy for budgeting, which is somewhat similar to Solika’s. Omar begins each month by setting aside money for rent, electricity, internet, water, and housekeeping, and settles outstanding credit card debt from the previous month.

He adds it’s still extra challenging since he moved out from his parents’ home recently. “Before moving out, I didn’t have to worry about any costs other than my cell plan and the family home’s internet package and electricity bill,” he says.

“Whatever was left, I would spend and save for a rainy day fund,” Ibrahim adds.


According to Deloitte’s 2023 Gen Z and Millennial Survey, More than half of Gen Z (51%) say they live paycheck to paycheck (up five percentage points from 2022), while 46% have taken on either a part- or full-time paying job in addition to their primary job to make ends meet.

Solika says her generation is being underpaid. She explains that Gen Z in the Middle East could not live independently from their parents if they wanted to. “Companies pay younger employees less because they believe Gen Z lives with their parents, not a household’s sole provider.”

According to the World Bank, the Middle East’s GDP per capita growth is expected to decline to 1.6% from 4.4% in 2022. Higher inflation occurred mainly in oil-importing countries such as Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia. Their current accounts were hit by increased prices of food products and oil, coinciding with high debt levels and worsening global financial conditions.

Egypt alone is going through its worst period of inflation. The Egyptian pound has depreciated by nearly 60% in the past year, pushing inflation to a record high of 37.4% in August, up from 36.5% in July.

“Egypt’s inflation and fluctuation forces you to adjust your budget every single day,” says Cairo-based Solika.

“Every month, you find your budget plan completely useless because while inflation continues to rise, your salary remains the same,” she adds. 

Rola Kabbani, strategy and financial consultant at Beltone Financial in Cairo, says, “Gen Z is dealing with some budgeting challenges in today’s complex economic environment, which includes the ongoing effects of COVID-19, geopolitical events like the Ukraine War, and rising inflation.”

Solika explains how Egypt’s economy affects her ability to live a relatively comfortable life. “The margin for your needs continues to rise, and the one for your wants steadily declines.”  

She says she’s trying to be mindful of her spending, which causes her great stress, but not budgeting is worse for her mental health.

Ibrahim’s “wants” have also taken a backseat. “To save money, I’ve started going and eating out less. I invite my friends to hang out with me at my place more often; I look for BOGO or similar offers at supermarkets; I compare prices between premium and generic products and see where I can make compromises.”

Kabbani explains that the current economy has a mixed impact on Gen Z’s budgeting habits: “On one hand, economic uncertainty can make them more careful and mindful about their spending, as they are aware of the need for financial stability. On the other hand, stagnant wages and inflation can make it harder for them to meet their financial goals.”

Solika’s strategy now is to add up her spending at the end of each week. She explains it’s a happy medium between being too careful and careless of her spending.


According to Deloitte, social media is also a source of financial anxiety for Gen Z; 51% of Gen Z and 43% of millennials say social media makes them want to buy things they cannot afford.

“Gen Z’s strong online presence makes it tempting for them to engage in impulse buying, subscribe to various online services, and be influenced by trends they come across on platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube,” says Kabbani.

However, Kabbani says that Gen Z’s connection to social media and technology has also come in handy in certain aspects. “They often use mobile apps and digital tools to track expenses, set budgets, and save money. They are into investing in the stock market at an early stage of their life even as students as they are much more aware of the growing financial needs of the era.”

Anthony Walsh, financial planner and author of the book People Are Lying To You About Money, highlights the endless possibilities that now sit at the tip of Gen Z’s fingers. He explains that social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok have evolved into platforms that provide free educational content.


Solika says that current social media memes reflect this generation’s lack of financial literacy more than their struggle. “It shows how uneducated we are about personal financing and budgeting.”

She talks about the girl math on TikTok, saying it encourages mindless spending. “There’s the expectation that their family will provide if they need extra money.”

Walsh says Gen Z’s biggest hurdle is knowing oneself, “Personal finance is about enabling goals, and if you don’t know what you’re budgeting for, it becomes really difficult to save.”

Kabbani suggests that Gen Z start with four budgeting methods, the first of which is zero-based budgeting, yet another variation of Cash Stuffing and envelope spending, a strategy that Solika has implemented. 

Kabbani also talks about the importance of having an emergency fund covering at least three to six months of living expenses for unexpected situations.

Her third tried and tested method is setting up automatic transfers to savings accounts to ensure consistent savings. Walsh calls this the “pay yourself first” method. He recommends about 15% of your salary. 

“This way, before you pay any bills, you pay yourself first; you know you’ll have money to finance your goals when needed. You can then spend the rest of your money in your checking account guilt-free since you already got yourself covered,” Walsh says

Finally, he says regularly monitoring and categorizing expenditures to identify areas where they can cut back is essential.

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