Dubai has a reputation for being very expensive, and it’s still mostly deserved, but new hotels and affordable restaurants keep opening so it’s now within the budget of many backpacker-types. Those who are interested in seeing what all the fuss is about can now usually find an affordable hotel and meals, at least outside of the peak season.
During December and January the Dubai hotels charge their highest rates so this is a time to avoid for those on a budget. Otherwise you can often find very good hotel rates at some of the newer and nicer places. Most hotels are modern and clean, and are of international standards.
Food does tend to be quite expensive in the sit-down restaurants in hotels and otherwise aimed at tourists, but there are plenty of reasonably priced options that are mostly there to serve the city’s ever-expanding international population. In other words, eating out in Dubai can be cheap if you follow the local workers or somewhat expensive if you follow the tourists and other expats. Drinks, however, are only available in hotels and licensed shops, and prices are quite high. This isn’t the place to come to be a cheap drunk.