Money & Me: ‘Money allows you to indulge in things that will make you happy'

Entrepreneur Selina Waterman-Smith believes in trusting her instinct when making risky decisions

Selina Waterman-Smith, an entrepreneur focused on mental health and life coaching, says she is frugal and always saves for rainy days. Pawan Singh / The National

British-born entrepreneur Selina Waterman-Smith set up her first venture during university and later became a contestant on The Apprentice UK TV series.

She has worked in media, invested in a removals and shipping start-up, run a successful events company that operated in the UK, Ibiza and at major Middle East fixtures, and created a thriving UAE food delivery and catering portfolio.

Last year, Ms Waterman-Smith qualified as a RCSI life coach, neuro-linguistic programming coach, hypnotist and hypnotherapist and set up Sanctuary Coaching and Wellness, delivering one-to-one consulting and executive coaching, with wellness retreats and self-development seminars in the pipeline.

Ms Waterman-Smith, 38, is single and lives in Downtown Dubai.

How were you exposed to money during childhood?

My father’s business was on the way to being hugely successful and then, due to family tragedy, we nearly lost everything; my mother passed away when I was three.

One of my strongest memories is being in the car with my brother and dad almost in tears because he did not have money for petrol. Then, he secured this contract paying him 50 per cent (upfront). The times where we almost did not have food and heating I think were quite common.

We probably looked good from the outside and I ended up securing a scholarship to private school, but we never really had enough.

Does that resonate now?

With mindset coaching, we learn that your formative years are when you create your beliefs about the world. We had money, then we did not have it and then we had it. I saw those patterns playing out in my own life.

While I have always been OK, as dad was, I have chosen a difficult career, to be an entrepreneur, which is characterised by oscillating finances. These beliefs established in childhood kind of perpetuate throughout adulthood.

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I am not a fritterer. I am quite discerning about what I spend on and love deals
Selina Waterman-Smith, entrepreneur

Did you work while growing up?

For pocket money, I cleaned my father’s car inside and out. I would receive £1 (Dh4.9). I have probably had 30 different jobs. I have worked solidly since I was 15.

My first was in stables and then bar and restaurant work, waitressing, hospitality; I worked with Gary Rhodes’s Michelin-star restaurant. If I did not earn, I would not have money.

Children, especially girls, need stuff. I was encouraged to fend for myself. Being hugely independent, having to make my own way, is one reason I started down the entrepreneurial path.

What was your debut venture?

I set up my first business at 21. I had gone to university and had the absolute minimum (student) loan because I was from a single-parent family, which meant I had to take a full-time job. Everyone else had two parents and did not have to work. Also, I did not have an option of going home during summer holidays, so I had to stay and pay rent.

During my teenage years, I was going to raves around the country, so I set up an agency for dancers and performers catering to the nightlife industry … the humble beginnings of my events company. I was able to work with the biggest DJs in the world – Armin van Buuren, Sander van Doorn and Ferry Corsten.

How did that lead to the UAE?

My events and entertainment company was doing weddings, corporate events, all the big nightlife festivals, but I was about 24 or 25 and coming out of my love of being up all night.

I was offered a job with the Ministry of Sound and Hed Kandi in Egypt. I lasted six months and decided to move to Dubai. You have to follow what your instinct is telling you, otherwise [you] end up miserable.

Selina Waterman-Smith has an emergency fund in the UK and a high-interest savings account. Pawan Singh / The National

Most people live in the comfort zone, frightened to take a step and see what is on the other side. I went into events because I loved raves, grew out of it, then went into the food business because I was a big foodie and then into mindset coaching.

Those decisions have been risky but if you follow your heart, it will never not be beneficial to your happiness, mental health and your finances. I have made money doing these things.

What is your spending and saving attitude?

I am surprisingly frugal. I never blow all my money and have always saved for rainy days.

I am a massive bargain hunter. I love fine dining, flying business class and designer goods, but am also cautious about what I spend on, which makes it go further.

I am not a fritterer. I am quite discerning about what I spend on and love deals, buying in sales or second-hand from The Luxury Closet.

Also, I enjoy seeing new places. I prefer luxury travel but also love to mix it up. I have done my fair share of backpacking and spent four months travelling around South America this year.

How do you save?

I have got an emergency fund in the UK. I am not savvy when it comes to stocks, bonds or cryptocurrency, so I have a high-interest savings account. I did not even have a credit card but recently applied for an Emirates Skywards card as it saves you money based on what you are spending; your money is working for you.

I have had businesses I have financed and constantly balanced cash flow and revenue, so I keep things simpler in my personal life.

What has been your best investment?

Self development – the mindset coaching and neuro-linguistic programming – because when you change your inner world, everything around you starts to change, the more you enjoy life, regardless of anything external.

You could have not much money and could simply be happy as a clown. I constantly invest in myself doing courses, looking after my body and mind.

What is your key financial milestone?

When one of my businesses, Beast Mode Nutrition, did £1 million ($1.32m) in revenue in its first year and it was really just me running it. Even Deliveroo said it was a complete anomaly in the market because independent brands do not do those kind of numbers.

What is your most cherished purchase?

My Infiniti FX 35. It was about £20,000, my first really nice car. I have had that 10 years and still love it. Being able to buy that for myself … it is not like anyone pays me a salary, my earnings enabled me to treat myself.

What do you think about money?

It has always represented freedom. You can go anywhere, do anything if you have money in your pocket. It is energy, especially as an entrepreneur. Similar to water or a tide, it flows and ebbs, and it is nothing to be attached to. It is still motivation but not the main one.

I probably could have made more going into law or being a surgeon, similar to someone else in my family, but I prefer variety and freedom. Then money is a by-product of that.

Does it make you happy?

Happiness comes from within but money allows you to indulge in things that might make you happy. There is a difference between short-term pleasure and long-term happiness. We need money to live but it is something that people focus on too much and our capitalist society encourages us to believe more money and consumer goods make us happy.

Quite a few men that I coach are in high-pressure, high-level executive jobs and they suffer because the kind of patriarchal society we are in does not allow them to say: “I am stressed … I have to earn this amount, I am the breadwinner from the family.”

The pressure they are under to maintain that financial lifestyle is immense. When you have those kinds of salaries, it is important to manage your goals against your gratitude.

Are you wise with cash?

I never spend everything that I earn but I do not have stocks, bonds and I have not bought property, so I feel there is some stuff I have missed out on because I am self-employed.

Had I found a corporate job, I probably would have those financial milestones. Our lives are a product of choices we make and I chose a career path that is quite unstable. I have chosen to upset the applecart, walk away from something really successful and take risk.

What are your future financial goals?

To own property, even if it was a buy-to-let. When I have more financial freedom and time off, I plan do more philanthropic things. I enjoy doing pro bono coaching when I can but I would love to do more charity work, especially in the UAE.

I want to maybe work with wellness clinics in Dubai, to do local and international retreats mainly geared around women in business and female communities and, eventually, I want to do seminars, public and motivational speaking.

And maybe write books. Retirement is in the back of my mind but not something I worry about … I am enjoying the present moment.

Updated: December 9th 2021, 12:13 PM