Monique Belle, a British events manager, is the founder of Those Guys Events and Entertainment. A Dubai resident for the past 10 years, she lives in an apartment in Jumeirah Village Circle with her Saluki dog. Ms Belle, 33, started out washing glasses in nightclubs and worked her way up the events management ladder before setting up her boutique agency four years ago. Those Guys is behind Stand Up Comedy Dubai and monthly African club music night Afrocentric and has a US tour coming up with British comedian Luisa Omielan.
How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?
I’m the second-oldest of five siblings, from a single-parent household. Sometimes finances were beyond tight. My mother ran a business development consultancy advising the government and we moved quite a bit around the UK when I was a child (Bradford in Yorkshire, London, Evesham in Worcestershire and Cheltenham in the Cotswolds), then to Martinique in the Caribbean when I was 14 (my mother is from Dominica). My sister Tamara (who is just a year younger than me) and I moved back to the UK when I was 16 for the last chunk of our education and lived in our house in Cheltenham together. I understood from an early age that it wasn’t about having a lot of money but more about how to use the money you have.
Has your attitude changed as an adult?
One thing I missed out on growing up was money education: you get pocket money, spend it on sweets and that’s the relationship you have with money. Sometimes even adults don’t understand money and budgeting - somewhere like Dubai, people get into so much debt with credit cards and loans. Now I’m in my thirties and run my own business, I think I understand money a lot better, in terms of how to make it work for you. When I have kids, it’s important they understand budgeting, bills and the value of money.
How much did you get paid for your first job?
At 12 Tamara and I set up a sweet shop at school. We noticed that the school canteen charged over the going rate and their stock was limited. We asked for a pocket money advance and got taken to the supermarket to fill the car boot with confectionery. We made £300 (Dh1,385) a week and that went on for a couple of months before we got discovered by a teacher.
Are you a spender or saver?
I’ve definitely become more of a saver but I do splurge on restaurants and holidays. This summer I’m hoping to do Baku and Georgia and, although I like to cook, eating out is more convenient because of the hours I do. I probably spend Dh7,000 to Dh10,000 a month on travel and Dh4,000 on eating out. I am good at saving, though, and have started investing too.
What is your most cherished purchase, how much was it?
I dropped out of university after a year doing event management but during that time I worked at Costa Coffee, my first proper job. I saved up for the first watch I ever bought myself, a white £100 (Dh462) Diesel watch. I still have it many, many years later.
Have you ever had a month where you feared you could not pay the bills?
A sizeable chunk of time in the earlier days of my company, in 2015. I’d left a company with a great salary but I had a lot of expenses and not a lot coming in. It got to the point where I was going to be kicked out, I didn’t have a car and had to cancel meetings because even the metro was becoming too expensive. It was scary: with trade licences and everything, I had to spend about Dh50,000, not including my Dh80,000 rent, and barely had enough left for food. It can be unforgiving: miss one step and you could end up with nothing.
Where do you save?
I save in the UAE – a regular savings account with no card or cheque book attached, to remove any temptation, and I top up my savings every couple of weeks. In my business, I save in the day-to-day operations. The immediate Those Guys team consists of five people; the rest are freelancers and third-party suppliers for bigger projects. I also do not own an office - we all work from home or business hubs. I don’t need to spend Dh60,000 to Dh100,000 a year on an office.
What do you most regret spending money on?
My sofa! It was about Dh2,500 from Ikea but, in hindsight, it’s not that comfortable for me, my partner and my dog. She’s a three-year-old Saluki mix I rescued as a puppy.
What financial advice would you offer your younger self?
You don't need that many pairs of Nike Airmax sneakers. I had to count them all when moving last year, to box them up. I have 62 pairs. At approximately Dh550 a pair, that’s Dh34,000. It’s just unnecessary. I wear beaten-up Converses and four pairs of the Nikes on rotation. The rest are just catching dust.
Do you prefer paying by credit card or in cash?
Cash. If I don't have it, I’ll wait until I do. I hate credit cards and am glad to say I’ve never had one.
What has been your best financial investment?
I started out thinking I needed an investor or bank loan for the business but, with the network I’ve built, starting small and reinvesting works much better, and the results have finally come to fruition. And I recently invested Dh30,000 into a food truck, Au Burger, which serves Caribbean food. It was a resale - I was lucky to get it. It’s an extra revenue stream: when you set up events, you’re paying people to provide food when you could be running it yourself.
Do you have a financial plan for the future?
I’d like to have another couple of properties in the future. I’ll continue to invest into the company too. I’m really interested in Africa - for events and personally. I have African heritage (my father is from the Ivory Coast) and there’s a lot of development going on in Ghana and Kenya. I’m hoping to go to Ghana this year to check out the scene. Africa’s definitely the way forward for the future. One of the events I work on with a friend, we’re thinking how to copy and paste it there.
If you won Dh1 million, what would you do with it?
I’d give Dh50,000 each to my new niece, who’s seven weeks old, and my three nephews – but with a clause that they could only use it for a deposit on a property. Half I’d put into the business, to pay for a much bigger marketing plan to get people to know Those Guys as a group, not just the individual entities, and a business development person for corporate events. The rest I’d put into property.
What would you raid your savings account for?
My 25 per cent house deposit. I’m in the process of buying a two-bedroom house in Jumeirah Village Circle for Dh1m, with a garden for the dog.