Money & Me: 'My financial responsibilities as a single mum are huge'

Entrepreneur and mother-of-two Chelsea van der Spek says she never buys anything she cannot afford


Chelsea van der Spek, founder of Tiny Bean Events, which runs arts and fashion markets and private functions.

(Photo by Reem Mohammed/The National)

Reporter: DAVID GUNN
Section:  BZ
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As the owner of Tiny Bean Events, Australian Chelsea van der Spek organises regular pop-up shopping fixtures in Abu Dhabi and Christmas fairs in Dubai as well as children’s parties, corporate functions and private events for royalty. The 40-year-old single mother, lives with her two daughters, Sofia,12, and Arabella, 10, in Meadows, Dubai.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

I grew up in Sydney and then Jakarta, from 11. I don’t know if you’d define it as luxury but I had a ‘privileged’ upbringing. I’ve got a younger sister and travel was part of our lifestyle. My dad’s background is finance, a chief financial officer of advertising agencies. My parents never bought anything unnecessarily. They were conservative, but we had everything. We weren’t spoiled and that has shaped me. I received pocket money; AUS2$ (Dh5) a week, but that was enough to sustain going out as a teenager in Jakarta. Once I’d spent that, I didn’t get anything else. That was what I had to work with.

Later I went to university in Christchurch, New Zealand, but didn’t finish my science degree; dissecting a dogfish was not my idea of fun. I went to Australia to put myself through hotel school, aged 20. My parents said ‘we’ve paid for your education already, if you want to do anything else it’s up to you’. So I took out a personal loan. Because it was my money I couldn’t fail - I’d spent AUS$10,000 and had to make that money back.

How much were you paid in your first job?

I was an extra in a movie called Emma's War, when I was nine. I earned AUS$25 a day; back then, that was amazing. Saturdays I went to an acting class and they came and did auditions. I was so excited I don't think the cheque ever got banked. When I was 19 I got fired from a shoe shop in Bondi Beach because I refused to climb ladders to the shelves. I lasted two hours. They gave me AUS$20 taxi money.


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What brought you to the UAE?

I followed my family in 2007 but came with a vision of starting a business. I was Qantas cabin crew for 11 years, until 2010. I was given two years' maternity leave for Sofia and that’s when I started the business. If it didn’t work I’d reassess and have something to go back to.

I did Arabella’s third birthday at Montgomerie Golf Club, Dubai. From that party I got three bookings, from people in the restaurant who came over. The time came to choose; I decided to take the risk, leave a stable job and invest in myself. Tiny Bean Events - Arabella is ‘Bean’ and Sofia is ‘Tiny’ - is 10 years old this month.

Do you ever worry you might not be able to pay the bills?

I budget throughout the year knowing there are no events in the summer and I’ve got to have enough money to get me through. I’ve got an office, warehouses, license (to fund). I go through contracts over summer and pitch tenders so the work starts again in September. There’s always that moment, ‘what if people don’t want me for events?’ It’s really scary because my financial responsibilities as a single mum are huge; I’m constantly worried about the next school fees. Being in charge of my own destiny was a motivation (to start the business), but also your children are a motivation for anything financial that you do. I’ve got the responsibility of two little girls who need certain things I have to provide as a single mother.

Are you a saver or a spender?

I’m a bit of both, if I have the money. I don’t buy anything that I can’t afford. I know what I have to save and what my future expenses are. If there’s money left over I do a bit of both.


Chelsea van der Spek, founder of Tiny Bean Events, which runs arts and fashion markets and private functions.

(Photo by Reem Mohammed/The National)

Reporter: DAVID GUNN
Section:  BZ

Where do you save?

I have a business account and a personal account. Once all the business stuff is paid I transfer whatever’s left into my personal account and that’s how I save. I have shares; I invested in Qantas a long time ago.

What is your best investment?

The company licence and the props and tools of my business, such as tables and chairs. If I didn’t invest there would be no money made. After Christmas I’ll buy stuff I need ready for the next Christmas season.

What is your philosophy towards money?

It’s there to be enjoyed; you can’t take it with you. I work hard and I enjoy it. I don’t buy fancy cars - I’d rather have money for other things than paying off an expensive car loan.

What is your most cherished purchase?

I went to London with a VIP to do a red carpet event for 10 days. I thought ‘I want something to remember this by’, so I went to Tiffany & Co and bought a ring. It was the highlight of my events career so far; when I look down at that ring it’s a reminder.

Is there anything you regret spending on?

A bad investment; in a restaurant in Brisbane. I should have invested back into my own business rather than someone else’s vision.


Chelsea van der Spek, founder of Tiny Bean Events, which runs arts and fashion markets and private functions.

(Photo by Reem Mohammed/The National)

Reporter: DAVID GUNN
Section:  BZ

What are you happiest spending money on?

Travelling with the girls, to Bali. We do it every summer. It’s my time to spend with them – no events.

Are you wise with money?

I have to be. I’ve always been really sensible and don’t buy anything I can’t afford. I managed to negotiate with the school to pay fees monthly as opposed to Dh120,000 straight up, because that would wipe me out. That makes a huge difference. If it’s a big purchase I shop around, check prices everywhere. I have budgets for the kids’ Christmas presents. This is my busiest time of the year, but between Christmas and the end of January will be a quiet time, so I need money set aside for that.

Do you plan for the future?

Not consciously, but I’ve got to get the kids through school. I’m hoping they’ll think about university in Australia so we can take advantage of government subsidised education. But if they go to university in England, to be closer to me, I’ll have to put money aside. I’d like to invest in property here, something small for myself when the girls leave home and they have somewhere to come home to.

What would you raid your savings for?

For a last-minute vacation, something fabulous, knowing I’ve got a job coming up. I’ve done it before when my girlfriends said ‘let’s go to Milan for the weekend’. I’ve got a certain amount I don’t like to go below in the bank, though.