Money & Me: ‘I wish I’d started saving sooner’

Paula Jacobson, founder of Do The Most impact consultancy, says she only started putting aside a portion of her salary two years ago

Paula Jacobson launched Do The Most consultancy to help businesses do more meaningful work. Khushnum Bhandari / The National
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Paula Jacobson is the founder of Do The Most, a “people culture and impact enterprise” that consults with small and medium-sized enterprises to help make their work more meaningful.

Born in Britain to Scottish and English parents, she was previously director of people and culture at Huda Beauty.

Ms Jacobson has worked in hospitality, luxury travel and as cabin crew for Virgin Atlantic.

She also recently launched a surf therapy organisation.

Ms Jacobson, 41, arrived in Dubai 10 years ago. She lives with her Chihuahuas, Hermione and Minerva, in The Views, Dubai.

Was there wealth in your family?

My mum and dad came from humble beginnings. Mum lived in a council house, a shared bathroom with three other families. She walked to school with holes in her shoes. Dad grew up next to Liverpool Football Club's training ground.

Both worked and we had a really comfortable childhood. From what I’ve been told, there were early years when they couldn’t afford heating, but my memories are of me and my sister in a nice house, all the creature comforts.

Did you recognise monetary values?

Dad was in telecoms software and would go into a struggling company and turn the revenue around.

Mum probably made us understand the value of money with the stories about her tough upbringing. She would acknowledge how grateful she was. She would say things like: “If you look after the pennies, the pounds look after themselves.” She would always hunt for a bargain, negotiate a discount. She had a strong work ethic, as we did.

When did you first earn?

About 14, in a bakery making greasy breakfast baps for mechanics next door, part time for about £3 ($3.80) an hour. I’d get cash in an envelope.

I worked throughout school and university, bartending, waitressing jobs. I wanted the feeling of earning my own money, not relying on others, being able to treat my parents.

Virgin was my first full-time job. As a kid I wanted to do something creative, like be a photographer, an artist, but it was not going to earn me money, so I thought I’d think about it by travelling and getting paid for it.

I stayed in the industry and went to luxury tour operator Cox & Kings. People were spending tens of thousands on one holiday. I thought: “I’m not sure I’m going on one of these holidays if I continue to work here.”

Why Dubai?

I wanted a life change and this is a place where opportunities are huge, people are very ambitious and career-focused.

I wanted to propel myself, career-wise. I travelled here a few times with Virgin and had a friend I went to university with who moved out and set up dubizzle.

What prompted Do The Most?

I wanted to help businesses do more meaningful work. I’m not going to do that working for one company, trying to drive it from inside one organisation, I needed to be out there campaigning and working with several people who are influential, big thinkers, visionaries.

Any impact a company has, has to come from within. That starts with the company’s purpose, and usually that purpose comes from the founder, owner or senior people.

Was it tough leaving a salary?

Financially, it was a massive sacrifice. I could have stayed with Huda Beauty, gone for a C-suite position, but money isn’t the be all and end all.

A lot of people don’t realise the amount companies invest in you, not just salary, on your visa, health insurance.

I knew the value of it and took a massive gamble by leaving. I actually didn’t know what I was going to do, took time off to figure it out and travelled for four months.

If you work solidly until you retire, you never get the chance to reflect on how you can do better. I volunteered for redundancy, so I had a little to play with.

Has your spending outlook evolved?

I’ve been more thorough monitoring where money is going, adjusted in terms of what I used to fritter because it adds up.

I’ve supercharged my sustainability mindset. Instead of spending on fast fashion, for example, I am wearing what’s in my wardrobe or buy something to last 10 years. I also try to sell stuff I’ve got instead of throwing it away. It’s not just about wasting money.

I’ve always been a people pleaser with spending. I find talking about money in a lot of scenarios uncomfortable.

I don’t like asking people to pay me back. I would pay the bill in a restaurant rather than have the awkwardness of splitting it.

And saving?

I wish I’d started sooner. It wasn’t until 2021/2022 that I put a decent chunk of my salary into an offshore account. Shares and stocks feel like a massive blind spot. I’d love to find smarter ways to invest and build more pots in different ways and places.

I’ve never learnt properly about money, but have found a way to make peace with it.

I want time and money to be able to focus on things that aren’t necessarily paid, but for environmental impact, people and the planet
Paula Jacobson, founder, Do The Most consultancy

What were your smartest buys?

A foundational course on leading sustainable corporations I did online during my time at Huda Beauty – to upskill myself so that one day I could do things that make a difference.

That was an amazing investment. It’s given me so much confidence to enter new networks that can lead to business or make an impact.

My house by the beach in Newquay, Cornwall (England), is my best investment. Prices are going up and I have it rented on Airbnb so I can go and enjoy it myself.

Any meaningful purchases?

Plane tickets to the UK to see family. My mum had cancer and my regret is not spending more going to see her more. To me, that’s meaningful.

She died in 2018. Me and my sister spent a lot on things to make us feel better; retail was our form of therapy. It was not money wasted because it helped us through a really tough time.

Can money bring happiness?

Yes, because it provides security. Health is number one, so if you’re not healthy, you’re not happy and for me, you need money to be healthy. Having peace and health in your life costs.

I splurged by moving apartments; it’s twice the price of the one I was in, but I’m much happier. I know the value of that.

I also bought art I like and it’s helping an artist who wants to make his way.

Any future goals?

As long as I believe in the work I’m doing, I’ll happily work until the day I die, but having flexibility and enough money and comfort to be able to say no to projects I don’t believe in.

A milestone in the future will be getting back to where I feel I can really treat myself.

I’m also doing a couple of pro-bono projects … I want time and money to be able to focus on things that aren’t necessarily paid, but for environmental impact, people and the planet.

Updated: August 14, 2023, 3:51 AM