Money & Me: ‘I try to be conscious of my financial decisions’

Zamin Dharsi, founder of brand consultancy Thursday Creative, says his best investment was his university education

Zamin Dharsi, founder of Thursday Creative, first started working at the age of 14. Antonie Robertson / The National
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As a creative director and strategist for 16 years, Zamin Dharsi helped famous brands localise their marketing before recently launching his agency, Thursday Creative.

Born in Dubai to parents of Zanzibari-Omani and Indian descent, he has worked with the likes of Estee Lauder, Boeing, Samsung, MAC Cosmetics, McDonald's, Nespresso, Nutella and Zippo.

Mr Dharsi, 36, lives in Jumeirah Village Circle with his puppy, Coco.

Was your family wealthy or poor?

Both at one point or another growing up, it shaped who I am today.

My father was a banker. We had a fairly average middle-class life. At that time, I thought we were quite wealthy; I went to a good private school and had the first computer on the block.

Then, my parents divorced. I moved with my mum to the US when I was 10. She worked three jobs; as a cashier at Walmart and Bloomingdale’s and as an interpreter.

It was tough. There wasn’t pocket money, because it was spent putting a roof over our heads, a tiny apartment on the wrong side of the bridge.

Before moving, my mum was a hospital pathology assistant, but in the US her credentials no longer counted.

When did you first earn?

I was 14, serving ice cream and cakes, not because I wanted a job - if I wanted anything I had to get it myself.

I would leave school and go to work, paid $4.50 an hour “under the table”. I made less than minimum wage but was happy with it.

After that, I worked as a supermarket cashier, as a florist and, after graduating high school, in a call centre for $12 an hour.

Any lessons there?

The biggest was adaptability and resilience. Life is long and you don’t know what will come at you.

I feel blessed to have experienced early what life was like in great conditions and dire. Life is a constant cycle; things go down, things go up and it kind of works out.

Why return to Dubai?

I was working in a US marketing agency and hated it so, on a whim, I quit and travelled.

I ended up in Dubai, got offered freelance work and then a full-time job, so I stayed. That was 12 years ago.

Why enter your profession?

I was a creative child, always drawing, but I told my mum I was going to become a pharmacist or doctor.

She explained that success is being able to do something that naturally comes to you; if I wanted to be truly successful, I should follow my passion.

I took art classes and met a professor who told me to apply for the graphic design programme. I almost stumbled into my career with lots of great people guiding me along the way.

It’s wonderful to see things you dream up and bring to life on TV or Sheikh Zayed Road billboards.

How did Thursday Creative happen?

All my life, people told me to do it. A big reason I didn’t was financial security, not having a steady pay cheque.

But it got to where I was burnt out, felt a bit limited, got talking to a friend in a similar space and we decided to take a leap of faith.

It’s been hard to figure out things like maintaining a budget and salaries, but you learn quickly enough when you’re passionate about what you do.

A priority for my financial sanity was to build a pot to regulate salaries and make sure the first months were covered.

Have your spending habits evolved?

In my twenties I spent a lot and was quite frivolous. In my thirties, debt started catching up with me and that is when I gained a savings mentality.

The majority of my late twenties and early thirties were paying back student loans and credit cards.

Debt-free, I put my savings hat on and started thinking about things like retirement. A light bulb goes off and over the past six years, saving has been key.

That hasn’t changed with the business; I’m not able to do it (currently), but the attitude is still there.

I was saving to buy a home. That’s not happened, unfortunately, but I’m hoping it will.

How do you grow wealth?

A mix of crypto and savings. I’m not particularly great with financial information … the stock market requires a lot of energy that I don’t have.

I am quite old school in that I prefer to keep money mainly in the bank, with some crypto because it’s interesting.

What is your best investment?

My university education. I’m the first graduate in my family and the opportunities I’ve had, what I’ve been able to do for myself and my family because of that … I was $100,000 in debt, but it’s been a good debt to have.

Any financial milestones?

Closing my last credit card was a wonderful moment.

I moved to Dubai and made mistakes … I got cards in my early twenties. Then I had that moment: “Wait a second, what am I doing?”

The majority of my late 20s and early 30s was paying back student loans and credit cards
Zamin Dharsi, founder, Thursday Creative

Another was buying a new car that’s completely electric, so not dependent on fuel prices changing.

In general, I’m trying to be more conscious of my financial decisions. I’ve reached this place in life … thinking about what I am doing in terms of building future wealth, about the future generation, and what I can do that will hopefully help my family.

So, you've splurged in the past?

Absolutely. I’m interested in design, so when I got to Dubai, I found an apartment and changed everything … the floor and doors.

One month, my entire salary would go into rent, and another month my credit card. Zero regrets, though. It was a tough period and I learnt from it and got it out of my system.

I’m a keen and avid shopper, I still enjoy interior design, clothing and bags, but I’m very savvy and good at spotting deals, especially with savings in mind.

I think about longevity before a purchase and whether I will I actually use it.

What else do you enjoy spending on?

My love language is buying things for others. That’s how I show care for my family, for example.

A lot of the things I cherish I’ve actually gifted. I can give back to my mum for all the hard work and sacrifices she made.

And I enjoy travelling with friends. It lets you absorb the heartbeat of a community, understand what people are like; have conversations with locals and understand their aspirations and beliefs.

We live in a world where we think purchases are what make you happy, but it’s the experiences that you have.

How do you feel about money?

There’s part of me, based on how I was raised, that immediately tenses up around the word.

On the other side, there’s an understanding that money means freedom and the ability to live happily.

Encircling all those words is the idea that money doesn’t mean anything because you can survive with it, and survive without it.

Money means comfort. Money can buy you happiness, but that happiness means nothing if it doesn't come with stability.

Updated: November 24, 2023, 6:02 PM