Tuesday, November 29, 2022

How I manage my money: A toymaker, 52, makes up to £2,000 a month while traveling in a van

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Paola founded her bubble toy company Dr. Zigs when their youngest son, Ziggy, was a toddler

In our How I Manage My Money series, we aim to find out how people in the UK spend, save and invest to help them meet their costs and achieve their goals.

This week we speak to Paola Dyboski, 52, who travels most of the year and lives with her youngest son Ziggy, 13, in a 2005 Hymer B595 Camper Van named “Bobbelix”.

Paola, who has two other children, Gatto, 26, and Bambi, 23, is the self-proclaimed “bubbler in chief” at Dr. Zigs, a bubble toy manufacturer based in Wales. Money was a taboo subject for Paola as a child growing up in Italy, and for the first few years that she was Dr. Zigs, she hated charging people for her products.

However, Paola’s relationship with money has changed over time and she is determined to use it to grow her business and support causes close to her heart.

I was born in Milan, Italy, and my father worked as a managing director of an advertising agency as a child and made good money. However, Italy experienced many challenges in the 1970s and 1980s and it was the era of the Red Brigades, a group that is now classified as a terrorist organization. When I was 11 I saw someone being shot at and two young men were machine gunned to death in front of my school.

When I was 14, something happened to my parents’ finances. My father retired and there were other problems. I don’t know the whole story as we never talked about money. It was a taboo subject.

After becoming an activist at school, I left home at 17 and went to London before traveling for many years. When I was 26, I was visiting Europe again and met the father of my two oldest children. He lived in Wales and that’s how I ended up there.

I have a very varied work history and have always worked for myself apart from two weeks when I was in London in my early 20s. I have worked as a lighting technician in West End theaters, earning around £10 an hour, which was a fortune for a youngster at the time, worked part-time as a market researcher, done translation and interpreting work, been a wooden boat restorer, ethnographer, professional sailor and marine conservationist.

I’ve always done it the way I’ve done it. I never made a lot of money, but I had enough to make ends meet. I’ve had the best adventures and always put my happiness and quality of life first.

I started my bubble toy company Dr. Zigs started when my youngest son, Ziggy, was a toddler. He used to go crazy and giggle every time he saw blisters. In the beginning everything was created at my kitchen table. In the first sales I spent £20 on bottles, stickers and handmade wands and took it all to a beach to sell on Anglesey. I’ve sold every bubble kit from the trunk of my car.

Since money was such a taboo subject growing up, I really didn’t like charging people for my bladders at first because it made me so uncomfortable. It was hardwired into me and something I needed to change. While on the one hand I knew that I was talented, on the other hand I often doubted myself. I still feel guilty when I have money and others don’t. It’s something I’m learning to let go of, and I know that with more money I can do more, live lighter, help more people, and make a bigger difference in the world.

I’m concerned about rising costs in business. Every day we receive emails from our suppliers and couriers informing us of their price increases. A real problem at the moment is the cost of heating our Bubble Factory in Wales. It’s a huge space and a 200 year old building that was originally a milk barn. Our energy prices, raw material and packaging costs are all increasing.

Our gas has gone up 4p/kWh to 24p/kWh and our electricity bills have recently gone up about 35 per cent. Raw material costs have increased by 10 percent in the last year and our shipping costs have increased by 35 percent. Our DPD parcels have increased by £1 per parcel between July and August alone. Our packaging costs are up 20 percent, and that includes things like boxes and tape.

Our prices go up in November. For example, the cost of our My First Giant Bubble Kit will increase from £20.99 to £21.99. But we are working on a cost of living friendly product that will cost £15.99. We may have to raise our prices further in January, but we don’t want to.

Money is important to me as it meets our basic needs of food, health and shelter. This also motivates me because I really don’t like the stress of not having enough! I also see money as a tool that helps me live my lifestyle – to travel and give back. But my kids and my sanity are more important than money.

I put about £150 a month in a cash Isa and have a small pension. I only started paying into a pension 10 years ago. When I was younger I never wanted to grow old, so retirement wasn’t on my priority list! However, now I hope that Dr. Zigs will be my pension when I get older.

My needs are pretty cheap and easy. I never had expensive tastes and preferred ripped jeans with lots of pockets to any dress. I buy enough for what I need every day. Little in my life is superfluous. I have two pairs of jeans that I’ve owned for over two years, four sweaters, four dresses, two shorts, a bathing suit, two towels and just finished two pairs of sandals this summer. I generally only spend up to £100 a year on clothes, but that’s often less as I buy most items at flea markets and charity shops.

I go to the hairdresser every few years, make my own cough syrup from pine cones and always have herbs on hand for cooking and tea making.

Living in a van has taught me how much I already have and how little I really need. I bought the motorhome which we have christened ‘Bobbelix’ from a dealer in Brittany, France in January 2021 for £23,000 and it is one of the best purchases I have ever made. The camper has a rear lounge with a table that serves as my office and also converts into a double bed. It also had a fold-down bed over the cab that looks like a cave and is perfect for Ziggy.

For me, life is about making a difference. I feel like all of us who live in developed countries, who have shelter and food to eat, are incredibly fortunate to be able to give back. After all, we were only born into the life we ​​have by accident. I read about high earners who don’t need multi-million dollar bonuses and think about how many people that kind of money could help. This motivates me to earn more because I know I could do so many more positive things in the world.

Looking to the future, I’d like to buy a house or apartment for Ziggy and I to live in. My mother passed away last year and her house in France is now for sale. I would like to use the proceeds of the sale to pay a deposit towards a permanent home for us in France. I am also very excited about the future of Dr. Zigs and plan to expand the business, particularly in the US and Australia. I would like to see the income and salaries at Dr. Grow Zigs and give back more to charities, communities and causes close to my heart like Refugees, Youth XR, WaterAid, Fridays for Future and the Campaign Against the Arms Trade.

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