Standing in line at the Post Office to collect her benefits, single mum Belinda Grashion’s cheeks flushed with embarrassment as she avoided eye contact with other customers.
Once back home, she sat on the living room floor of her small rented house, allocating every penny of the income support she’d received to her mounting bills — and then laid her head on the worn green carpet and sobbed.
Belinda, a part-time massage therapist, was terrified of getting into debt but every week found herself £50 short of money to cover her outgoings, with nowhere to turn for extra cash.
Belinda Grashion, pictured above, was a part-time massage therapist who was desperate to give her daughters a good life, but was short of money for outgoings every week
‘I cried because I so desperately wanted to give my daughters a good life but didn’t even have enough money to pay for them to go on their school trips,’ recalls Belinda, from Doncaster, South Yorkshire.
‘I’d cook everything from scratch to keep costs down, but I was so determined the girls should eat well I’d often go without meals myself.’
However, instead of sinking into a depression, that afternoon proved a turning point. ‘I decided that, come what may, I was going to do everything I could to ensure my daughters and I had enough money to be free of financial worries.
‘I wanted to be a great role model for my girls, who were then 13 and 15, and show them a single mum like me could stand on her own two feet and even become wealthy.’
Nearly two decades later, Belinda is a multi-millionaire who owns a huge farmhouse in Yorkshire and a villa in Barbados
Fast forward 18 years, and Belinda is a multi-millionaire, globe-trotting property developer with a huge farmhouse in Yorkshire and a beautiful villa in Barbados.
Inspiration, indeed, to the 1.8 million lone parents in Britain today, a third of whom don’t work.
Her first goal was to earn the extra £200 a month she needed to make up her shortfall. So when she saw an advert in her local paper for a workshop on making money from property, she begged and borrowed from family and friends to raise the £1,000 she needed to get on it.
After leaving school aged 16, without any qualifications, and being a housewife for 18 years with no involvement in family finances — part of the reason she left her husband is she felt he never wanted her to work — Belinda admits she understood little of what was said during the two-day event.
However, she took away from it one strategy she felt confident that, despite having no money to invest, she could make work.
It was a beguilingly simple scheme.
Belinda would source houses that the vendor was willing to sell for just 75 per cent of their market value, usually because they were in a serious state of disrepair, and add value by redecorating and putting in a decent bathroom and kitchen.
She would then take out a mortgage for the new higher value of the property and rent it out to tenants.
Belinda then used some of the mortgage money from the bank to renovate the next house she took on. She sold some and kept others as buy-to-lets, gradually building up a portfolio of properties and savings worth more than £8 million.
‘It was so nerve-racking,’ she says. ‘I’d never spoken to a bank manager or solicitor before and it took me nine months after the first property to have the courage to buy my second. But that desire to create a great life for my daughters kept the fire burning in my belly.
Belinda, 55, crammed her work into school hours to make sure she still saw her daughters as much as possible
‘Within four years the profits from my business had turned me into a millionaire. It’s incredible how much our lives changed: we went from having to pay our bills in instalments to living in a beautiful home with cars and a couple of holidays abroad every year.’
Despite her incredible drive, Belinda was determined to spend as much time as possible with her daughters, who saw their father only sporadically as he lived abroad.
So she would cram her work into school hours and Saturday mornings, contracting out all aspects of the jobs to the trusted team of builders, planners and solicitors she built up around her.
She says that, equally important as the effort she put into achieving her goal of a wealthy life, was her firm belief that it was possible.
‘Mindset is so important, so I created a vision board onto which I glued photographs of idyllic beaches and beautiful houses and, whenever my determination wavered, I’d light a candle and look at these images to remind myself what I was aiming for,’ says Belinda.
‘Four years to become a millionaire may not sound a long time but it certainly felt like it at the time.’
Belinda is now 56 and, together with her loyal team of staff, concentrates on million-pound housing developments and runs courses teaching women how to become wealthy by investing in property.
For many years she has divided her time between Doncaster, where her daughters and three grandchildren still live, and Barbados.
Home here is a 100-year-old, three-storey, eight-bedroom farmhouse, while in the Caribbean Belinda has an idyllic villa on the beach, complete with a 60ft stilted balcony overlooking the ocean.
At home she drives a BMW convertible and is about to buy a Porsche. In Barbados she has a BMW X5. And while she could easily afford to fill her dressing room with Prada and Armani, Belinda still has relatively frugal tastes in clothes — her favourite labels include Karen Millen and Max Mara.
One expense she’s been delighted to be in a position to help out with is her grandchildren’s private school fees, giving them advantages neither she, raised on a council estate, nor her daughters were afforded.
Both of her girls, who are in their 30s, have also made their fortunes through property and were able to buy their own homes and cars outright while still in their 20s. ‘The other day my daughter said to me: “I’m so privileged, Mum, because I don’t have to watch the pennies and worry about money, like a lot of my friends do,” ’ says Belinda.
‘I don’t often stop to reflect on how far we’ve come — I’m too busy making the most of every moment — but hearing that made me feel so proud, and a little tearful.’
Bernadette Doyle became a millionaire within two years of setting up an online business coaching company
Belinda’s motivation to create a better life for her children is one Bernadette Doyle knows only too well. Her sons were just three and one when she separated from their father seven years ago.
But far from feeling utterly overwhelmed by the responsibility of caring for two small children alone, the split gave her the impetus to turn her fledgling online business coaching company into a goldmine.
Within two years, aged 41, Bernadette was a millionaire, training other business owners how to maximise profits by moving aspects of their business online.
For example, she would advise a client who was a personal trainer that they should load their exercise videos onto the internet and charge viewers to use them, thereby reaching millions of potential customers.
‘I felt cursed in the early days because a part of me really wanted a successful business, but I’m never happier than when pottering around my kitchen with my kids, so I didn’t want to hand over all of that pleasure to nannies,’ says Bernardette.
‘But when you’re the only parent in the house absolutely everything falls to you, from cooking meals and getting up with sick kids in the night to paying the bills and putting the bins out. So I figured out early on that I had to have systems, such as cooking meals in batches and freezing them.
‘I also pay someone to clean my house and do my laundry so I don’t have to worry about whether the boys’ school uniforms are ironed.
‘My sons are now eight and 10 and I work school hours, with occasional calls in the evenings to overseas clients to accommodate time differences.’
Bernadette says she could retire if she wanted to, so she works when she enjoys it and is not too flashy with her cash
Bernadette says travelling with her sons is one of her greatest joys, and she is taking them to Dubai for Christmas this year
The moment Bernadette knew she had ‘arrived’ was in 2011 when she was invited to join a group of other entrepreneurs at Richard Branson’s Necker Island.
A quarter of a century earlier, aged 16, she recalls reading Branson’s biography in her bedroom above the pub in Oxford, where she grew up.
‘I thought: “If my teenage self could see me now, sipping cocktails and discussing business strategy with a famous billionaire, on his private island, she wouldn’t believe her eyes!” ’ says Bernadette.
Travelling with her sons is another of her greatest joys and, having holidayed in Crete and Portugal this summer, they’re spending Christmas in Dubai. ‘I was in my 20s before I stepped inside an upmarket hotel and felt so intimidated by the grandeur I didn’t know how to behave,’ she says.
‘But for my son’s fifth birthday we stayed in a five-star resort and on the eve of his birthday he asked, politely and confidently, if he could have a breakfast table by the window the following morning.
‘I’ve been able to afford to send them to a lovely little private school, a short walk from where we now live in Belfast, and seeing that confidence it’s built in my boys is the biggest bonus.’
As for other trappings of wealth, Bernadette does not spend a fortune on the latest gadgets for her boys but is happy to pay ‘considerable amounts’ for experiences, whether at home or abroad.
‘We’ve been on ski-ing, surfing and horse-riding trips,’ she says. ‘When I first became wealthy I bought lots of designer shoes but labels aren’t what’s important to me. We have a four-bedroom detached house, and could definitely afford to upgrade, but it’s a short walk from the boys’ school so it’s perfect for now.
‘I also have a little Fiat 500 car, nothing flash, and when it comes to groceries I’m actually quite frugal.
‘But it’s wonderful knowing that every day I spend working I do so out of choice because, if I wanted, I could retire. So I only do work I enjoy and make every hour count.’
Geeta Sidhu-Robb, above, founded Nosh Detox when she left her husband and found herself in hospital, exhausted and on a drip as she could not stop vomiting
This is a feeling single mother-of-three Geeta Sidhu-Robb, who owns 75 per cent of health food company Nosh Detox, which was last year valued at £4.75 million, recognises.
While not struggling financially, a few months after leaving her husband, Geeta ended up on a drip in hospital, exhausted and unable to stop vomiting.
She and her children — aged one, three and seven — were sleeping in a friend’s spare bedroom and Geeta had gone back to work as a corporate lawyer after taking a few years off to look after the youngsters.
By the time she moved into her own flat, six months after her separation, Geeta had decided the only way she would be able to keep all the balls in the air was to hire an au pair. ‘As a single working mum you need as much help as you can get,’ says Geeta. ‘I knew I’d get sicker if I kept trying on my own.’
While she was able to earn a decent living and support her family on her income as a lawyer, Geeta wanted to work from home to spend more time with her children and, after turning around her own health through nutrition, she set up Nosh four years ago.
The business, which began with her cooking up batches of food in her kitchen to sell to friends of friends, expanded when she first set up a website and then began selling meals and raw juices which are sold online and through the Amazon website.
She started small, making her health food in her kitchen. Now she takes her family on holiday four times a year
Business has boomed over the past four years and so have the family’s fortunes. Geeta is now 49 and her children are 20, 16 and 14.
‘I live in a beautiful whitewashed house in Chelsea, which is worth about £10 million, but I rent it so I don’t have to worry about any of its upkeep,’ she says. ‘I have a housekeeper and my bedroom is bigger than the whole of the flat I first lived in as a single mum.
‘I’ve always loved cars so treated myself to a gorgeous £70,000 Porsche Panamera. I have some nice designer clothes, but I’m as happy shopping at Zara.’
Geeta believes that one of her greatest achievements — which was also one of her biggest drives — is keeping her children in their £12,000-a-year private school. They had bursaries in the early days but came close to having to leave.
‘There were utterly mortifying times when my children were passed back through the school door to me because I hadn’t quite managed that term’s fees,’ she recalls. ‘But I was determined to keep them there so I’d borrow the money from a friend and pay it back when I could.’
Although the family now enjoys four holidays a year — to Greece, Scandinavia, France and Cornwall — Geeta is keen to keep them grounded.
‘We spent Christmas four years ago helping out in an orphanage in Africa, after they’d complained about their presents the previous year,’ says Geeta. ‘I’m proud of what I, as a single mum, have been able to provide for them, but it’s important to me that they appreciate how privileged they are, compared to so many others.’