Money Talks: How this couple runs a small business while raising six kids

An illustration shows two parents contorting themselves around three children to grab things like a laptop, a piece of paper, and a phone.
Chloe Cushman for Vox

Nia and Brandy bought a used school bus for $4,000 to start their mobile spa in 2016. Here’s where they are now.

Welcome to Money Talks, a series in which we interview people about their relationship with money, their relationship with each other, and how those relationships inform one another.

Nia Brown is the 30-year-old founder of PrincessMe, a Black-woman-owned small business that offers parties and services like spa packages for children. Her husband, Brandy, is a 34-year-old freelance accountant who is putting his skills into co-running the family business.

In addition to managing and expanding a six-figure spa business, Nia and Brandy also homeschool their six children, who range in age from 2 to 14. How do these business owners do it all — and what are they hoping to do next?

This conversation has been edited and condensed.

Nia: I decided to become a small-business owner in 2016. Before PrincessMe I was an event planner. I had always had a passion for planning kids’ birthday parties and baby showers. After a few very successful parties and showers, word began to spread from just a small inner circle to people I had never met. This experience is what initially sparked my idea to start a business.

The other reason was my daughter. She was just a year old at the time, but she loved playing spa. Every time I would do her makeup I would see her self-esteem just blossom. I wanted to give that effect to other girls in the community, so I decided to stop doing personal events in order to focus solely on starting and growing the PrincessMe brand.

In order to cut the costs of starting a business, since we know small businesses can be expensive, we set up a mobile bus. That was my husband’s idea.

Brandy: Everything was going mobile at the time. They had the barber shops, they had the food trucks, there were a bunch of different mobile things. We looked at a storefront, but it was too pricey. We could get a used school bus for $4,000, so we got it.

We bought our bus from a lady who owned a gym. She had gutted the school bus and was using it to store her extra gym equipment. We were very lucky, we found it on Craigslist, it was two exits away from our house, and it was completely gutted out. All we had to do was put in seats and paint and stuff like that.

Nia: It grew very, very fast. Within a year we were able to set up in our brick-and-mortar [storefront]. We had five kids at the time, I was pregnant with number six — what can I say? It was very tricky at first. When we opened our brick-and-mortar, we had a hard time with zoning licensing, as they had no label for a store like mine. We are not a spa and can’t be considered an event or venue space, so we had a tough road of getting zoned. We ended up having to get a new category created for our brick-and-mortar location. Plus, we were the only small business in our shopping center. We were next to Target, Old Navy, David’s Bridal, so we had a lot of pressure on us.

Things were kind of rough for the first couple of months, because we were still investing in marketing and getting the word out. Then Covid hit.

Brandy: During Covid they classified us as a salon, when we wanted to be classified as an event space. That meant we had to close for the first four months. Then they allowed us to open with minimum people, but that was no good. Our parties are designed for 10 kids and at least five adults. So we still couldn’t operate the way we wanted to. It was tough.

Nia: It was really tough, but we figured it out. We made the best of it. We set up appointments for moms to come in with their daughters one-on-one, and parents loved that. We were able to give kids personal spa dates and one-on-one attention. That helped us grow.

After Covid, people were saying “I want to make up for my daughter’s birthdays. We missed two birthdays.” That’s when the storefront just took off. We had to learn how to run the store and still keep our home healthy. It’s been a great adventure.

Brandy: I was a freelance accountant, and I still am — however, I only do it seasonally, so that I can focus primarily on PrincessMe. When I first stopped doing consistent freelance accountant work, we did take an income pay cut. But we decided right from the beginning that two heads are better than one and with both of our attention and hearts dedicated to PrincessMe we were able to make up for that pay cut. This also allows us to prioritize our family.

Nia: Our oldest child is 14, and our youngest is 2. We balance everything by planning ahead. Since all six kids are homeschooled, we have to have a tight schedule. When I wake up in the morning, I focus on my kids’ school from 7 am to 11 am. Then I put the kids down for a nap or some rest time, and we focus on work from 11 am to 2 pm. We try to give our business a hard stop at 2 pm, so we can spend the afternoons taking our kids to sports, dance, gymnastics. It takes a lot of teamwork!

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, we’re usually able to stick to the schedule. By Thursday, I’m trying to catch up on business work while I prep dinner. We have to go with the flow, and understand that we’ll go off schedule. It doesn’t have to be exact.

Brandy: We plan our finances like we plan our schedule. I’m big on saving for the future. If we want to open two PrincessMe locations this year, we have to save twice as much for our business as we did last year.

Nia: We keep a tight budget. Before this record-high inflation we only budgeted around $600 per month for groceries. Currently, we budget $900 per month for groceries, which is a 50 percent increase in what we were previously spending. But eating fresh, organic food really helps. We don’t eat junk food or go out to eat out a lot, so that minimizes costs and keeps our family healthy.

Brandy: We’ve also cut a few costs. I’m a driver, I have my CDL, so I drive the mobile bus. I drive the limo. That way we’re able to save on payroll.

Nia: My mom also plays a huge role. She helps us out with the kids, especially on Saturdays. Those are our biggest spa days. I’m usually in the spa, and he’ll be driving the limo. We’re fortunate to have a great support system that helps us with both the children and the business.

Brandy: Our oldest daughter goes with Nia to the store; she does the register, she does the inventory, she even helps with the spa services. She can paint perfect nails! I don’t know how.

Nia: Our daughters give us a lot of good ideas. We’re about to launch a line of home decor, and they helped us pick out the color scheme. My 11-year-old daughter keeps us up to date with the trends — unicorns, ice cream — because she knows what kids love. That’s our cheat code to success!

Brandy: Our sons help clean up, and they love to ride with me on the bus. We’ve got generators on the bus, and they love to help with the generators. Anything electrical.

Nia: We pay them an allowance, because we want them to know how to manage money. We also want them to know what it’s like to work hard for money and save for the future. They see us work hard, they see us saving, they start saving on their own. By the time they grow up, I think they’re going to be able to balance money very well.

Brandy: We say “Come spend the day with me on the bus, and we’ll give you $20.” It’s not exactly working, but it’s got the elements of work. You get up early. You get dressed. It feels like a job.

Nia: They get the best of both worlds. At homeschool, they learn English, science, and math — but we also want them to learn how to manage money. How to manage time. The entrepreneurship that they’re experiencing will help develop them for the future.

Brandy: The only thing that I think could get in the way of our success is ourselves. We pray, and we try to have positive minds. With six kids, things can get hectic — but we buckle down, and we know how to go.

Nia: We’ll often say something like “Today, from 9 am to 1 pm, we’re doing this,” and then things don’t go as planned. So we always build in emergency time, in case we go over. Planning ahead is the best way to keep things balanced.

I use an old-school planner. I write everything down. Since I do so much stuff on my phone and my laptop, I can forget what’s on there — but then I look at my planner. It works really well for me.

Brandy: I use Square and Quickbooks. I’m different from Nia, in that I don’t like writing everything down. I like to log in and see it!

Nia: We still have so much potential to grow. Our company only operates on the weekends, so we only spend Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in the store. Otherwise we’re doing backwork in the home. We operate three days a week, and we’re able to earn six figures, and we’re so proud. We did it all on our own, without hiring the experts.

This year we’re bringing in the outside marketing team, the graphic designers. We’re about to open our first franchise location. We’re hoping our company will skyrocket.

Brandy: Best-case scenario, by this time next year we’re buying a home in the Bahamas.

Nia: What we really want to do is buy a forever home for us and our kids. Something that we can pass down to the family. By this time next year, I want to own a home and have 20 stores open in the South. I want to help girls build their self-esteem and strengthen our community. I dream big — but I can see it happening.

Nicole Dieker is a personal finance writer whose work has appeared in Bankrate, Lifehacker, Morning Brew, and Dwell. She is also the author of the Larkin Day Mysteries, a comedy-cozy mystery series set in eastern Iowa, and WHAT IT IS and WHAT TO DO NEXT, a quarterly zine about understanding reality.

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