Category Archives: Money Moxie Community

Different Strokes For Different Folks Is A Good Thing; 5 Reasons To Love Money Moxie

There are a bunch of personal finance websites and blogs out there, and many that focus on women.  I think this is great; the more information we have access to, the better choices we can make for managing our money.  But with so many choices out there, why check out Money Moxie?  Here are 5 reasons to stay on top of your personal finances with Money Moxie–and tell your friends!

1. We won’t tell you to ‘lean in.’  Actually do whatever you want.

With due respect to Sheryl Sandberg and successful women everywhere, we all follow a different path.  Some of us are children of immigrants, some have worked our way through college and business school (even against our parents’ wishes who preferred that we just settle down and get married), some of us never went to college but managed to build a successful business anyway. There is no one recipe of success.  Sure, for some women, it’s a gradual rise to the top, from private school to Ivy League to management consulting to big corporation to start-up sensation.  For others it’s a sloppier zig-zag of good luck, dumb mistakes, stupid risk-taking and amazing success.  But somehow we ‘did it’ or we’re in the process of ‘doing it’ and we all have a distinct story of our own to share.

2.  Saving money is not about foregoing the ‘mocha skim latte.’  Personally I don’t remember the last time I went to Starbucks;  it’s not because of the cost, it’s that I feel like my stomach lining keeps getting thinner and more porous every time I get a coffee there.  But the point is, saving money isn’t about saving $4.00 a day.  It’s about knowing ourselves and what’s important to us.

Does money= financial freedom and home ownership?

Does money= the opportunity to make more money?

Does money= the freedom we need to ‘find ourselves’?

Those are the questions we should be asking ourselves and once we know the answer, the rest is easy.

3.  We love ‘shot-callers.’  Every entrepreneur, business owner, freelancer, artist or professional woman has a unique story and experience– how she made it, how she spends her money, how she prioritized to get herself up the ladder.  We love meeting these courageous, smart women, and sharing their inspiring stories.

4. We talk about the economy, the deficit, taxes and the election.  While these topics may cause some droopy, glazed-over eyes, they’re important.  The decisions made in Washington directly impact our wallets.  On the other hand, who wants to spend hours watching C-Span when we could/should be watching “Orange is the New Black?”  We comb through the WSJ so you don’t have to (unless you want to!)

5. We are a website for hustlers.  Sometimes when you break free from the pack and start your own project-whether it’s a new business, a film production company, a freelance lifestyle — sacrifices have to be made. We work several jobs at a time, we work on our passion while we’re ‘working’ at our day job, we’re constantly talking up or about our project.  But that also means that money, time and resources have to be managed wisely.  We often say ‘no’ to nights out with friends so we can stay home and work on our business plan.  Sometimes we say ‘yes’ to nights out with friends so we DON’T have to spend another night working on our business plan.  Either way, been there done that.  And we wouldn’t trade the experience and the lessons for the world.


Who Knew Excel Could Be This FUN??

By Lena Rizkallah, Money Moxie

Years ago, I was at a  meeting with my boss and some clients  when my cellphone rang.  At that time, the song “Drop It Like It’s Hot” was a big hit and like any self-respecting 15-year old, I decided that since that song was my jam, it also had to be my ringtone.  However, when my phone rang during the meeting and the bass filled the boardroom–and since I was actually not 15 years old–I decided that was the point in my life to rethink hip-hop ringtones.  Time to grow up!

Ironically, only a few years later, I met the guy who actually created the ringtone for “Drop It Like It’s Hot!”  Michael Zumchak was the nerd behind the ringtone and nowadays he’s the wizard behind the Easy Excel classes that he teaches to individuals and corporations in NYC (  I had heard about his Easy Excel classes from friends, colleagues and Yelp–that he’s a smart, funny instructor who makes learning Excel simple and fun.  I took the class a few weekends ago and I was not disappointed!

Michael Zumchak, Easy Excel

Michael Zumchak, Easy Excel

The basics class is for everyone–from beginners to programmers to people who just want to brush up and fine-tune their Excel skills.  Michael has a low-key, easy-going approach to a very dry,  coma-inducing subject.  I took the class on a dreary Saturday afternoon, and while staring at numbers, lines and formulas all afternoon could lull anyone into a nice long nap, Michael kept the pace moving, encouraged (DEMANDED!) class interaction and cracked jokes left and right.  Besides his comedic style of teaching, Michael has a great knack for breaking down a complicated, sometimes mind-numbing application like Excel, and explains what we need to know, and what we don’t need to know.  That information is priceless because if you’re like most people faced with a long, complicated spreadsheet that’s color-coded, contains multiple pages and full of various notes, formulas and charts–the more complex the spreadsheet, the less user-friendly it is and the angrier you become!

Michael began the class with simple tips and formatting short-cuts, then went into creating formulas and spreadsheets.  His tips on formatting–long forgotten since college–were awesome and he went over the rules of creating a clean, uncomplicated spreadsheet so many times that everyone got into it and started enthusiastically shouting out the rules like we were in 5th grade!  I left the class feeling more comfortable, knowledgeable and confident with my revitalized Excel skills–and much less angry and confused.

Make Your Budget EXCELlent!

Even if you don’t use Excel for work, consider taking this class if you want to create your own budget.  If you’ve been thinking of putting together a budget–and you don’t want to use or any other online application–sign up and get yourself in gear.  With Excel, you’ll be able to customize your budgeting spreadsheet to your specific needs and spending habits.  Once you get the mechanics of the spreadsheet and formulas down, you can make adjustments in your spreadsheet based on any life changes or changes in your spending/saving needs.  And at the very least, you’ll have fun in class!

What To Do About Sandy

Hurricane Sandy, you’re a jerk.  While I like having an extra day off of work, I usually enjoy a day off when the sun is shining and stores are open.  As it stands now, I am refilling water bottles, collecting candles, charging my cell and eating my way through the fridge.  NY1, our local news station, keeps me updated on every borough and I’ve seen the same image of water lapping the boardwalk of Coney Island about 17 times.  I just spent about 30 minutes vacuuming my 500 square foot apartment, and I have 4 loads of laundry–mostly cushion covers, bath mats and stuff I don’t care about normally–swishing around downstairs.  I’m bored.

Friends are calling and texting and we’re all trying to maybe kinda if possible strategize about getting together somehow.  But also afraid of getting stranded.

Gloomy Highline

They’re telling us that things are about to get cray in a couple of hours, so here are things I plan to do before the lights go out in NYC:

1. Take a walk by the river and survey the rising water

2. Do yoga

3. Eat leftover Indian food

4. Do about 45 minutes of work (ie. check Facebook and Twitter)

5. Cook this amazing chicken dish with squash, mushrooms and tomatoes

6. Watch last night’s episode of ‘Homeland’

7. Eat leftover chili

8. Drink some wine

9. Check Facebook and update my status a couple of times

10. Talk on the phone with every long-lost friend since high school

11. Take NY1 off mute and listen for 10 minutes and then yell at the TV

12. More wine

13. ‘Work’ (Tweet)

14. Give myself a mani-pedi-mask

15. Listen to my drunk downstairs neighbors fight

16. Eat some cheese and crackers with olives and wine, then the rest of the ice cream in the freezer, then make a salad to make myself feel better.

By then, it will probably be about 3 pm and I will have to make another to-do list.

On the Money Moxie side of things, here are some things to do before the lights go down in Georgia:

1. Organize monthly bills

2. Organize desk and filing cabinets

3. Switch out summer/fall/winter closet

4. Collect old clothes to donate to charity

5. Make a holiday budget

6. Clean out fridge and throw away old/expired food

7. Review 401k and IRA statements, check balance and compare with last 2 quarters; do some research on funds by going to

8. Catch up on “Dexter”

While I like getting my home and finances organized, I think this might juts be a day for #8.


Learn about Women 2.0

Check out my latest on women and financial literacy posted this morning on Women 2.0.  This is an amazing organization for women founders of start-ups and technology companies.  I’ve been involved with them for a while now and love attending the Founders Friday–a fantatsic networking event that occurs on the first Friday night of every month in NYC and in many cities around the world.  I’ve met some great people, made helpful contacts and new friends!  The organization started in SiliconValley and has expanded around the world.  Check it out

“The Importance of Women Discussing Personal Finance”

The Money Moxie on Basics: Interactive Workshops with Lena Rizkallah

The Money Moxie on Basics: Interactive Workshops with Lena Rizkallah.

Olympic Dreams and Tide Commercials

Is everyone else obsessed with the Olympic Games?

Ever since I can remember I’ve had a twisted love of the Olympics.   One of my earliest memories of the Games is watching gymnast Nadia Comeneci nail the uneven bars in the 1976 Olympics.  I had cheered for Dorothy Hamill in the Winter Games earlier that year and joined the line of girls at the hair salon asking for her hairstyle (FYI the Dorothy Hamill bob did not work with an Arab-fro).  I’ve stalked Mary Lou Retton, Greg Louganis, Michael Phelps–if they were in the Olympic Games and had a sliver of an underdog story, I probably saved the Time Magazine profile on their life!

Once the proud of owner of a Dorothy Hamill Barbie doll…

This Olympics, though, I’ve noticed that the advertisers, media wizards, Olympic Gods–whoever–have really amped up the ‘warm & fuzzy’ stories.  From the Tide commercials that focus on the moms of the athletes to the video montages of the players and their coaches to Ryan Seacrest’s interview with gymnast Danell Leyva and his proud father, showcasing their lovey-dovey relationship full of hugs, ear tweaks and emphatic clapping–viewers are getting a deeper glimpse into the daily lives of athletes.  This I think helps us connect with them and root for them on a more personal level–we know what they had to do to get there and we know what’s at stake.

Danell and his dad–so much love!

Heart-warming, yes.  But my point here  (and Tide’s as well) is that as talented as these athletes are, they couldn’t get where they are today without the support of a team to see them through along the way.  Similarly, in the less glamorous world of personal finance, we can all set goals to follow a budget, get out of debt or learn more about the markets–but it gets tough, lonely (and let’s face it–pretty boring) to do all of this alone.

In many instances, personal finance can be solitary–because it is mostly private information, but also because maybe we’re afraid to reveal that we have made some poor money decisions along the way.  But the more we toil over our finances privately, the more likely any of the following can happen: creating and keeping a budget becomes a chore; instead of tackling our monthly bills or looking into retirement options like we know we should, we procrastinate and things begin to slip through the cracks; we figure if managing our finances is so dull and sometimes stressful, why bother learning about the markets or the  economy-unless we absolutely have to?  And when we finally do reach a goal like paying off a credit card, converting a Traditional IRA to a Roth, opening an E Trade account–how do we celebrate these accomplishments?  Or do they merely go unnoticed?

So while we may manage to do the basics–keep up with bills, save a little, be more mindful of spending– we don’t become the powerful, confident athletes of personal finance that we really can be.

That Tide commercial gets me every time!

That’s where a support group comes in.  Now I’m not talking therapy, people holding hands while confessing to a 21% APR interest rate credit card or announcing a 375 credit score, while sipping watered down decaf.  Support can be a partner, a best friend, a sis or brother–someone who can support you without judgement but can also offer a big dose of reality when you need it.  Support can also come in the form of a class on budgeting, investing, retirement bootcamp; or joining an investment club or meetup group that focuses on personal finance topics.

It’s amazing what happens when people get together and talk about their finances.  During recent Money Moxie workshops, we’ve had several women confess to bad spending habits in the past only to be heartened when fellow attendees admit to their past mistakes and share their comeback stories.  Another attendee was so inspired by the financial workshop that she went home, locked the door, turned on her favorite tunes and spent the weekend reorganizing her taxes.  At the Summer Salons, most attendees have spent at least 30-60 minutes reading up on the topic of the day (health care, impending tax increases, financial reform)–that’s 30 minutes they DIDN’T spend watching the Kardashians!

There are some great websites that offer online classes, articles and advice that can help get us up to speed–check out  Or for daily emails and newsletters on saving, budgeting and investing.  But more important is to get face-time in with your support peeps–whether it’s having a monthly breakfast with a friend to discuss finances; any of the meetups or investing clubs; or starting a group of your own with friends.

Maybe a budgeting buddy is not the same as having Mrs. Phelps wake up and drive you to swim practice every morning, but that kind of support can get you further, faster and smarter than doing it all alone.

Money Moxie presents: Summer ‘Salon’ Series


Back in the day, the intellectual elite would gather in the salon of a friend, sip sherry from a snifter, and debate the most current political, economic and literary topics.

These days, we look for 2-for-1 happy hour deals, scarf down nachos and discuss the Kardashians.  It doesn’t have to be this way.

Join Money Moxie and several of your brightest friends at a Summer Salon—a ‘smart happy hour’ for people who want more than just a drink and a chat.  Come weigh in on important topics and meet some cool peeps.

The concept is simple: during each session, we cover a particular topic –like health care, financial reform, the federal debt or the European crisis.  Lena Rizkallah, founder of Money Moxie, an attorney and a professional speaker & writer for the financial industry, will first provide a synopsis of each topic and pose questions to the group. Then, she’ll moderate the session while attendees weigh in on the topic of the day.  Others not making a point will be sipping on beer, contemplating their own opinions.  But not thinking about the Kardashians.

If you sign up for a Salon, you’ll be assigned three blogs, articles or commentary on the topic, which should to be read prior to the Salon.  This way, everyone arrives at the Salon ready to discuss (and drink).

$25 and includes beer/wine/snacks.  Summer Salons will be held at Gotham Glow Salon at 1123 Broadway corner of 25th Street in the Flatiron District. 7-9pm.  Topics below:

Check it but don’t wreck it

Summer Salon Sessions:

Monday July 23  “The Affordable Care Act: What’s in it, what’s the significance of the Supreme Court opinion and how will it affect me?”

Monday July 30  “From Wall Street to Main Street to Occupy Wall Street; Do banks and financial institutions need more regulation and what will it mean for me?”

Monday August 6: “Breaking Down the US Deficit Problem; How does the government spend our money and how should they fix the deficit?”

Monday August 20  “Crises Around the Globe: How the US recession, the European crisis and the Arab spring impact the global economy.”

These sessions are designed for informational purposes only and are not intended to promote any political or economic belief. Materials and commentary provided by Lena Rizkallah and Money Moxie are for informational purposes only and should not be relied on for financial, legal or tax advice.

Your Mid-Year Check-Up

I hate to break it to everyone but 2012 is already half over.  Yup, we are six months into the “new year” and it ain’t so new anymore, is it?  What happened to all those bright and shiny resolutions we all made back in 2011?

Happy New Year!

Ummmm…what resolutions?

If you’re like me, you probably vowed to “get healthy in 2012.”  From January 2 until about the morning of January 21st, I was pretty diligent about hitting the gym.  Then I bought a Groupon for unlimited yoga at a second-rate yoga studio, went to class and got annoyed that the teacher kept admonishing everyone to “speak your truth.” I almost walked out of class when everyone around me responded with “compassion,” “bliss,” “surrender” and other sorts of ridiculousness–and of course never went back for more unlimited yoga. This summer I vowed to “get healthy” by running or biking but if I wake up and the temperature is over 70 degrees outside, I worry that I might get heat stroke.  So…sometimes I do sit-ups while watching “Fashion Police.”

My brother was a pro at making healthy resolutions.  He has since lost weight but for a while his version of “going to the gym and getting healthy” was to sign up for the most expensive gym package, head to Dick’s Sporting Goods and buy the entire line of Under Armour in all colors, including baseball hat, sneaks and water bottle, head back to the gym, take in a steam, get a massage, and then pick up a protein shake on his way out.

Gym rat

Later, over steak at Ruth’s Chris, he would complain about a stiff muscle or whatever from his workout.

Many of us make resolutions to eat healthy too.  After drinks, dessert and all kinds of decadence in December, many of my friends declare January their “detox month.”  No booze, red meat, carbs, sugar or fun for thirty days.  While I am not delusional enough to think I could stick to this type of plan, many of my friends actually make it through!  (Mind you, they are pretty grouchy all month!)  But come February, they are back to their boozy, steak-eating ways.  My question: if you’re not going to change any of your habits–just put them on hold for a month–why punish yourself like that?  Drinking those 16 martinis in February will surely undo any benefits you might have received from abstaining in January.

Killing 2 birds with 1 stone?

And, since this is a money blog, let’s talk money resolutions.  How many of us vow to save more money, take control of our finances, pay off credit cards or put more into retirement?  Where are we with our money goals by July?  Sure, the economy has been tough and despite what they say about positive growth and employment, people are still getting laid-off, trying to make ends meet and struggling with debt. But there are things we can still control about our finances–like setting savings goals, setting and sticking to a budget or putting $50 a month into an IRA.

A friend of mine has a different money problem–she makes a good amount of money, even gets a bonus.  But she doesn’t take the time to learn about investing.  Instead, she gives her bonus money to her brother to invest.  So while she may have an investment portfolio that’s diversified and growing in the market, she has no idea how it’s getting that way, doesn’t know what company stocks she owns, isn’t sure how the portfolio performed last year or how much of the fund is going to fees.  Learning about investing could seem like a big mountain to climb, but it’s YOUR mountain.  Climb it!

Do you know who’s managing your money? Hopefully not this guy…

Since we’re smack-dab in the middle of 2012, now is a good time to review our goals, reset them and recharge how we want the rest of the year to go.  Join me and Joanne Romanelli, a board certfiied Holistic Health and Nutrition Coach for a mid-year break– MIND-BODY-SPRIIT SUMMER RECHARGE on Sunday July 15.

Treat yourself to a summer retreat–spend the morning with us and then head to the beach afterwards! During our session, we’ll talk

– How to break free from cravings, increase energy and make healthy food choices

– How to deal with stress (and even learn some helpful  breathing exercises) on a physical and spiritual level

– How to set money goals and deal with finances in a funky economy

– Even learn some cool yoga poses and belly dancing moves!

For more information and to register, check out the invite.  Do it for yourself–and make the next six months count!  And tell your friends!

How To Recover From Immigration Law: Switch to Finance!

If I had known I was going to spend my career in the financial industry, I would have paid attention in math class.  Actually, I did pay attention in math and even turned to my father (algebra’s #1 fan) for additional “tutoring.”  Unfortunately, he would first make me sit down and do my multiplication tables before even glancing at the math problem.  Which meant that I would never get my math question answered since I had a hard time multiplying anything over seven; thus the stand-off would begin.  The “tutoring” session usually lasted for five hours and ended in tears.

When I graduated from law school, I had a plan to work for the United Nations and utilize my sense of justice and the archaic international law I had learned to save refugees all over the world from sadistic dictators and occupiers.  Then I got my first school loan statement and immediately got a job at a general practice law firm.

Working in a small but busy firm gave me the opportunity to try different types of law.  I handled a few bankruptcy cases but found some of my clients a bit too shady for my taste, especially when one asked if he could use his credit card just one last time to buy his daughter a fancy watch for graduation.

Personal injury was out–one client who had been in an auto accident called me every day to ask when she was getting a check from the insurance company and would keep  me on the phone whining about her whiplash.  This only annoyed me; if I wanted to spend my day acting sympathetic and listening to someone say “oh Miss Lena, it hurts!” I would’ve gone into nursing.

For some reason, I had a real affinity for immigration law.  It was the closest I would get to practicing “international law” and it kept me very busy. Every week, I visited clients being held for deportation in county jails, INS (now renamed Department of Homeland Security) deportation facilities, immigration court and law libraries.  I learned a ton about administrative law and about the political and economic problems many countries faced at that time.  I knew about Sierra Leone and Liberia waaaaaay before “Blood Diamond,” the sad situation in Rwanda before “Hotel Rwanda,” and learned firsthand about the terror of Bin Laden and the Taliban well before 9/11.

Leo was great in “Blood Diamond”!

Most of all I enjoyed it because I felt my work was really making a difference.  I’ll never forget my favorite client, a teeny 4 foot, 175 year-old toothless Afghani woman whose family had been taken by the Taliban.  She had been warned by fellow villagers to leave, and having only a sister in Virginia and nowhere else to go, she escaped through the mountains of Afghanistan into Pakistan and was finally stuffed into the trunk of a car and smuggled over the Mexican border.  When we won her political asylum case, she held my head in her bony hands and showered me with tearful ‘thank you’s’ in Urdu.  Kinda broke my heart.

I had many clients who had escaped from Sierra Leone.  They were always so jovial, loud, laughing, telling stories and always brought the whole family with them , even if the appointment was only for one person.  But then the mood would turn somber as the family told me their stories, of what happened in their villages and showed me pictures of family members with arms and legs dismembered by the opposition.  I would look at the photos and hear their stories in horror; they were always matter-of-fact, remembering the atrocities and talking through their memories.  But as soon as the meeting was over, they were back to telling jokes.

One constant problem I faced was that my clients didn’t know who to trust, so they didn’t trust me and weren’t always completely forthcoming.  This was unfortunate because at every court appearance the government lawyer (INS) would always have a damning piece of evidence that my client hadn’t told me about.  It ALWAYS HAPPENED–even after I would plead with my client to tell me the truth–there was always some past arrest, not-yet-divorced wife, failure to appear, illegitimate child, bench warrant, prior deportation proceeding or domestic abuse violation that I didn’t know about.

So why did I leave such a seemingly rewarding career as an immigration lawyer?  Let’s just say that after adding up the hours I spent working, I was making about $2.50 an hour, and I was getting increasingly frustrated with the “drive-bys” (the taxi driver  clients who would stop by whenever they were in the area to drop off papers or just chat about their case); the genius clients (at a marriage interview, a Jamaican husband–and green card applicant–answered the INS officer honestly : “Yeah, I got high in the past.  But I quit.  It’s been like…what….almost two weeks.”); and the super-shady clients (the completely mismatched couple filing for a green card and after every meeting the foreign husband takes the American wife “shopping”).

Plus, by that time, I was dating my dream guy–a gweedo from Brooklyn complete with a pinky ring, wife beater, sweat pants, puffy high tops and champagne taste, who every night, would take his garden chair and go sit on the corner and chill with his boys.  He was already a broker, working in a boiler room/trading floor on Wall Street.  Every day, he would tell me all the crazy stories from work–the fist fights that broke out in the boiler room, the market highs and lows, skyrocketing tech stocks, cold calls to senior citizens at dinnertime, co-workers doing coke in the bathroom, crazy weekends in the Hamptons where he and his friends would jump into the pool with their lawn chairs, the money he would be making, the money being exchanged, the fancy lifestyle of the partners at his firm.

NOT the original.

I was intrigued.  I was turned on!  This was sexy.  This was different from immigration law and the sad, desperate stories of my clients.  My boyfriend wasn’t facing a waiting room of clients from Ghana, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, all wearing their native garb, none of whom had made an actual appointment with me.  He was sporting Armani, eating steak and drinking bourbon.  I know this might make me a superficial person, but that’s what changed me.  I wanted that lifestyle.

But while the swashbuckling ways of my boyfriend might have turned me onto the financial industry, what kept me there was its diversity.  I was intrigued by the fast-moving markets, how politics, economics, war and even personnel changes can affect a company’s stock price; how companies are built from a simple idea or brain-storming session and turn into a multi-billion dollar global enterprise; how politics and tax laws affect investors, how investors shape businesses, how businesses determine industries and how it all fits into the greater scheme of the economy.

I started reading about the markets.  Whenever I could, I would pick up The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times,, Bloomberg News, Forbes– and even though it looked like gobbledygook in the beginning, I forced myself to read the articles from cover to cover.  Gobbledygook turned into Mandarin Chinese, Mandarin Chinese turned into Farsi, Farsi turned into Latin and eventually I began to understand what I was reading about.  Things started to make sense and I learned how the different areas of finance related to each other.

A consulting job working for a top investment bank on Wall Street further taught me the inner workings of a bank, how the trading side is separated from the investment banking side by a “Chinese Wall;” how analysts study companies and sectors and deliver analysis and information that help get deals done; how diversified one financial institution could be.

Different kind of Chinese Wall

But it was my job at an insurance company that reinforced my nerdy obsession with the financial industry and showed me what my true passion was–working with advisors and clients.  Not only was I learning about the other areas of finance–about broker-dealers, wealth management and building relationships–but I was getting face time with financial advisors and their clients.

Most important, I learned that the more individuals understood their finances, the more empowered they would be to make the right decisions.  Someone could have a good financial advisor and could make a lot of money, but  without a basic understanding of the markets and what their financial goals are, they could be totally lead astray.  My seventh grade English teacher had a motto she repeated every day: “Organization is the key to success.”  I’ve always thought organization was a bit overrated, and I prefer this motto “Financial education is the key to success.”  Once you get your finances in place, you can hire someone to organize your stuff.

I can’t say that I miss practicing immigration law, not that I ever completely stopped.  Even though I’ve been in the financial industry for over twelve years, the stigma of being an immigration attorney has never disappeared-especially since I come from a family of immigrants who are always referring me to friends and extended family.  I have been known to share a couple words of wisdom with my cab drivers around the city and friends still call with immigration questions.  But none of this can compete with the crazy, tumultuous, ever-changing world of finance.  And the kooky cast of characters that live in that world.

The Land of Milk and Honey (and TopShop and Coldstone Creamery and Jimmy Choo))

This is a post from my website about my recent trip to Dubai.  I thought it was appropriate to repost here because this blog is all about money, and –well, heck–so is Dubai!

Last December, I visited Dubai.  It was my third visit there and a real eye-opener.  Not only is the city more developed in terms of finished projects and infrastructure than the last time I was there (in 2007), but the energy of the city seems to be different as well.  Back in 2007, the city was still being developed and buildings were going up at a frenzied pace.  The unique Dubai skyline was cluttered with skyscrapers in all shapes, sizes and phases of development accompanied by tons of cranes as far as the eye could see.

This year, however, it took me a few days to finally notice that the cranes were not there.  Whether there were fewer cranes than before was a result of the 2008 downturn that hit Dubai pretty badly, or that the building of  skyscrapers was just slowing in general (doubt it), I can’t be sure.  But this time, along with the presence of fewer cranes, a new Metro aboveground subway system, easier to navigate roads, and traffic that seemed manageable, I felt like I was in a new city.  The city seemed more established, like it had been there all along, and older than its actual age (the United Arab Emirates just celebrated its 40 year anniversary on December 4.)

The Tallest

When I was there last, the Burj Khalifa, the tallest tower in the world, was still being built.  From any point in Dubai, you could look up and see the skeleton of the tower, with hundreds of workers diligently hammering its parts together.  At that time, such a thin and tall structure looked like it could easily snap in two.  The completed version is actually quite beautiful and substantial.  Standing at over 2700 feet tall and more than 160 stories high, it is the tallest building and freestanding structure in the world.  It houses retail stores, residences, offices, restaurants, the Armani Hotel Dubai and a park.

Burj Khalifa

The Ridiculous

Along with having the tallest building in the world, Dubai is also known for being over the top in other ways.  It is home to Wild Wadi, a 12-acre water theme park; Ski Dubai, an indoor ski slope complete with a cozy lodge situated halfway down the “mountain” and has the yummiest hot chocolate; and tons of huge malls (one containing Ski Dubai, another in the shape of a pyramid, another completely decorated in gold lights on the outside and sporting a Venice theme on the inside).  And let’s not even talk about Dubai Mall, a mall with an indoor aquarium, and a place you would have to visit every day for a week to see every store, boutique, restaurant and café.

Oh, and let’s not forget the famous Palm Islands, a series of man-made islands in the Arabian Sea developed in the shape of a palm tree that house condos, villas, hotels, restaurants…. and the second Atlantis Resort (the original is in the Caribbean).  I did say that place is over-the-top, didn’t I?

The One-Stop Shop of the World

Every brand from every corner of the world seems to be present in Dubai, from Debenhams to Harrods’s to the Gap, Claire’s Accessories and Forever 21 to Promod and Mango to Topshop to Ermengildo Zegna.  In every mall I visited, it was hard for me to find a store I didn’t recognize.  I would have to pass Aldo, Nine West and Jimmy Choo in order to check out shoes from a new Italian retailer.  I huffed past Reiss, Zara and Tory Burch to window-shop at a French boutique.  I passed Gucci, Pucci and Miuccia (Prada) to marvel at Dior, Chanel and Missoni.  Basically if you can afford the inflated retail prices (thanks to the rich Saudis, Russians and Iranians who visit Dubai to shop) you can find whatever you want in Dubai.

You need anything? You will find it in Dubai!

The Most Inclusive Buffet

And if you’re hungry, the sky’s the limit in Dubai.  Along with chain restaurants from Lebanon and Jordan, Dubai is chock full of European and American chains.  They have Wagamama, a London-based Japanese noodle bar, Paul, a French patisserie that’s all over the Middle East and Europe, Costa Coffee, Starbucks, Café Nero, P.F Chiang, California Pizza Kitchen, Coldstone Creamery, Macaroni Grill, Texas Roadhouse, Pizza Hut, Trader Vic’s…The list goes on!

The specialty in Dubai is the $100 and over “bubbly brunches” offered by practically all the hotels on Friday.  Since the weekend there begins on Thursday night and workweek begins on Sunday, their Friday is our Saturday.  Brunch is huge there and ranges from modest, no-alcohol $25 buffet brunches to expensive and raucous, club-like boozy brunches and tons of food to eat until 3 pm.

Big Mac Attacks Treated Here!

The Melting Pot

Dubai is also unique in that it is extremely international.  While locals have distinct benefits of living in Dubai, the expats who go there to work also enjoy some real advantages.  Since Dubai does not tax income, most foreigners who go there to work get to pocket all of their income tax-free.  As American workers, we are allowed an Earned Income Exemption of around $80,000 annually, and any amount above that will be subject to tax (at about 28%).  As a result, while there are tons of European, Indian, Australian and Canadian professionals working in Dubai and reaping the benefits of tax-free wages, you don’t find as many Americans there.

Living in such an international city, however, can be a lesson on its own.  My cousin’s young girls attend the American School and have a diverse group of friends.  In any classroom, you can find British, Pakistani, Lebanese, Malaysian, Columbian, Swedish, Nigerian and Canadian children all learning together, attending each other’s birthday parties and playing sports together.  You can’t teach such an invaluable and unique lesson in diversity.

The Land of Opportunity

It was so odd to come from the gloom of the US and go to the land of prosperity in Dubai.  Don’t get me wrong; the people I spoke to at the Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC) seemed a bit nervous that the political instability of the Arab Spring could harm the region’s economy, and were also wary of possible long-term effects that a European recession and continued troubled US economy could have on Dubai.

But because Dubai is somewhat of an emerging market, and because it does a lot of business (and is a major trading hub) with India and China, it reaps the benefits of the strength of those markets.  The 2008 downturn certainly affected Dubai’s economy; many companies folded or went bankrupt, thousands of foreign workers returned to their home countries, and budgets were tightened.  But it seems that Dubai emerged from the downturn in a strong position, and having learned some lessons from the troubles.  As a result, life there seems good, prosperous, and companies are hiring!

In fact, while I was there, I spent a lot of time at the DIFC, a beautiful modern complex of buildings built a few years ago that houses top-notch financial companies and law firms from all over the world.  In that complex you can find Wellington Funds, Franklin Templeton, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, MetLife Alico, Zurich Life, Soc Gen, Credit Suisse, Latham & Watkins and so many other international companies and firms.  Obviously from the presence of these Western companies, there is a lot of business to be done in Dubai and in the region.

While it may seem chaotic and unstructured to some, there is a real sense of forward movement, momentum and opportunity in Dubai.  I’m looking forward to my next trip already, especially since my tan is starting to fade.