Monica Malhotra is founder of The Gaggler, a digital lifestyle brand and website for wellbeing, shopping and beauty curated for Middle East-based women.
A certified public accountant with an MBA in finance and digital economy, she previously worked in industries including pharmaceuticals, real estate and investment banking.
Ms Malhotra was born in London to Indian parents who relocated to the UAE when she was four. After studying and working in the US for 18 years, she returned to Dubai and launched a branch of American early years edutainment franchise Kidville.
Ms Malhotra, 44, lives in The Meadows with her husband, a management consultant, and daughters, aged seven and 11.
How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?
My father trained to be an accountant in London and got a job opportunity in Sharjah. We were there for many years, then moved to Dubai. In terms of money, we had enough to live well, but nothing ostentatious. We had a good roof over our heads and my younger brother and I were able to go to private schools.
If I asked my parents for money, I had to have a pretty compelling reason to justify the expense. It helped create that concept of value. I didn’t really get much pocket money, maybe Dh5 a week, to buy something from the school tuck shop. My upbringing shaped the kind of person I am, in my personal life and in how I approach business.
How much were you paid in your first job?
I graduated and started working for accounting firm KPMG in California, where I was paid $36,000 (Dh132,228) a year as a tax accountant. I was 22.
In college, I worked with the international house, where they support international students, also at the campus library and sometimes babysitting for professors’ kids. I was probably paid $5 an hour. During summers, I would come back to Dubai and work as an intern in an accounting firm. I didn’t get paid, but earned an amazing experience, which helped me get that job after I graduated.
What brought you back to the UAE?
Family and opportunity. In 2009, I was on maternity leave, expecting my first child. We were in Manhattan, New York. My husband was working for a company and in the process of selling to an investor for the owner. We always talked about moving overseas. It seemed Dubai might be a good place to grow some roots. Now I’m in my 11th year, back with my family.
We explored franchise opportunities, bringing a US brand here. We opened the first Kidville location and ran that for eight years. We sold that and The Gaggler launched in January 2019.
Has Covid-19 impacted The Gaggler?
When I launched, the focus was on sponsored content for brands and retailers to tell stories about product launches and new collections, etcetera. The plan wasn’t to have e-commerce on the site, but because of Covid-19, I had to pivot to remain relevant and viable. We launched goody boxes in April. The first was a self-care box; products worth Dh1,000 and we were able to work with our partners and offer it for Dh500. When you go through a crisis, you need things that uplift you but you cannot afford to spend the money you ordinarily would when times are great.
The business model is about creating local and relevant content for women in the categories of style, beauty and wellbeing. Since Covid-19, the focus has been more on the wellbeing side of things.
Has the pandemic affected your spending at home?
We’re a little more careful. In lockdown, there wasn’t a lot of entertainment expense. We’re not driving, so we’re sitting on petrol charges. We have tightened, but it wasn’t a drastic change because we’ve always been very practical with our money.
What is your attitude towards spending and saving?
Money is a funny thing; if you don’t have enough, all you do is obsess over not having enough and save, save, save and don’t live life. And if you have too much, you take it for granted.
It’s important to take a balanced approach. I have goals; I save and I spend on very defined things that fill my happiness quotient. We like to travel and celebrate occasions; graduations, birthdays, Christmas –those are times we save for and splurge. I try to balance – that’s a good way to live life, where you feel like you’ve got enough of a nest egg to fall back on if something goes wrong, but you’re still living life.
Where do you save?
Every month, I save a portion of my monthly income. My husband does too. We break it up into different things. We’ll invest in stocks and a pure savings account, which then becomes our travel fund or for a major purchase or upcoming expenses. Simple is better. At the end of the year, I look back and I’m happy with that.
Now, I have a start-up. I also set aside a portion towards reinvesting into my business.
What has been your best investment?
I started investing in stocks quite early on. I’ve been able to buy at really good prices and held on – that’s the key. My star is Apple. I bought early on and I’m so grateful. I invested because I thought highly of Steve Jobs. I believed in the person.
What is your most cherished purchase?
My husband and I own a small house in Manhattan. We lived there for many years before moving to Dubai. It’s taken us 13 years to pay off that mortgage. We’ve had to limit spending on other things, but we’re (soon) going to own that outright. It feels good. No matter what, it’s yours.
Does money make you happy?
Anyone who says money isn't important is probably kidding themselves, but I don't think money is the most important thing. There are many things I cherish over money, but I value money because every bit you have opens up options. And it's liberating to know you have those options. What makes me happy is what I can do with money, what I can afford for my children, when I apply it in a practical way, that creates value.
Are you wise with money?
Every day is a learning experience. I try not to rush decisions, but not take too long either because then you might lose opportunities. I try to be deliberate, purposeful. I’ve made mistakes, but you learn from them.
At this stage, being able to spend time the way you like to spend it is a luxury. Being able to create a unique experience my kids may remember, that’s a luxury to me.
Do you plan for the future?
We wanted to own a home in New York, now we have that as part of our retirement plan. Continuing to save and have more assets for a rainy day; maybe we can set a new goal to expand our real estate base here. My kids will go to college – we’ve got to make sure we save up. I haven’t set myself (a target) to have X amount in the bank by 45. I’m like that tortoise, slow and steady.