The adage “Got lemons? Make lemonade!” is an apt beginning to Rifka Lebowitz’s story. When she was 12 years old, her family moved from Scotland to Israel. “In the 1900s my great-grandparents were trying to get from Russia to America, but the boat only took them as far as Scotland,” she laughs. “They didn’t know any better, so Glasgow it was.” But when the local Jewish schooling options ended in the sixth grade, Rifka’s parents made aliyah so she could continue her Jewish education.
As a new olah living in an absorption center, learning Hebrew was a challenge. Numbers, however, were not. A natural at arithmetic, she’d always wanted to help people with their money. “After finishing high school I couldn’t see how that could be a profession, so I decided to become an accountant. That didn’t happen, so I got a license as a portfolio manager, investing people’s money in the Israeli stock market. Working with families on their finances became my window into helping people live financially smarter.” That has since become her slogan.
If your stereotype of a financial adviser is a sophisticated man of a certain age with a formal and somewhat aloof personality, getting to know Rifka will disabuse you of any such notions. While she is certainly polished, she is also warm, funny and personable. With her focus on helping people, she approaches money from a psychological and emotional perspective.
In particular, Rifka finds that many people have very real fears about managing money, which leads them to act out of instinct instead of considering their best financial interests. “I love to figure out what motivates my clients,” she says with a smile. “Then we can try to align their values with their spending and help them make more money. I ask questions that can change attitudes and outlooks, which can be the key to long-term progress.”
In a hard-to-believe example, Rifka describes a couple who hadn’t checked their bank account or credit card statements since the day they got married over 20 years ago! “They were earning very good money and had significant savings, so they were just living off of that. The call from the bank about bounced checks was the proverbial wake-up call,” she recalls. “This couple felt that they had absolutely no control over money and had a real fear of the subject. Over the course of a year I taught them the technical side of managing their finances, but the real difference came when we logged into their bank account, looked around and confronted those fears. When they had a chance to explore money up-close and personal, they started taking responsibility.” Today, this couple is on top of their spending, and holds a monthly family money talk.
Like her, Rifka’s clients don’t fit any stereotype. “Some of my clients have millions; others earn the minimum wage. Incredibly, they all have something in common: They feel that they are not ‘making it’ and want to do better financially.”
This requires looking at both sides of the coin, earning and spending. “There’s only so much we can cut down,” says Rifka. “Life costs a certain amount of money. We cannot not pay our electric bills or skip buying groceries. But too many people do not live within their means. So I help people focus on making more of it, from a place of wanting to live according to our values. Making Shabbos and Yom Tov costs money. Making a simchah, even if done low-key, also isn’t cheap. And for most families, particularly in the United States, there’s the elephant in the room—tuition.