Balancing Act

Alexis James is adjusting to the financial realities of working in corporate America and running her father's private firm

Alexis James has entered a new season in life. She recently turned 30 and is ready to pursue investments with the potential for greater returns, which includes buying rental property and investing in her family’s business. James, a purchasing manager at a generic pharmaceutical company, makes a decent salary at $70,000, plus a 10% annual bonus, and has been shrewd with her income over the last four years. Since 2001, she has contributed 12% of her salary to her company’s 401(k) plan, worth $25,581. In addition, she owns individual stocks valued at $12,508 and has $9,531 in cash savings.

James wasn’t always disciplined with money. “It all started when I got a job in Syracuse, New York,” recalls James, who now lives in North Plainfield, New Jersey. “I had this two bedroom apartment that had no furniture and I needed bath towels and everything you can name. On top of that, there was nothing to do, so I would go to the mall at least four times a week and I would always come out with a bag.” That’s how her credit card bills grew out of control. “I also charged a portion of my car on my credit cards, enrolled for online courses, and I bought a time share and charged half of that as well,” adds James. These charges have amounted to more than $14,000 in debt.

Fortunately, she always pays her bills on time and her credit score is good. At last check, it was 720. Because of this, she hasn’t paid interest since 2000. “I always get offers for 0% interest credit cards and I keep very accurate records. A month before the 0% offer is [due] to expire, I take advantage of another 0% offer and transfer my balances,” explains James. Typically, card surfing (moving from one card to another) only works if one is disciplined enough to close the initial card or stop using it. Otherwise, the debt will get out of control and one could end up with five cards with balances on all of them. “My goal is to have $30,000 in [cash savings and stock investments] and to be debt free by the time I buy a house,” says James. She has her eye on purchasing a two-family home by the end of next year, with the goal of living in one unit and renting out the other.

James is performing a balancing act between her full-time job and part-time work at her family’s embroidery business, helping oversee the computer-operated production of several hundred pieces. In order for the business to thrive, James knows she must put in even more hours beyond the weekends to help solicit new clients. Called University Fashions, the business was started by her parents in 1991. Her mother, Janet, passed away in 2000 and her father, Ulysses, has since been running the Turnersville, New Jersey-based business solo. James’ brothers, Zachery and Joshua, also hold outside jobs but put whatever time they can into the family enterprise.

University Fashions, which

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