Life Lessons

Darrius Jude may be only 7 years old, but he’s a teacher. And he’s taught his dad, Jerry, a valuable lesson in patience.

“Dealing with my son has shown me that you can do anything you put your mind to,” says Jerry. His son has symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and exhibits “delays in speech, behavior, and in his mental and physical abilities.” But Darrius continues to make progress. “I believe that with continued efforts, Darrius will be able to attend college and live a productive life,” says Jerry. “That’s why I am saving for his college education.”

The past 18 months have been particularly promising. Darrius, who is in first grade, has received speech and physical therapy through his public elementary school, as well as outside psychological counseling. “He has come a long way,” says Jerry, 33, with relief in his voice. Things are looking up for father and son, who enjoyed their first seven-day Disney cruise last year. The $2,500 sticker price was not in his budget, but Jerry says it was worth it. That trip contributed to a credit card balance of nearly $10,000 that he says crept up on him as he used it to “bridge the gap with groceries, clothes, and the unexpected.”

Now, fun and games will have to take a back seat as Jerry continues to focus on paying off the credit card debt, which currently stands at $6,200. He also has $1,500 in student loans, a $7,900 loan for his Yamaha motorcycle, and a $105,888 mortgage on the two-bedroom Harlem co-op that he calls home.

Once Jerry is able to get his debt out of the way, he wants to increase his savings. Jerry has $18,300 in a 401(k), $1,500 in a Roth IRA, $2,000 in a CD, and more than $2,500 in checking and money market accounts. He also recently opened a New York State 529 college savings plan for Darrius in which he’s accumulated $1,000. However, the big prize he’s eyeing is investing in rental property, preferably in Charlotte, where he attended the University of North Carolina. After all, he’s seen how good an investment in real estate can be. His co-op jumped from a value of $115,000 in 2004 to a current market value of $320,000.

Jerry is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in business management at City College in New York, taking a full course load of four evening classes. He admittedly has a lot on his plate. And to complicate matters even more, next year Darrius won’t have access to special-education services at his current school; the school doesn’t provide such services for second graders. Jerry says he is working with the New York City Board of Education to sort out his options. However, it’s a real dilemma: private schooling would be expensive, and because he brings home $45,000 annually as a circulation analyst for The Walt Disney Co., Jerry makes too much to qualify for many free social services. Darrius’ mother lives in Tennessee and is able to make only