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Originally published Sunday, May 4, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Money Makeover

Bellevue couple seek financial advice as retirement looms

This Bellevue couple want to retire in 10 years, but wonder if it will be financially feasible.

Special to The Seattle Times

Note to readers

Would you like some free financial planning?

IF YOU WOULD be interested in a free financial makeover in exchange for having your story and photo published in The Times, answer a few brief questions at seattletimes.com/yourmoneysurvey

About this series

Do you know how much money you'll need for retirement? What's the best way to invest?

This is the latest in a series of monthly "financial makeovers" by The Seattle Times for readers who want to get real about their money.

You'll read about their challenges and discover possible solutions from financial planners.

When I first met Laurie Griffin in early April, she radiated the values of a career Boeing employee: cheerful, self-possessed, competent, careful. Her financial-makeover story seemed straight-arrow, straightforward.

At 49, Griffin, and husband Glenn, 52, also a Boeing employee, would like to retire in 10 years. Laurie works as a supervisor in information technology, while Glenn works in facilities planning.

They have a good income, drive older cars, own a house in Bellevue and have been exemplary savers. But they also spend a fair amount of their salaries, and face an upcoming college bill for their daughter, Taylor, 17.

The Griffins are a blended family; it's a second marriage for both. In addition to Taylor, they have two sons, Glenn III, 25, and Brett, 21, who is finishing college.

"We're getting closer to retirement, but we're not sure we can get there" financially, Laurie Griffin said. Friends offered sometimes conflicting advice.

"We're frozen with analysis-paralysis."

It was time to seek out a financial planner.

The Griffins found a good fit with Aimée Huff, a certified financial planner and chartered financial analyst with Bellevue's MWBoone and Associates, which specializes in fee-only planning and investment management. One of the firm's areas of emphasis is helping professionals like the Griffins.

But a few weeks later I received an e-mail from Laurie: "Gosh, thought I'd better let you know that we've done something rash and unexpectedly spontaneous. ... What were we thinking?"

The Griffins found their dream house. "I stumbled upon it when I saw an "Open House" sign and took a look (just for fun)," Laurie said. "I dragged Glenn back to look at it a second time because I wanted him to see the type of house that I'd love to live in someday — if we could afford it." He liked it, too.

The house also is in Bellevue, but will cost a little more than $1 million, well above their current home. They've made an offer on the new house and are working hard to sell their house for $650,000.

Said Laurie: "I guess the theme of your story may be that even folks who appear to be conservative in the financial planning may do crazy things."

Some crazy things, but more smart ones, according to Huff.

"They have a good grasp on their finances and have done a lot of things right to meet their goals," she said.

They have also updated their wills, which is especially critical in blended families.

While the new house "puts an interesting spin on their case," they should be able to get on a path to retire in 10 years.

"Without the house, it would have been a slam dunk," Huff said. "The timing of the house complicated their needs" because of both housing and college expenses looming.

"There are so many moving pieces coming and going at the same time," Huff said.

The challenge for the Griffins, Huff added, is "how do you do all those things at once?"

Boeing provides a bulwark for their financial situation. Glenn and Laurie make a combined $205,000 a year. They're also putting about $41,000 into their 401(k) plans.

As a result, those plans held more than $682,000 as of late March. They also have some $99,000 in savings, as well as universal life insurance and a Roth IRA.

At retirement, the couple hopes to have enough saved to maintain their lifestyle. Glenn is an avid golfer and Laurie loves to garden. Both would like to travel more upon retirement.

But before that can happen, they have committed to paying for daughter Taylor's college, and she's looking at prestigious out-of-state schools where she can also continue her water polo. Such schools could cost almost $130,000 for four years.

Laurie Griffin said now she's not sure they would have committed to buying the new house if they had already completed the financial makeover. But she hopes to make a profit off the old house and see the value of the new home increase.

"In the meantime, we'll settle for enjoying the city view from our new deck."

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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