Smart Financial Moves Keep the Focus on Family

Scaling back on household expenses has helped this family stay on the right financial path for more than a decade.

(Image credit: Angela DeCenzo Photography. All Rights Reserved.)


Raffi and Elaine Boloyan first appeared in the April 2006 issue of Kiplinger's, shortly after Elaine had left her job in human resources to be a stay-at-home mom. At the time, Ava was 2 and Roman was 5 months. To prepare, they had moved in 2002 from pricey Marin County, Calif., to American Canyon, in southern Napa County, which meant a longer commute to Raffi's job as a city planner in San Rafael but a much lower cost of living. Mortgage rates were dropping at the time, so they refinanced to reduce their payments even further. They had started contributing the maximum each year to a Roth IRA for Raffi and a spousal IRA for Elaine, and they had opened 529 college-savings plans for their kids.


The Boloyans' preparations paid off. Elaine, now 43, was able to stay home with the kids until they started school, doing HR consulting with her old firm to earn extra income. When Roman was 4 years old (he's now 12), she started making plans to return to work. "I thought about what I was interested in doing, and I went back to school and changed careers," she says. She earned her teaching credentials in English and social studies, and she was hired in 2012 to teach humanities at the local high school, where Ava, now almost 14, is about to start as a ninth-grader.

They still live in the same house in American Canyon, but they've built an addition for a home office and separate bedrooms for the kids. One downside is Raffi's 11/2-hour commute to his job in San Rafael, where he is now the chief city planner. He's vested in a pension and receives generous health care benefits that should continue through retirement. "We make good income, though it"s not tech money," says Raffi, 44. "The retirement side is really the benefit. In the long run, it will pay off. We've never been stressed about money."

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In addition to their pensions, the couple have been saving the maximum in their IRAs every year, and they get advice from a financial planner they met when Elaine's mother passed away. Their top financial priority is saving for retirement, followed by paying off debt and building their emergency savings, and then saving in their kids' 529 plans. "Our financial planning goal is not to fund all of their college, but we’ll try to help with it as much as we can," says Raffi.

Family time is also a priority. Ava and Roman play travel softball and baseball, and Raffi is a coach. "We spend a lot of money on the kids with sports and vacations, and to do things as a family," says Elaine. "You want to be able to give them these experiences."

Kimberly Lankford
Contributing Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance

As the "Ask Kim" columnist for Kiplinger's Personal Finance, Lankford receives hundreds of personal finance questions from readers every month. She is the author of Rescue Your Financial Life (McGraw-Hill, 2003), The Insurance Maze: How You Can Save Money on Insurance -- and Still Get the Coverage You Need (Kaplan, 2006), Kiplinger's Ask Kim for Money Smart Solutions (Kaplan, 2007) and The Kiplinger/BBB Personal Finance Guide for Military Families. She is frequently featured as a financial expert on television and radio, including NBC's Today Show, CNN, CNBC and National Public Radio.