Financial planners like to see smooth waters for clients in their 50s: saving lots in the best earning years of one's career, avoiding new debt, paying off the mortgage by retirement or soon thereafter.
Instead, Christopher and Robyn Reagan of South Pasadena have weathered a storm of big events.
"We had just gotten to a point where we could afford to live in this house," said Christopher Reagan about the couple's 73-year-old, three-bedroom, two-bathroom home in South Pasadena, purchased in 1998.
"Then my daughter got pregnant, my son got into college and my wife lost her job," he said.
FOR THE RECORD:
Money Makeover: An article in the Dec. 1 Business section in which a couple's finances were analyzed by a fee-only financial planner said the husband and wife lived in South Pasadena. Their home is in Los Angeles.
To financial planner Delia Fernandez, founder of Fernandez Financial Advisory in Los Alamitos, the Reagans are an example of the increasingly common problem of older parents juggling college costs and retirement planning.
"I never want my parent clients to sacrifice their own retirement for their kids' education," Fernandez said, "and if they are not careful, they are going to do that."
The Reagans, both 52, also show how quickly a family can go from "white-knuckling, middle-class status," as Robyn Reagan put it, to something less.
"They are the classic example of a family that has tried to do as much as they can for their children and now find themselves up against it," Fernandez said.
Just a few years ago, the Reagans were headed in a different direction.
The Reagans were high school sweethearts who started dating in 1979, their senior year. They were married in 1987 and there is still a telltale gleam when they look into each other's eyes.
He attended UC San Diego and Nova Southeastern University, and she went to Pitzer College and UCLA.
Robyn Reagan was the primary wage earner, bringing in about $72,500 working for a nonprofit.
For the first nine years as a parent, Christopher Reagan was a stay-at-home dad.
He then became a teacher, he said, because "it was the best way to have a schedule that meshed perfectly with my children's." Now he teaches at the same middle school in Pasadena he attended in his youth.
The financial complications hit suddenly and multiplied rapidly.
The Reagans' twentysomething daughter gave birth to a son in March 2012. Because neither the daughter nor her partner had jobs, the Reagans opened their home and supported a family of five for about a year.
The Reagans' son began attending Boston University. He got $26,800 in scholarship money to help defray the cost of tuition, room and board, which totaled slightly more than $58,000.