For Philippe Brunelle, financial planning comes down to a simple, overarching question: Can he afford The American dream? Brunelle, 28, grew up...

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For Philippe Brunelle, financial planning comes down to a simple, overarching question: Can he afford The American dream?

Brunelle, 28, grew up in Ballard and was a Merchant Marine after two years of community college. Then he worked as an antenna installer when a layoff struck a year ago. He bounced back, taking a night-shift job making mechanical repairs on Amtrak trains in Seattle.

Yet it’s still a tough go for Brunelle and girlfriend Autumn Knowlton.

“It’s very difficult to get by comfortably,” he said. “We feel shortchanged, like we can’t make that step up we need to make because we can’t get good jobs.”

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Knowlton, 30, has a master’s degree in Spanish, but teaching didn’t pay particularly well, so she is working instead as a paralegal.

The Seattle pair’s financial profile is like that of many Americans in their 20s and early 30s.

Unlike the generation that came of age after World War II, they face a world where benefits, pensions and union protection are on the wane.

Wages have stagnated for many workers, even those with college educations. Meanwhile, the job security that was common in the 1950s and 1960s is gone.

Brunelle brings in about $32,000 a year, while Knowlton makes $25,000.

Both are coping with student loans and some credit-card debt, for a total of about $55,000. Brunelle has stopped using credit cards for purchases.

They have no major assets or substantial savings.

They rent an apartment in Ballard and the notion of homeownership seems too daunting to contemplate, particularly with the Seattle area’s high housing prices.

“I want to try to figure out how to plan better, if that’s possible,” Brunelle said, “if it’s even possible with what we make, without eating oatmeal every day. We’ve been trying to figure this out for a long time.”

Their case seems made to order for David Jackson, a certified financial planner and certified public accountant for Harvest Capital Advisors in Bellevue.

Jackson said financial planning is his “passion,” one that extends to meeting with people from his church on Monday nights to help them get out of debt and get on a budget.

Jackson began by getting an accurate snapshot of their income, debts and fixed expenses. Next he wanted to see if there were any runaway costs in day-to-day expenses.

“There are ways of controlling variable expenses,” he said. “Eighty percent of people are not willing to do a budget and hold themselves accountable. Philippe and Autumn are.”

Jackson promotes what he calls a “faucet spending plan”: determining an amount to spend on expenses while also reaching other goals, especially paying off debt and building savings. If those latter two suffer, turn back the faucet on entertainment or other variable expenses.

“I especially stress the importance of savings,” Jackson said. “People need to get in the habit, even if it’s $10 a month to start.”