If you see Nancy Cifuentes out in the lily pond of Volunteer Park, don't worry. She's supposed to be there. As a gardener for the city of...

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If you see Nancy Cifuentes out in the lily pond of Volunteer Park, don’t worry. She’s supposed to be there.

As a gardener for the city of Seattle, she maintains the pond.

“I’m Monet’s assistant,” she said.

Her work also includes working on major floral displays and, in winter, renovating the landscaping. “This job has given me more than I could ever have imagined,” she said. “It’s like winning the lotto.”

But that’s just a figure of speech. When it comes to money, Cifuentes is conservative.

“I have an absolute intolerance for risk,” she said, a trait she inherited from her father. “I am my father’s daughter. He was a strong believer in not getting into debt.”

So it’s been for Cifuentes, whose only major debt is the $14,000 mortgage on her home. But at 55, she’s hoping to retire at 60 or 62 and has never done a serious financial plan.

Like many baby boomers, Cifuentes avoided the steady corporate grind of her parents’ generation. Describing herself as “an adventuress” who never had a “real” job until age 38, she studied dance and musical theater, worked as a waitress and in commercial fishing. She was in a modern-dance company for four years in Astoria, Ore.

The job with the city — which became full time after she began as a volunteer and then seasonal worker at Woodland Park Zoo — gave her stability and benefits. She now makes about $21 an hour and can take a pension — totaling about $1,400 a month — when she retires. Her deferred-compensation plan totals about $27,000, and she has $18,000 in CDs. She proudly points to putting away more than $1,000 a month in savings.

“I’m living proof if you manage your money right, you can get somewhere,” she said.

As she shows a visitor her comfortable Ballard home, Cifuentes still moves like the dancer she trained to be. But work, involving plenty of stooping and gardening on the knees, is not as easy as it once was. Her hands give her trouble on cold, wet days. “I’m out there working with kids,” she said.

To prepare a plan for retirement, Cifuentes worked with Bob Panian, a certified financial planner with Bear Creek Financial in Tukwila.

She already has strong views on money.

For example, “throwing money” at her mortgage to eliminate it as fast as possible is just good sense. “I don’t see how people live in the mortgage world,” she said. “I want to get out from under it.”

She doesn’t see much sense in investing in stocks, either.

“The stock market is a giant casino,” she said. “I’ve been positioning myself for the economic reality that’s facing us. I’m not a doomsayer, but things are going to get worse.”

Cifuentes described herself as a “cheapskate” but later was exuberant about improvements she’d made to the house. “I do spend money,” she said.

Her goal: “I want to live here, have my beautiful garden. I want to entertain. I’d like to travel a little bit. After all, we’re living the best years of our lives.”

She laughed. “You want to know the secret of success? Low goals.”