The rules of retirement have changed. What we were told to do 30, 20, even 10 years ago now seems like a pipe dream. “Be loyal to a company and you’ll get a life-long pension. Save a little money in a 401k and buy a house. When it’s time to retire, your investments and your home will have grown many times over so you’ll have plenty of money,” we were told … “plus Social Security will always be there for you, too!” Perhaps we were sold a bill of goods, or maybe it is the natural order of things, but one thing is for certain: the rules have definitely changed and it’s time to take the risk out of retirement and take control of your finances.

If you are in the retirement red-zone, that means within 5 years of retirement or already enjoying your golden years, you now have a brand new set of concerns that previous generations never had to worry about: When to start taking Social Security, long-term care and elder care not only for you but for your parents, and a retirement income strategy that will survive the test of time. If your advisor is only talking to you about your investments, you are missing the boat! In today’s complex and fast changing world, you need a true financial advisor.  

Here are 5 often-overlooked strategies that are critical for a successful and stress-free retirement:

1.    Understand today’s economy. As I discuss in my book "Facing Goliath – How to Triumph in the Dangerous Market Ahead," we are not in a “typical” market cycle that most of us are used to. Today, the large majority of our population is well past their peak spending years, because people spend the most when they are in their 30’s and 40’s, and slow down their spending drastically after 48. An economy needs to have more spenders than savers, which is what we had in the 1980’s and 90’s with the baby-boomers, but that generation is now in savings mode. The next real boom for our economy will not come until the echo-boomers, the kids of the baby-boomers, hit their peak-spending stride around 2020. Expect slow growth until then and beware of when the Federal Reserve cuts back or ends the stimulus. Adjust your expectations and invest accordingly.

2.    “Invest for need, not for greed™”. Create an investment strategy that gets the return that you need so your finances get the best returns with the least risk possible. I like to call this win by not losing. Your portfolio should be made up of investments that perform well when the market goes up, but more importantly outperforms when it goes down. As you get older, you don’t have the time to recoup large losses. The market just took 6 years to gain back all that was lost. When you are in that retirement red-zone, you can’t afford zero gains, which is a serious loss after inflation, not to mention all those sleepless nights worrying about. Don’t let it happen again.

3.    Social Security is a tax-free asset. Too many people think Social Security is just something you turn on, but that is the wrong way to look at it. Social Security timing is critical. In addition, Social Security is designed to be tax-free income and it’s up to you to disqualify yourself. It all depends on what I call the “sequence of distributions.” Choosing the right option can be a daunting task. For a 62-year-old couple there are 1,379 different options to choose, and choosing the right option can mean the difference of $100,000 or more.

4.    Create a retirement income stream that will last the test of time. You don’t want to run out of money in retirement. People are living longer and longer, and putting the right distribution plan has never been more important. Twenty-five years ago I used to plan for clients to live until 85. Today I use 95, and I expect that to be 100 before long.

5.    You will need elder care. Imagine working your whole life, scrimping and saving every dime you can sock away so you can retire comfortably, only to see your hard-earned savings decimated by an illness in the family. It’s not a question of if you get old and start losing your abilities, but when. It will happen to you, your spouse, and your parents. It is estimated that 80-90% of your wealth can be spent in the last 30 months of life. Prepare now or expect to go back to work.

These 5 critical strategies are the stepping-stones for everyone in the retirement red-zone. Careful planning now will mean the difference of traveling to visit your grandkids in first class on a plane, or taking the bus. Very simply, be the expert, not just in investments but comprehensive financial planning, or hire one.