We asked 5 financial planners with Vanguard Personal Advisor Services®—Mary Ryan, Deji Akintoye, Kahlilah Dowe, Jane Simpson, and Julie Edwards—about the most important question they ask clients based on where they are on their journey to retirement. Thinking about your own answer to each question can provide you with a fresh perspective on your retirement goals and plans.

New investors: When will you start saving and how much will you save?

Mary Ryan: For many, the most difficult part of saving for retirement is simply getting started. At first, retirement can seem far away and the dollar amount you need to accumulate unreachable. And to further complicate things, saving for retirement is probably competing with other goals—like saving for your children’s education, buying a home, or paying down debt. So I encourage investors to shift their perspective to focus on what they can control—how much they spend and the discipline with which they save.

For starters, look at your current income and spending habits to see how much you can set aside for retirement each pay period. (If it’s not as much as you’d like, don’t get discouraged.) Then save that amount and stick with it. Every 6 months, increase the amount you save (if you can) and go from there—the most important thing is to start saving! Breaking up a big goal into several smaller goals will help you see immediate progress, which can motivate you to keep saving.

After saving for retirement for 10 years, ask yourself: “How much do I need to accumulate?”

Deji Akintoye: Figuring out how much you need to accumulate gets to the heart of the matter: the dollar amount you’ll need to “afford” retirement. Assigning a figure to your retirement savings goals can inspire you to keep saving (and save more) because it can be easier to work toward tangible goals as opposed to abstract ideas.

To start, think about your wants in addition to your needs—your retirement savings goals should not only meet your daily living expenses in retirement but also let you enjoy yourself.

By looking at a few factors (including your age, the amount you save, and your anticipated rate of return), you can project whether you’re on track to meet your savings goals. The key is to set realistic expectations for retirement and create a plan. Then take advantage of the time you have now—don’t just make a plan to save. Save!

When retirement is right around the corner, ask yourself: “How much will I need to rely on my investment portfolio to meet my daily living expenses?”

Kahlilah Dowe: I’ve heard people say that retirement starts to seem “real” when it’s about 5 years away. This can be a good time to think about how much income you’ll need to make your vision of retirement a reality.

Knowing the extent to which you need to tap into your investment portfolio to meet your daily living expenses can help you determine how aggressive or conservative your asset mix should be in the years leading up to retirement. If you’ll have other income streams in retirement, like Social Security or a pension, you may be able to maintain your current asset mix or invest more aggressively. If your portfolio will be your primary income source, it may be smart to invest more conservatively to preserve the value of your portfolio.

When retirement is about 5 years away, focus on your asset mix. The level of risk you take on should correspond with how much your investment portfolio will have to shoulder the weight of supporting your daily living expenses in retirement.

Reaching retirement is a milestone, but don’t stop planning ahead. What’s your vision for the future?

Jane Simpson: For some investors, retirement means transitioning to a life of relaxing and spending—from a life of working and saving. In the midst of the transition, consider how your lifestyle changes can potentially impact your finances. Using projected fixed expenses (costs that are the same every month) and discretionary expenses (costs that cover wants rather than needs), come up with a spending strategy to balance your expectations with your limitations.

Although it’s prudent to plan ahead, it’s also necessary to remain financially flexible—you can make a plan based on what you know right now, but you have to monitor your actual spending and make adjustments as needed. I encourage all newly retired clients to remember that the first few years of retirement are often about fulfilling lifelong dreams (like relocating or taking a trip of a lifetime), so it’s unlikely that subsequent years of retirement will include the same expenses. It’s okay to take some time to figure it out.

You’re living life as a retiree—finally! Is there anything about your lifestyle that hasn’t met your expectations?

Julie Edwards: About 5 years after you retire, consider asking yourself whether or not retirement is what you thought it would be. Compare the vision you had for retirement with the reality of being retired. But before you place the blame on your finances for any unmet expectations, review your budget. Is your spending on track?

If you’re overspending, you can either supplement your income (by getting a job) or reduce your expenses. Because you’re on a fixed income, it’s a good idea to periodically review your discretionary expenses and potentially give up or cut back on a membership, an activity, or a recurring expense that isn’t crucial to your happiness.

Sometimes how you envision your retirement differs from how it actually plays out, and there may be periods of uncertainty. Another way to approach the discrepancy between your retirement dream and the reality is to adjust your expectations.

If you have an appropriate long-term asset allocation plan that’s readjusted periodically and you live within your means, you can redefine your “ideal retirement” as you go.

All investing is subject to risk, including the possible loss of the money you invest. Please remember that all investments involve some risk. Be aware that fluctuations in the financial markets and other factors may cause declines in the value of your account. There is no guarantee that any particular asset allocation or mix of funds will meet your investment objectives or provide you with a given level of income. Advisory services are provided by Vanguard Advisers, Inc. (VAI), a registered investment advisor.