By Mary Beth Franklin, Senior Editor September 30, 2006 The five years before you leave your job, and the five years after, are the most critical transition period for investing and financial planning. As your priority shifts from accumulating money to shepherding it through retirement, you'll probably benefit from some financial guidance. A newly approved pension-reform law will make it easier for employers and 401(k) providers to offer investment advice to workers. Some providers, such as Principal Financial Group, already offer one-on-one counseling to workers who are within five years of retirement age. If you're behind schedule, you might be urged to boost your contributions or work longer. Mutual fund companies encourage new retirees to roll over 401(k) and other retirement savings into an IRA, in exchange for advice on investing for growth and income and for guidance on withdrawing money. MAKE YOUR MONEY LAST 1. Get a Checkup 2. Set Your Budget 3. Do a Dry Run 4. Choose Your Date 5. Consider an Annuity 6. Roll It Over Investing in Retirement Extreme Early Retirement Prudential Financial calls the five years before and after you retire the red zone. It's the time when workers 50 and older can make catch-up contributions to their 401(k)s and other retirement plans. They'll also confront crucial decisions about retirement benefits and investments. For example, if you're lucky enough to have a traditional pension, you may be able to choose between taking a lump sum or a monthly check. Deciding when to collect Social Security benefits can also have an impact on your cash flow. If you've been an aggressive investor, it's probably time for a portfolio makeover. Severe market downturns during the first few years of retirement -- or just before it starts -- can mess up the rest of your life. Although you should not park all your retirement money in bonds and bank accounts, you can surely do without the riskiest kinds of investments. Advertisement An illustration from Prudential underscores how vital it is to avoid large losses during the red-zone years: Even if your retirement investments average a 7% return for 30 years, the sequence of year-to-year returns will determine how long your money lasts. Let's say you retire at 62 with a lump sum of $250,000 and intend to withdraw 5% of the portfolio's value each year. If you lose a bundle during your first few years of retirement, you could run out of money by age 79. But if you enjoy double-digit profits early on and your losses come later, you'll end up with more than twice as much as you had when you started -- even after taking annual withdrawals and allowing for some disastrous drops toward the end of the 30 years.