"We see two camps," Burns says. "There are the people who figured they would have to work forever, who were really frugal, they saved and live a moderate lifestyle. It turns out they can go ahead and retire. They can go ahead and accelerate things.

"Then there are the ones who just never really did any planning and they end up in scramble mode. There are a number of people out there who have been making a lot of money, but living a lifestyle (that reflects it)," Burns continues. "For the folks that haven't been squirreling away, there's not a lot we can do. It's a shame, and I hate to see it, but from an investment standpoint, there's not much we can do."

Controlled spending is only part of the picture. Just as important is ensuring a suitable income stream. Social Security and drawing down on 401k's or IRAs will be a baseline. But especially as people live longer and more productively, establishing a suitable lifetime income stream is crucial. That necessity has been among the selling points, for instance, in the current wave of annuity products promoted by firms such as Fidelity, MetLife, John Hancock, Prudential, Genworth, New York Life and Allianz.

For people escalating their retirement date, their portfolios need to protect them from running out of money.

Burns is a proponent of using individual bonds as a safe "paycheck portfolio," with careful use of equities to ensure long-term appreciation.

"Most people aren't so frugal that they can spend whatever the yield curve is," he says. "They need some exposure to equities."

Burns advocates bond laddering, dividing investment dollars evenly among bonds that mature at regular intervals. He stresses the value of individual bonds over bond funds.

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"By using individual bonds to build an income portfolio, you can build a time buffer," he says. "The person who wants to retire now, they have to keep their spending in check. And they need to give themselves time to let equity markets do what they do, which is occasionally go down -- sometimes a lot -- but go up more than they go down if you are able to hold them for a long time and not make dumb decisions at the wrong time. If you are just pulling money out of your portfolio and there's no real structure to the income piece, it gets really scary, and that's when people make the wrong decision at the wrong time."

"A big advantage for an individual bond is that when interest rates start to rise you already know your worst-case scenario," he adds. "Your worst-case scenario is the yield to maturity and then you get your principal back. Whereas with a bond fund you can lose money."

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