For most of us, retirement is not about sunset strolls on sandy beaches and drinking piña coladas. Instead, it is a serious endeavor that requires careful planning and preparation. Failure to get one’s financial house in order prior to retiring can lead to big problems for seniors. Many people have had to return to full-time employment because they failed to adequately prepare to leave the workforce.

However, taking a few important steps can help you leave your career behind, comfortably and with peace of mind, knowing that your finances are in good shape. This list of five critical steps to take before entering retirement will help guide you.

1. Take Advantage of Employee Benefits

You should know what benefits are available to you at work before you retire. (Double check with your human resources department, since many of us are not fully aware of all the benefits we have through our employer.) If your dental coverage is good and you or another family member needs expensive implants and bridgework, for example, it would be wise to get that done while you’re still employed. You should also find out what your company’s policy is on vacation and sick/personal days that you accrued during your employment but haven’t yet used. If you won’t be allowed to “cash out” on the extra time when you retire, you should plan on using up those days before leaving.

“Employee benefits such as vacation and sick pay are earned benefits. Think of your overall compensation as two parts, actual pay and earned benefits. If your company does not pay you for these benefits when you leave your job, it is wasted compensation if not taken advantage of,” says Mark Hebner, founder and president of Index Fund Advisors, Inc., in Irvine, Calif., and author of “Index Funds: The 12-Step Recovery Program for Active Investors.”

Are you contributing the maximum amount to your workplace defined contribution plan? Anyone over age 50 can make catch-up contributions to a 401(k) – if your plan allows it – to help the account grow before you begin to use it; the limit in 2017 is $6,000. Taking time to understand your employee benefits, and taking advantage of them while you still can is a smart move.

2. Decide When to Collect Social Security

Social Security is a significant part of retirement income for most people, and each of us must decide the best age to begin collecting Social Security benefits.

For Americans born between 1943 and 1954, full retirement age (FRA) is 66; that’s when you can receive 100% of your benefit. (For those born between 1955 and 1960, full retirement age gradually rises to 67, and remains so for anyone born after 1960.) The earliest age you can begin receiving Social Security is 62, but you will only get 75% of your eligible benefit since you will be collecting longer by starting earlier. At age 65, you will receive 93.3% of your benefit. It can be worth it to…