You never thought the day would come, but it’s finally time to start thinking about preparing for retirement. This phase of your professional life can be kind of like the five stages of grief. First you’re in denial about the day actually arriving, then you get angry that you didn’t start planning sooner, then you start to bargain for a few more years in the working world, and then you realize you’ll have a lot more free time and, finally, you accept your new identity as a retiree. But before you get into this whirlwind of emotions, you have to plan for what’s to come.

1. Downsize for retirement

Your spacious two-story home may be perfect for the whole family, but once the chicks have flown the coop, it might feel like a bit too much to handle. Since you want to truly enjoy your retirement, think about whether you want to deal with home maintenance tasks; odds are, you’d rather not spend your retirement fixing faucets and mowing grass. It’s not uncommon for people to move to apartments when they retire. You may be able to sell your home and use that money to live quite comfortably in a rental property.

If you’re considering moving to a new state or city, find out whether you need a car to get around there. You may be able to sell that, too, if you’re headed somewhere with great public transportation or simply plan to spend all your waking hours in that same spot on the beach.

2. Protect yourself

Unfortunately, your paycheck isn’t the only thing to disappear once you retire – you also lose all of the benefits that come with the job. If you’re under age 65, you can purchase short term medical insurance to cover you until you’re eligible for Medicare. (Some Medicare benefits may be awarded before age 65, under certain provisions). An unexpected health problem can be devastating and wipe out your savings, if you’re uninsured.

3. Budgeting

Retirees generally hope to live the rest of their lives off of the money they have in savings and investments, so budgeting is absolutely crucial. The U.S. Department of Labor offers a variety of resources to help individuals calculate exactly how much they need to save for retirement to plan accordingly. Saving on your own accord is important, but you should also take advantage of your employer’s retirement savings plan and look into pension plan opportunities. Another effective way to maximize retirement funds is to invest, so you have several resources to draw income from once you retire.

For some readers, retirement might be so far off that it seems overly ambitious to begin planning now. For others, retirement might be right around the corner, and planning might feel like a frantic last-minute exercise. No matter which end of this range you identify with, remember that it’s never too early or too late to begin retirement planning. The sooner the better, but with proper goals, discipline and a foolproof strategy, your carefree and work-free life can become a reality sooner than you think.

Read more: Savings and Investment During Retirement