While clients often look to set a fixed rate of spending over retirement, some advisers say it's more realistic to expect it to rise and fall over those leisure years.

A retiree's interests are likely to change along with, and sometimes because of, their health. That can naturally produce an ebb and flow, which advisers say is acceptable — as long as it's within their means.

Donna Skeels Cygan, an Albuquerque, N.M., certified financial planner, said she encourages clients to stay "very flexible" with spending, especially early. People often don't know how much they will need each month or year until they "settle" into retirement after about two years, she said.

A rule of thumb holds that retirees can safely draw down their savings by 4% a year, although that has been challenged recently by low fixed-rate returns. But spending is often a moving target: While the travel bills may shrink as a retiree gets older, there are other costs that may rise, particularly health care. Skeels Cygan recommends clients buy long-term-care insurance if they are healthy enough to make it through the underwriting process.

Kevin Reardon, a CFP in Pewaukee, Wis., sometimes draws a picture of clients' later years, which will see them sacrificing more than their peers who didn't overspend. "They need to understand the ramifications down the road," he said.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.