3 Steps to Stay Sane in a Volatile Market

3 Steps to Stay Sane in a Volatile Market
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Many Americans are facing an internal struggle right now: We know we need to invest to keep up with taxes and inflation, but a volatile market is making us yearn for “safe” places to put our money. That’s because we experience losses about twice as severely as equivalent gains, a phenomenon known as “loss aversion” in the world of behavioral economics.


Loss aversion and other biases can cause us to act irrationally. In times like these, it might make us want to guard our money instead of risking it in the markets – maybe move all of it into low-risk investments like bonds or certificates of deposit or high-yield savings accounts.


But for most of us, such a move would be a costly mistake that could set our retirement plans back years.


Here are a few tips to keep your sanity and your solvency in a crazy market.


1. Don’t look at your accounts right now. Unless absolutely necessary, resist taking a peek at your investment accounts. This will help prevent your primitive brain, prone to all those behavioral biases, from panicking and doing something rash.

[RELATED: How to Recession-Proof Your Finances]


2. Put things in perspective. If you don’t need to withdraw from your investments for decades, then a drop in the market can be viewed as something of a fire sale – one that, in the long run, will help you grow your portfolio. This assumes you are continuing to practice dollar cost averaging, an investment strategy where you are making regular investments in the market. It also assumes that you are staying the course, keeping your money in the market for the long haul.


If you’re closer to retiring from the workforce, say 15-20 years out, you still have plenty of time to recover from market fluctuations as long as your portfolio is allocated properly. If you don’t know how to allocate your portfolio, you could consider investing in a target date fund (like the Thrift Savings Plan’s Lifecycle funds).


[MOAA RESOURCES: Asset Allocation Calculator]


If you are five or less years away from retirement, hopefully you have already moved some of your portfolio into less-risky investments such as bonds and cash.


Those in retirement and withdrawing from their investments should have a sizeable cash reserve and a portfolio structured to weather a prolonged market downturn.


3. Get help if you need it. If the words “asset allocation” sound intimidating and the idea of a hands-on approach to investing makes you nervous, you might want to call in a professional.


I am a big proponent of getting a periodic reality check from a fee-only financial planner. Yes, this costs a bit, but retirement withdrawal planning is complicated. You don’t want to get this wrong.


If you are experiencing financial difficulties and need help with debt management or are going through a life transition and want guidance on creating a spending plan, you can get free financial counseling through the Veterans Benefits Banking Program.


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About the Author

Lila Quintiliani, ChFC®, AFC®
Lila Quintiliani, ChFC®, AFC®

Quintiliani is MOAA's Program Director, Financial and Benefits Education/Counseling. She is a former Army Military Intelligence Officer as well as the spouse of an active-duty servicemember, and worked for over a decade at military installations as a personal financial counselor.