It's amazing how easily fear overcomes resolution, and how easily long-term investors turn into panicked sellers in a market decline. That's what happens when you don't have a plan that you understand, and a commitment to stick to the plan.
Words like "diversification" or "asset allocation" seem to come from a different language. But the falling balances in your retirement account are unmistakable signs that your chances of retirement are going down the drain.
Don't panic -- and don't rely on historic facts, even the ones I've often given. True, over the long run, there has never been a 20-year period where you would have lost money in a diversified portfolio of large-company American stocks with dividends reinvested. Facts are cold comfort without a plan.
Do you have that 20-year "long run" to wait, and the discipline to hang in there? Or do you need some of your portfolio in safe, "chicken money" alternatives that will let you sleep at night?
Even in the midst of a market decline that could be protracted by an oncoming recession, it's not too late to make a sensible plan. Here are three sources of reliable advice -- and they're at your fingertips.
Mutual fund giant T. Rowe Price (TROW) has just introduced a new and improved online retirement investment and income calculator. You'll find it at www.TRowePrice.com/RIC. Using sophisticated "Monte Carlo" modeling, it takes the information you input about your desired retirement age, current income, hoped for retirement income, and your current amount and rate of savings, to give you a realistic assessment of how far short of your goals you're likely to fall -- and how much more you need to save.
The calculator will also recommend appropriate portfolio asset allocation between stocks, bonds and safer, short-term investments to help meet your goals.
Financial Engines is a registered investment advisory service offered by the largest corporations to their employees, to help them make personalized investment decisions. You can't get access as an individual -- except through my Web site. There you can click on the blue box marked Financial Engines and get a free one-year trial.
Create your own PIN-protected account, and input your mutual funds and stock investments. They'll make personalized recommendations to help reach your goals. (This is done as a favor to my readers, and I have no relationship with the company.)
Getting on Track
If you're willing to do a more intensive online process, go to, the Web site of the nonprofit Employee Benefit Research, and then click on "Ballpark Estimate." While the group doesn't give personalized investment information, it does a thorough job of analyzing your current savings rate and letting you know if you're on track to reach your desired retirement income.
These are the days when a fee-only financial planner can be especially helpful. And if you have a long relationship with a responsible stockbroker or other planner, you'll get advice that is not commission-motivated.
It's not easy to go through a bear market alone. And you know that bear markets end only when even the most disciplined investors give up and sell. We're not there yet. So be prepared. And that's The Savage Truth.