Vanguard Funds’ John Bogle once said, “Investing should be boring.” During sustained market rallies, when the S&P 500 seems to hit new record highs every week, this often seems like good advice: Just set it and forget it. The problem comes when the market suddenly hits a period of turbulence. When this occurs, spooked investors often make bad mistakes—like selling stocks and stock funds at a loss. Anyone who bailed out of the stock market in spring of 2020 when the S&P 500 dropped by 30% only to see it fully recover by mid-summer learned a costly lesson about giving in to irrational impulses. So, how can you keep from making bad decisions? Well, just as the best time to get an umbrella is before it rains, the best time to start thinking about making changes to your investment portfolio is during periods of calm before a potential market storm. One good way to do this is to automatically rebalance your portfolio at least once or twice a year at designated times. For example, if the targeted asset allocation in your IRA or 401(k) account is 60% stocks and 40% bonds and rising stock prices have increased the stock allocation to 70%, consider selling 10% of your stocks or stock funds whose price you believe have peaked and use the profits to buy more bonds to restore that 60/40 mix. Or, if you’re close to retiring and realize you will need to withdraw more money from your retirement accounts each year than you originally expected, consider reducing your allocation to stocks when the market is still calm and move the proceeds into cash or money market funds. That way, if an extended bear market happens later on you won’t have to sell as much stock at a loss to generate the cash you need to live on. To make these decisions effectively you need to understand the connection between your investment strategy and your financial goals and have the self-discipline to make these adjustments even during volatile markets. If you don’t feel qualified to do this yourself, consider working with a fee-only fiduciary financial advisor. Entrusting them to keep your investment plan on track through all kinds of market conditions will give you greater peace of mind in knowing that your financial future is in good hands.
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