Honey, I Shrank Our Investments — Now What?

Uh oh, the stock market slid again. So what else is new? Even patient optimists have gotten fed up with the market, which is exactly why it’s going down. 

As the last rat (excuse the expression) bails off the ship, there will be no more sellers left. With only buyers left at the party, the market is bound to go up.

Or at least, so goes the theory.

If you are still hanging in there waiting for the market to go up, here’s some things you can do to build wealth.

1. Celebrate that the market is down
 The trick to making money is to buy low and sell high. The market is down, so this is a great time to be investing new money on a regular basis. Stocks are on sale, so you’ll get more shares in your favorite fund for less money.

2. Keep investing into your 401(k).
 If your employer matches your contribution, that’s an automatic boost to your rate of return. And remember that the up-front tax deduction provides a great return on your investment, even if it is not matched, and even if you do not earn a high rate of return on your investments.

3. Don’t invest the bulk of your 401(k) in company stock.
 This has always been a no-no, and the Enron disaster is merely a contemporary example. Remember, Enron was just the first of several – no matter what faith you have in your company, don’t go overboard. Diversify to keep your retirement ship afloat.

4. Keep the faith.
The market will recover, someday, so don’t make radical moves out of stocks. Remember, buy low and sell high, not the other way around. So if we are at the bottom, or near it (“building a base” to use investment jargon) this is a poor time to bail.

5. Trim your investments in tech and growth stocks.
The go-go 90s “momentum investing” relied to some extent on the greater fool theory— you might be buying stocks with no earnings, but someone else would buy them from you later at an even higher price. In this millennium, give value investing a chance. Value investing is investing in stocks that depend less on growth and more on substance, and are undervalued compared to their competitors. 

6. Allocate your assets wisely.
Allocate your money among investments that don’t march in lock-step. When stocks are down, bonds are up. Real estate has different cycles, and international stocks often march to a different drummer. 

7. Go back to basics: Budget, reducing unnecessary, unhealthy, or unrewarding expenses.
 Pay off consumer debt, since interest is the expense that provides the least amount of pleasure for the money. Lower your taxes: Buy a home and deduct the interest. Moonlight and deduct home office expenses. Contribute to tax-deferred and tax-deductible plans such as 401(k)s and cafeteria plans.

8. Invest in mutual funds.
 Too many investors put all their money into a few funds in limited sectors. Put your money into professionally managed funds that invest in a wide variety of stocks, or invest in index funds that mimic a certain index of stocks.

9. Study economic cycles.
 The economy ebbs and flows, just as do the tides. It isn’t your fault that your assets went down, and you need to understand economic cycles so you’ll have the faith that they’ll come back again. They always have, they always do, and they will again.

10. Give yourself a break.
After you’ve realigned your investments, and have your 401(k) on track, take a break. Sure, you need to keep up with your investments, but don’t obsess over them. You’ll need to rebalance your portfolio every six months or so, but you really don’t need to look things over more often than that.

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