The only question to ask yourself about your 401(k) is when stock indexes are falling

With the Dow DJIA,
-1.62%,
S&P 500 SPX,
-1.72%
and Nasdaq COMP,
-1.80%
indices dive into the red right now, looking at your retirement portfolio may have your heart racing.

Quit Tip of the Week: Advisors usually advise their clients and everyone to stay calm during market volatility, but that’s easier said than done when you see your hard-earned dollars dwindling. Don’t make any drastic moves, but consider your feelings during this event – then be ready to talk about it.

Panic and any sudden changes to your portfolio will not help your retirement savings – in many cases, it would harm your future prospects. It’s important to remember that while it may seem like you’ve lost money during a market downturn, that’s not the case unless you’re going to withdraw or make major changes to your asset allocation. When you sell during a downturn, you are making those losses official.

Look: Whether you are retiring in 30 years or 5 years, you still need to do this one thing religiously

Still, it’s not exactly relaxing to sit there and watch the numbers tick down in bright color, and it’s not always watchable. Although advisers often advise people not to check their accounts too often – especially when the market is performing at its highest level – it is not always an option for someone who is sensitive to these fluctuations.

While you shouldn’t make any sudden real changes, write down how you’re feeling during this time and note how much of your portfolio has been “lost” due to the downturn. For example, if you have a $1 million portfolio and you lost $10,000, that’s 1% of your portfolio. This will be an important talking point when the market stabilizes and when you have your next conversation with a financial advisor.

Ask yourself: How am I feeling right now? How would I feel if my account balance bounced back in a day or two? What would I most likely feel if it stayed like this for a while? Can I stay calm going forward during a downturn or do I need to change the actual risk of my portfolio?

Portfolios are created with multiple variables in mind, such as time horizon and target size, but they are not always created during periods of market volatility. For more than a decade, the markets have mostly been going up and investors are fighting the peak of the bull market. With this bias, it’s easy to forget what it feels like when things fall down… even if those moments are temporary.

Portfolios could also be made with risk capacity in mind – that’s how much risk an account can handle to achieve goals – but that measure isn’t always aligned with a person’s risk tolerance, which is how they can handle it emotionally.

Do you have a question about your own retirement concerns? Check out the MarketWatch column “Help Me Quit”

Investors may be asked to fill out a risk tolerance questionnaire before setting up their portfolios, but they may not know exactly how much risk they can tolerate until the market makes serious moves. It’s hard to gauge how market movements feel until the event actually happens, so filling out the paperwork might make them feel more confident about how they handle volatility.

After assessing how this volatility makes you feel, talk to an advisor or qualified representative at the investment firm that provides your retirement savings, and ask them what options are best for your needs and meet your goals but with less risk. You may need to change your perspective a little to keep your goal in place – that could be working a little longer to compensate for less risk, or adjusting your goals a little – but your it may help you sleep better at night in the years leading up to retirement.

Also try these hacks in the meantime: avoid checking your account regularly, keep any losses (and gains) in the context of how much your total account balance is worth and how much time you have until you start withdrawing back and try the RAIN model, short for “Recognition, Acceptance, Investigation and Non-Identification.” And try to stay calm – market volatility is normal.

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