Home > 403B doings, part 5

403B doings, part 5

November 19th, 2008 at 05:12 am

Now that you've set up your 401K or 403B, its time to maintain it.

This corny saying on Wall Street might help you: The trend is your friend, until the end.

To tell you the truth, I found that this post was the most difficult to write. And this is just the introduction. The classic advice: diversify and allocate according to your target age and risk, set up your percentages, check them every six months or yearly, then rebalance if your percentages get out of whack - definitely do if your target allocation is off by 4-5% or so. Rinse and repeat until retirement.

In these times, the classic advice - buy and hold with a touch of dollar cost averaging - is unsatisfying to say the least. The classic advice works if risk is unchanging, prices are gently variable, and the general economy is stable. Then the classic rules apply - stock prices and bond prices move in opposite directions, you can equities "buy on the dip" because you are confident that equities will come back up after giving you that buying opportunity. Once upon a time the trend, your friend, is gently up.

Unfortunately, while you might be stable and consistent as you put money in, the market that you are investing in is clearly not.

We are now at the end of the trend. We know now in late 2008 that risk was extraordinarily high when the general economy snapped. Now stocks are down over 40%, bonds are down over 6%. Both being down is unusual. Only cash is up, and only about 1-2%. The trend is volatile - downdraft, then up rally, then downdraft again. We know that a new trend will form, but when? And if the trend is gently down, what then?

To be fair, you can't time the market. You especially can't time the market in a 401K because, at best, your money is put in as you earn your paycheck. At worst, money is put in quarterly, even yearly, or worst of all, when your plan administrator damn well feels like it. Most people don't have the training or temperament to watch their accounts - I think of myself as a stable gal but heck I get excited (want to buy more) when things go up and bummed (want to sell) when they go down.

Still, there has to be something between the poles of set-it-and-forget-it and mad money trading. I'm trying to find a middle way.

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