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When the market tanks, ask yourself: What would Warren Buffett do?


The Dow dropped 1,000 points Monday as coronavirus fears sparked the index's biggest point and percentage drop in two years.

If you're worried about how your money is faring, financial experts advise you to channel your inner millionaire and ignore the urge to panic and check — or worse, sell off — your investments.

"Perspective is what we tend to lack during days like this," Ann Marie Etergino, a financial advisor at RBC Wealth Management, tells CNBC Make It. "Remind yourself you've been through periods like this before."

To keep things in perspective, as Etergino suggests, consider that while a 1,000-point drop sounds significant, it's really only a 3.56% decline in the Dow's total value.

If you're still worried that things will get worse, though, Etergino says to ask yourself one question: What would Warren Buffett do?

Buffett answered that question Monday on CNBC's "Squawk Box." The investing giant said he doesn't worry about daily headlines. Instead, he considers where businesses will be five, 10 and 20 years from now.

"I don't think I can make money by predicting what's going to go on next week or next month," Buffett told CNBC's Becky Quick. "I do think I can make money by predicting what will go on in the next 10 years."

As Buffett notes, thinking long term is key. While you can't time the market, one of the most important factors in building wealth is time in the market. You don't want to pull your money out when the market has a bad day.

Instead, ride it out. Research indicates that years from now, you may reap the rewards of compounding returns (remember, though, that past returns don't guarantee future gains). And missing even a few days as the market rebounds can significantly diminish your returns, research from JP Morgan shows. Rather than give in to emotion, stay the course. The rich are in it for the long term.

The headlines are scary, but there's always going to be a new threat to investors, whether it's election fears or whatever the Fed will do next, Etergino says. Each day brings a new headline.

"You want to make sure that you are proactive, not reactive," says Etergino.

Give yourself a gut check

If you find yourself constantly refreshing your markets app, there are a few things you can do to settle your nerves. For one, you can reassess your risk tolerance, says Craig Birk, chief investment officer of Personal Capital, a personal finance platform.

"It can be a nice reminder after such a strong 2019 that people should stay a step back and make sure they understand what they own and the risk level in their portfolio," says Birk. "Make sure you know what percentage of your long-term portfolio is in stocks. That sounds pretty basic, but most people don't."

If you're uneasy with your asset allocation, ask yourself why that is. Could you withstand weeks or even months of continuous drops without panic selling? If not, you might consider tweaking your asset allocation in the coming months.

Do you have sufficient savings to see you through any difficult periods? If not, your problem isn't necessarily investing and the market's swings, but how much cash savings you have on hand. Understanding why you're panicking can help you fix some other core money issues.

Another option is to use it as a buying opportunity, suggests Etergino, assuming that's part of your financial plan. "These declines are opportunities to put money to work."

A shake up in the market can be viewed as an opportunity if it makes you think through what it is you're investing for, and what your long-term financial plan is. Are you saving for a home? Planning a vacation? Investing for your kids' education? Consider your time frame, and take advantage of the opportunity to buy shares at a lower price.

"Nothing that's happening today is necessarily going to impact how you invest for your goals," she says.

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