The stock market has been off to a rough start this year. The S&P 500 Index is currently down more than 16% year to date through Monday's close.
That's sparked worry for some investors. Some 43% said they're too nervous to invest in the market right now, according to Allianz Life's Quarterly Market Perceptions study, an online survey of more than 1,000 adults conducted in March.
That's a nearly 10 percentage-point increase from the previous quarter, the survey found. In addition, more than half of respondents worry about a market crash, and 81% expect volatility to continue in the market this year.
"People don't like uncertainty when it comes to finances and that is exactly what we have experienced in the markets thus far in 2022," said Kelly LaVigne, vice president of consumer insights at Allianz Life, in a statement.
Even amid market volatility and uncertainty going forward, financial experts advise that people, especially investors with long time horizons, continue to put money into the stock market.
"Consistency in life and in investing is a real critical element to building wealth," said certified financial planner Diahann Lassus, managing principal at Peapack Private Wealth Management in New Providence, New Jersey.
If you're investing for retirement in a 401(k) plan, you should continue to put the same amount into markets, or dollar-cost average your investment.
"You have to be able to do that on the up and the down, that's literally how you compound," said Douglas Boneparth, CFP, president of Bone Fide Wealth in New York. "That's how you win the game."
Continuing to buy when markets fall is also where investors can find opportunities for stocks poised to increase, he said.
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"You're effectively buying things at a discount," said Lee Baker, CFP, founder of Apex Financial Services in Atlanta, adding that having discipline in today's market is like having a parent tell you to eat your vegetables when you were a kid.
"Broccoli doesn't taste so good when we're younger, or carrots, but its good for you and in the long-term it pays off in the form of strong bones," he said. With investing, the payoff is a strong retirement account when you're ready to stop working, he said.
Rebalance if needed
If the market's downturn is keeping you up at night, it may be a good time to rebalance the assets in your portfolio.
"If you ended up with 80% in equities and that's really giving you an ulcer, then maybe it's time to review that exposure," said Lassus, adding that markets may have already done the work for you.
She also suggested rotating money from winners – stocks that have performed well – to ones that have lost value. Even though it can be difficult to sell your high performers, the discipline of selling high and buying low will serve you well over time.
Baker agreed, adding that for some investors, the typical 60% equities and 40% bonds portfolio may no longer make sense.
"Maybe they really need to be at 50-50, or 40-60," Baker said.
Have cash reserves ready
Of course, a falling stock market can be especially nerve-wracking for those who are in or near retirement.
To avoid selling assets at a loss to cover expenses, financial experts recommend having a solid emergency fund on hand in cash. This acts as a buffer so that you can keep assets in the market to rebound instead of selling when prices are down.
"Even if you're 60 or 70 years old, with life expectancies today, you're still investing for the long-term to keep pace with inflation," said Lassus, adding that if you hope to leave money for your family down the road, long-term investing is even more important.
Refocus on your plan
One thing that may help investors disconnect from the daily cycle of volatile markets is to check back in with their long-term financial plan and track where they are with their goals, said Lassus.
Remember that volatility is something to be expected for long-term investors, and today's choppiness comes after roughly two years of solid market returns.
"It's a lot easier to do well investing money, and be disciplined when markets are on the rise," said Boneparth. "It's increasingly difficult to keep up that discipline when things get wild."
In those moments, it's critically important to have a plan and be able to execute on your strategy, he said.
"If you find yourself lost here, it's likely due to lack of a plan," he said.
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Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.