You might be asking yourself lately: “Should I stop contributing to my 401(k)?” Lots of people are.
As the stock market plummeted on fears of the spreading coronavirus, that query was among the most popular online searches. The horrid combination of a threatening virus and a shrinking retirement balance made you wonder if you should hang on to your cash instead of investing it for the future.
But because you asked, here’s the answer: Absolutely not!
Market crashes are nauseating, especially if you are young and have not experienced one. They are frightening. And no one can say for sure when the market will stabilize. But time is in your favor. You have years — decades! — to recover from this roller coaster ride and reap returns when the market rises again. Even if you are in your 50s or even your 60s, you are likely to spend 20 or even 30 years in retirement. So you have time to let your money bake longer in the investing oven.
Yes, stocks crashed on Monday and were still gyrating wildly midweek. Yes, there are scary red minus signs next to your online account balances. But that’s exactly why you should keep contributing to your 401(k). “Stocks are on sale,” said the investment adviser Dave O’Brien of EVOAdvisers. Your regular paycheck contributions are buying more shares, because they’re cheap.
And if you have an employer that matches your retirement plan contributions, you are buying shares partly with “free” money. If you’re not saving enough to get the match, you should increase your paycheck contribution now. If you are already getting the match, increase your contributions. If you are putting away 4 percent of your paycheck, go to 5 percent. It’s a small step, so you won’t miss the money much.
So, yes. Acknowledge that it stinks to see your account balance drop. It’s painful.
But keep contributing. Your future self will thank you.