The recent performance of investments can be discouraging. However, the most damaging reaction to your financial future is to reduce your contributions to retirement savings. IRAs and 401(k)s are great ways to save for retirement. In fact the recent performance has convinced me to increase my contributions. This is for two reasons.
First, I had been somewhat optimistic in my guesses about investment returns. The current decline means that investments in the S&P 500 have returned about 0% over the last 10 years. That is a horrible performance and it will take many years to even bring that up to a bad performance. So if you reduce your long term investment performance expectations you need to add more while you are working (or reduce your retirement expectations – or work longer).
Second, I think now is a very good time (long term) to be investing. I think the declines in the markets (both the stock market and real estate market) now provide good investment opportunities. Of course I could be wrong but I am willing to make investments based on this believe. And I believe there are plenty of place real estate prices may still be too high, but I believe there are also good buys.
A third reason worth considering is the damage done to the economy over the last 10 years and the costs of dealing with that today. Those costs are going to have long term impacts. Likely the economy will be stressed paying for the over-indulgences of the past for quite a long time. That means the risks to those in that economy will increase. And therefore having larger reserves is a wise course of action to survive the rough times ahead. Those rough times include a substantial risk of inflation. Investing to protect against that risk is important.
I would recommend starting with at least a 200 basis point increase in retirement contributions. For example, if you were saving 10% for retirement, increase that to 12%. If you have not added to your IRA for 2008, do so now (you have until April 15th to do so). In fact, if you haven’t added to your IRA for 2009, do so now.