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3 Ways to Keep Investing Even When You're Scared

By Dan Caplinger – Feb 25, 2020 at 9:05AM

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Here's how to take advantage of down markets.

There's been a lot of turbulence lately in the stock market, with indexes soaring to new record highs only to hit big air pockets that send them plunging again. With global issues like the COVID-19 outbreak adding to existing geopolitical and macroeconomic worries, there's a lot for investors to keep in mind.

Even when times are tough, it's important to stick with an investing plan. But that doesn't mean you need to be a superhero with your portfolio. To help you calm your nerves, here are three things you can consider to help you take advantage of turbulent markets while staying in your natural comfort zone.

1. Buy in thirds

If you have a lot of cash on the sidelines and want to put some of it to work, then jumping in right after a big down move can a great thing to do. However, nobody wants to invest all of their available cash only to see the market keep on falling even further. There are a lot more shallow corrections than full-blown bear markets, but the psychological impact of being wrong can be even more damaging to your investing plan than missing out on the full profits from investing right at a bottom.

Person holding tablet showing down-trending graph.

Image source: Getty Images.

One thing that many investors do in this situation is to break their available cash into pieces. You can then invest one piece right away, taking advantage of bargain prices on stocks you like. Then, you can either set a timeline for investing future amounts or you can look to invest more money if the prices on the stocks you like fall even further and therefore look even more attractive.

You have complete flexibility to set things up in whatever way makes you most comfortable. But by eliminating the pressure of having to invest every single penny all at once, you can feel more confident that you'll end up where you want to be in the long run.

2. Boost your retirement savings

Another thing you can do when the market starts looking more attractive is to increase the amount of money you divert toward investing for retirement. Most employers let you set how much money you have taken out of your paycheck as a 401(k) contribution as a percentage of your total pay, and adding a percentage point or two to your contribution amount can help you take greater advantage of bargains while they last. If the market rebounds, you can always move the percentage back down.

Increase your retirement savings is especially effective because many workers don't even notice all that much the money that's coming out of their paychecks to go toward 401(k) contributions. Put more money to work when markets are falling, and you'll be in an even better situation when the rebound comes.

3. Dollar-cost averaging

Dollar-cost averaging is a simple but effective technique that fits well with most investors' mindset. To use it, you just take the same dollar amount every month or every quarter and invest it. Over time, the amount you invest will buy more shares when the price of a stock or fund is low, and buy fewer shares when the price is high.

Dollar-cost averaging works best when markets are choppy, because you get a lot of opportunities to buy more shares when they're cheap. However, it's a time-tested strategy that also works well over the long run, and millions of investors have used it to give themselves a sense of security and safety as their portfolios grow.

Don't be scared

Whenever the stock market starts to have big ups and downs, it can make even experienced investors feel a little seasick. By looking at these three ways to keep investing, though, you'll be able to get past your fear and stay on track to meet your long-term financial goals.

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