You may not pay much attention to the fluctuations in your accounts during your working years, but as you approach retirement age, you'll probably find yourself more in tune with these changes. And while you hope that the markets are thriving at your planned retirement date, this isn't always the case.

According to research by FirstTrust Advisors, there have been 25 bear markets since 1929. Bear markets are a reality, and since no one can predict when they'll occur, there is a chance that your retirement date could fall within, or just before, a market downturn.

Saving up enough money to sustain you in your golden years is something that takes time and dedication. After all this hard work and years of sacrifice, retiring during one of these bear markets may seem like the worst thing that can happen.

Gold letters spelling out 401k

Image source: Getty Images.

Retiring during a market crash, however, doesn't have to mean that your retirement plans are completely derailed. These three strategies can help you to retire successfully, even if it happens during a bear market.

1. Reduce your stock exposure

Putting your money into stocks is one of the best ways that you can grow your accounts. Stocks, however, can be riskier than other asset classes like bonds. Because they are riskier, stocks will typically outperform these other asset classes in a bull market. In a bear market, stocks will usually underperform them. In 2008, for example, when stock markets crashed, large stocks were down 37% and long-term government bonds were up 25.9%.

If you have several years until you need to use your retirement money, you'll have time on your side to earn those losses back. The closer you get to withdrawing money from your retirement accounts, the less time you will have.

This means that as you get closer to retirement, you should consider reevaluating your risk tolerance. There are some general rules of thumb for how to go about doing this. One of the most common is the 100 rule. With this rule, you subtract your age from 100. The number you arrive at is the percentage of stock you should own.

Of course, the 100 rule doesn't take into account that everyone's situations are different. You'll want to also factor in how your personal comfort levels and financial needs change your risk tolerance. To assess your best approach to risk tolerance, you can complete a questionnaire, or dig deeper into different asset allocation approaches.

While reducing your stock exposure won't prevent your portfolio from experiencing losses, it can lessen them. A more stable fluctuation in the value of your investments can also give you peace of mind, to prevent panic-selling or undue stress.

2. Set aside living expenses

If you believe that stocks will bounce back and don't want to reduce your stock exposure, there are other options. On average, bear markets last 22 months. 

Given that time frame, you can plan for the worst-case scenario in which you retire during a bear market. You can accomplish this by setting aside enough money to see you through a downturn. That said, although the average bear market lasts just under two years, this length of time may be longer or shorter. You should also keep in mind that this doesn't take into account the amount of time it will take to recoup your losses.

The number of years of living expenses that you set aside will vary based on your individual needs. If you have other income sources, you may need less set aside than if you plan to live on your retirement savings alone. Additionally, if your accounts are more aggressively invested, you'll need to have more money set aside than if your account is more conservative.

3. Reduce your expenses

Some experts say that 4% is the withdrawal rate you should aim for in retirement. If you want to plan for a scenario in which you retire in a bear market, it may be a good idea to aim for an even lower percentage.

As you get closer to retirement, you can implement expense reduction into your plans. Focus on monthly bills that can be eliminated, like car loans, credit card balances, or mortgages. In a May 2020 study conducted by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, retirees without a mortgage were able to maintain their pre-retirement lifestyle better than those who still had a mortgage or rent.

If you're able to reduce your expenses enough that they are covered by other income sources like Social Security or pension funds, you'll be in a great position to weather any downturn. But even if you don't have these income sources, reducing your expenses will mean you'll need to withdraw less each year from your retirement assets.