It's time again to step back and imagine what to expect from the coming year. After all, if we're prepared, we might make more money, or at least lose less. Here are my top five predictions for 2008:

Up or down
First off, my crystal ball tells me that the market will go up -- or down -- in 2008. You might think I'm short-changing you here, but come on ... if you find someone who says they know what will happen to the market, he or she is really guessing.

For all we know, a credit crisis will erupt in China, sending international and U.S. securities into a tailspin. Or fuel prices will suddenly plunge due to a spike in supply, and the world's markets will surge, as transportation, manufacturing, and other industries find that making a profit just got easier. The point is that we can't know what will happen in the short term, so we have to focus on the long term. Even if the market crashes tomorrow, it will likely recover within a year or three.

Keep all this in mind when you read predictions. I read recently that gold would go from the $800s to $1,000 and beyond in 2008. Well, yes, it might. But it might not. While one expert might be bullish, another similarly smart and informed expert might be bearish.

Happy campers
Here's another prediction: People who invested in the stock market 25 years ago will look at their portfolios and smile. They will find that they've earned, on average, 10% annually. Those looking back over 20 years will have averaged 9%. Fifteen-year investors will see an average 8% return, while 10-year investors will have averaged 4%. These numbers show what a difference the period you invest in can make.

And if you're just starting out in investing today, remember that 10, 20, or 25 years from now, it will likely be you looking back and smiling at your portfolio.

Uh-oh ...
You will face unexpected expenses in 2008: a leaky roof, a beloved cat needing expensive surgery, a failed transmission in your car. You might find yourself between jobs for seven months.

This could make 2008 an annus horribilis for you, but it doesn't have to be that way. If you keep a few months' worth of living expenses in an emergency fund and maintain some short-term savings, you'll be able to weather the storm. Let us help you, via guidance in our Savings Center.

You will make a financial blunder in 2008 -- just as you did in 2005, 2006, and 2007. Maybe you won't make a contribution to your IRA before the clock runs out (you have until April 15). Maybe you haven't upped the amount you contribute to your 401(k) account, even though you know it's critical to do so, to increase your odds of being able to retire on time. This year, you might invest in some penny stocks and watch them implode, as they often do. Or you might panic and sell your shares of a good company that's hit only a temporary rough patch.

One of my problems is not buying some promising companies I want to invest in -- just not getting around to it. I was very interested in Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE: CMG) a year or so ago, for example, along with Secure Computing (Nasdaq: SCUR). Well, Chipotle gained more than 150% in 2007, and Secure Computing gained more than 45%. Of course, sometimes not taking action turns out well. If I'd followed my instincts and bought into Whole Foods Market (Nasdaq: WFMI) a year ago, I'd be down roughly 20% today.

Retire well
Here's a final prediction: This year, you will position yourself for a more comfortable retirement. It really doesn't take much action today to improve your tomorrow. Make that IRA contribution and increase your 401(k) contributions. Invest in effective places, such as broad-market index funds.

Let us help you with your retirement planning. Our Rule Your Retirement newsletter service distills what you need to know into a manageable volume each month. A free trial will give you full access to all past issues, allowing you to gather valuable tips and read how some folks have retired early and well. It regularly offers recommendations of promising stocks and mutual funds, too.

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian does not own shares of any company mentioned in this article. Whole Foods is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Chipotle and Secure Computing are Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendations. Try any of our investing services free for 30 days. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.