One bit of advice: "Resist the temptation to alter your investment mix in response to short-term changes in the financial markets." (Bryan R. Smith/AFP/Getty Images)
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It’s all about the long game.

Investing is tough. The experts say not to worry that over time you’ll see your retirement investments dip down and shoot up. Eventually, your returns will even out and you’ll be on the plus side.

During the recent slide in the stock market, I looked at my 401(k) retirement account to see how much damage had been done. On paper, my portfolio had dropped significantly. From Sept. 30 to Oct. 15 it was down by $78,300.54.

I took a breath and went on about my day. Year-to-date, my workplace account is still up by 16.8 percent. Over the past three years, I’ve had a return of 15.8 percent.

Here’s what the investment company managing my retirement account says when I look at the graph of my returns: “Short-term gains or losses are common and can be influenced by many factors. Resist the temptation to alter your investment mix in response to short-term changes in the financial markets. If you're properly diversified and focused on the long term — often the best action is no action.”

I took that advice and didn’t change a thing.

Ramit Sethi, author of the New York Time’s best-selling “I Will Teach You To Be Rich” wrote recently for Business Insider about his $75,000 portfolio drop over 12 days.

“Don't get me wrong. I was greatly affected by the decline,” he wrote.

But if you have a good plan you don’t have to lose any sleep. Sethi listed three reasons he left his investment portfolio untouched. Here’s a summary.

Look at historical returns. “Having a bigger picture of the market and its history helps you with your financial goals, and also helps you understand that emotional decisions, like selling in a panic and chasing after ‘exciting’ stocks, actually HURT your returns down the road.”

Don’t try to time market. “You could miss both bad AND good days and dramatically impact your returns.”

Don’t look at your portfolio every day. “You might want to check investments regularly, but once you automate your money you should be checking once every six to 12 months. In fact, I wouldn’t have known about my losses if I didn’t notice Twitter having a meltdown over it.”

I lost to temptation, too. I looked again this week. My loss — on paper — is now at about $58,000.

Up or down, I’m not going to panic and lose sleep. I don’t have any debt other than my mortgage, which will be paid off before I retire. My children are set for college with no loans. Emergency fund is good.

I’ve got a plan, and I’m sticking to it.

Read more:

Yes, it was a $1 trillion wipeout in stocks — but let’s not all go crazy

Markets Right Now: Stocks surge to biggest gain since March

Color of Money question of the week

How are you coping with the recent stock market seesaw? Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Please include your name, city and state. In the subject line put “Stock Market.”

Get some free financial advice

Looking for help to figure out your finances or whether you’re investing right in your retirement plan?

If you live in the District, Maryland or Virginia, the Financial Planning Association of the National Capital Area is hosting a Metro Washington Financial Planning Day. There will be free one-on-one sessions with certified financial planner professionals and debt counselors. The event also includes free workshops on budgeting, investing, retirement and taxes. By the way, planners are prohibited from passing out their business cards or soliciting any business from attendees.

The event is being held Oct. 20 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the University of Virginia, Falls Church campus, 7054 Haycock Rd., Falls Church, Va.

Come prepared. Bring a list of questions and whatever financial documents will help if you choose to sit down with a financial planner or debt counselor.

Registration is preferred but walk-ins will be accepted. For more information and to register online click here.

In the past, financial planning days were held in cities throughout the United States with hundreds of certified financial planners offering free financial advice to area residents. The events were jointly sponsored by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Financial Planning Association, the Foundation for Financial Planning and the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

This year, the events are organized by local chapters of the Financial Planning Association. Check your local papers for information about events in your area. Or contact a local FPA chapter to find certified financial planners who volunteer to provide free one-on-one counseling and classroom-style presentations. Here’s the link to find a FPA chapter near you.

Live Chat Today

Let’s talk about your money. I’m live at noon (Eastern) today to take your personal finance questions.

It’s also “Testimony Thursday” so share with me your success stories. Have you paid off debt? Did you finally reach your emergency fund goal?

To join the live discussion click this link.

How to put a day of stock market dives in perspective.

What a wild ride we’ve been having in the stock market.

Last week I asked: Are you worried about the sell-off in the stock market?

Jerry Jaiven of Holland, Mich., wrote, “I will be 67 in December (wife is 68), and I retired two months ago. Home is paid for. Working with a financial adviser, I have slowly shifted my portfolio into lower risk and indexed (for 2020 retirement) funds. Before the recent Dow drop I arranged an appointment with my adviser to look at secure options to move more of my holdings into money market funds or equivalent to preserve capital. I am comfortable with a lower return (say 1.5 percent instead of projected 4 percent to 5 percent) if I can avoid the risk of a 30 percent to 40 percent drop in value. I believe the sugar high of the tax cuts will wear out, the stock buybacks will end, manufacturing will not expand as expected and the tariffs will have an negative impact. I don’t expect a recession but I do expect a further correction.”

“Of course I have decided to make changes,” wrote Vincent A. Ettari of Shrub Oak, N.Y. “I am selling those stocks which are high and are bucking the trend. I am using the money to buy preferred stocks, which have been battered down.”

Kenneth M. Washer, a certified planner and professor of finance at Creighton University in Omaha, wrote, “I sold stocks way too soon, but in my mind that is better than too late. In my mind this administration is terribly unprepared to run the Federal government. They don’t seem to be focused on the long-term. Michael Lewis’s new book shows this. I hope the economy does well and stocks reflect that. However, I’m not willing to take the risk that it doesn’t right now. On top of this, stocks seem to be pretty expensive in terms of valuation measures. Good time to be invested in short-term debt and prepared to reinvest at some point in the future."

Thomas J. Druitt of Paducah, Ky., wrote, “You ask if I am worried about the stock market sell-off, my answer is ‘Not yet.’ I don’t believe any long-term investor should be at this current very early stage of price decline. Even if longer-term investors come to a conclusion that the bull market in place since March 2009 has exhausted itself, the time to sell will be at or near to the top of the next recovery rally.”

Read more:

As stocks go wild, here’s what should you do if you’re retired

I feel you about the stock market swings

How to handle a day of big stock market losses

Color of Money columns this week

Knowledge isn’t power. The right knowledge is power.

Stay informed about your money.

In addition to this newsletter, please read and share my weekly personal finance columns.

Your child probably won’t get a full ride to college

A Wharton professor puts stock market plunges in perspective

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Have a question about your finances? Michelle Singletary has a weekly live chat every Thursday at noon where she discusses financial dilemmas with readers. You can also write to Michelle directly by sending an email to michelle.singletary@washpost.com. Personal responses may not be possible, and comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested.

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