President Trump's tweets keep sending the stock market in downward spirals. (Luisa Gonzalez/Reuters)
Columnist

Trying to get people to save for retirement is already difficult, but President Trump is making the job even harder with his tweets that send the stock market in downward spirals.

For many people, investing is scary. They’re struggling to find the money to save for retirement, so naturally they are worried about losing what they invest. The markets can be skittish and unpredictable in the short term, so anything those in leadership can do to keep things calm is good for people who need to save.

But Trump and his trigger-finger tweets can move the market in such a way that send people heading for savings accounts. They can’t take the seesaw movements of the stock market. But ultraconservative investing can result in not keeping pace with inflation, and that in turn means people won’t have enough money for retirement.

After tweets on what appears to be failing trade negotiations with China, the Dow Jones industrial average fell Tuesday by nearly 800 points, or more than 3 percent. (U.S. financial markets were closed Wednesday for the state funeral of former president George H.W. Bush.)

“While predicting what causes gyrations in the stock market is not exactly a science, most observers think this culprit is obvious: Trump’s erratic, belligerent talk about trade and China could trigger both a trade war and a recession in the United States,” wrote Helaine Olen, a contributor to Post Opinions.

Read more: It’s Trump’s stock market now

“By Wednesday morning — when the markets were closed for the funeral of former president George H.W. Bush — Trump tried to calm things down,” Olen points out. “He took to Twitter and claimed Xi’s government was sending ‘very strong signals’ that the two countries would come to an agreement. One can only hope, but it doesn’t take much know-how to know Twitter is hardly the place to conduct international diplomacy."

As trading opened Thursday morning, the Dow, Nasdaq and Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index were down again.

Read: Dow extends deep losses, triggered by uncertainty on U.S.-China trade deal

Good for Trump in his efforts to broker a better trade deal with China, but the way he’s going about publicizing the negotiations is creating confusion. And the markets hate that.

“Part of the problem was that Trump’s presentation of what happened differed from what China claimed, and that uncertainty eroded confidence among investors,” reported The Washington Post’s Philip Bump.

Many inexperienced investors are easily scared during market downturns. They see losses in the various indexes and retreat despite historical evidence that the markets have positive returns in the long term.

Read more: A Wharton professor puts stock market plunges in perspective

A survey last year by Ally Financial found that 61 percent of respondents said they found investing in the stock market to be “scary or intimidating.” Millennials feel significantly more intimidated, according to the survey.

Over half of Americans said that someday they would invest or invest more in the stock market but that time wasn’t now.

"The paradox this survey data underscores is that people are scared about not being prepared for the future, so they put off thinking about it, but history has proven again and again that the key to achieving financial security is to start saving and investing early,” said Rich Hagen, president of Ally Invest.

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

A Bankrate.com survey this year found that 30 percent of millennials, unlike older generations, view cash — savings accounts and certificates of deposit — as the best place to park money they won’t need for 10 years or more. But over time that decision could cost them dearly.

Here’s how Bankrate.com breaks it down: Let’s say there’s a 22-year-old employee who plans to retire at 67. She saves 10 percent of her $50,000 salary in a 401(k). If she invested in a money market fund yielding 2 percent, she’d have about $359,000 by her retirement age. But if she had invested the money in a diversified portfolio of stocks and bonds with an 8 percent annual return, she would have $1.9 million.

Of course, there are a lot of assumptions in this example, and past performance is not a guarantee of future results. But parking money in low-yielding investments won’t have the growth you need to keep pace with inflation.

Millennials have the lowest propensity of any generation to be earning more than 1.5 percent on their savings, according to Bankrate.com. Among all U.S. adults, just 18 percent are earning more than 1.5 percent on their savings.

All these reports lead to this: The erratic tweets by Trump should stop.

“Global markets demand consistency and reliability, but Trump delivers neither,” The Post’s Damian Paletta and Philip Rucker wrote this week. “Instead, he makes knee-jerk announcements that surprise investors, lawmakers and even some of his own aides and advisers, who sometimes find themselves reversing course depending on the president’s whims.”

Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thornton, told The Post: “The words are noisy, but markets can’t wear noise-canceling headphones. You can’t delineate the noise from policy because sometimes the noise is policy. Markets like certainty. They need to know the rules of the road, whatever they are, to move forward.”

With retirement savings in such a dismal place, I’m concerned that Trump’s tweets are scaring away the very people who need to invest.

Read more:

On Trump’s once-favorite metric — stock market growth — he trails Barack Obama

The stock market decline means . . . what?

Stocks Can Forget About a Big Leap From China Trade Deal

Color of Money Question of the Week

What do you think about the impact Trump tweet’s have on the stock market? Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Please include your name, city and state. Put “Stock Market” in the subject line.

Live Chat Today

I’m live at noon (ET) 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 save when your children don’t believe in Santa Claus.

If your children have given up on believing in Santa Claus, you don’t have to pretend their gifts don’t cost us anything.

In last week’s newsletter, I talked about the strategies my husband and I use to stay within a budget during the holidays.

Your children don’t believe in Santa anymore? Good.

I asked what helps you stay on track.

Laura Whyte of Ojai, Calif., wrote: “When our two kids were small, we set a limit of $100 per child. We had them make their list with pictures with the cost of the item included. Santa bought them stocking stuffers and a book and Mom and Dad bought $100 worth of toys for each of them. As they got older, sometimes they asked for cash so that they could buy a certain piece of jewelry or a speaker for band equipment. Our kids are 33 and 35 years old and we still do Christmas that way. There are spouses and grandkids now and they each get $100 for gifts. You would be surprised what $100 buys from some of our thrift stores and consignment stores.”

Jeffrey A. McCandless of the District wrote: “It is easier to stay within a budget now that my children are grown and takes a lot less time to shop as well. A couple gift cards from their favorite places that they shop and I’m done — budget amount divided by four equals harmony. I always set an amount for a budget that I knew I could payoff the following month, even when they were younger and shopping was more complicated — same budget, same number of packages. Just like spreading peanut butter.”

“Just wanted to share a tip my mom gave me years ago,” wrote Donna Wilson of Dallas. “We were told that Santa Claus only really filled the stockings. It was just too darn heavy to haul all those toys and games by reindeer all around the world. Parents put the presents under the trees. I know this might not work for every family but it made us realize the difference between our gifts, and a less or more moneyed friend or relative’s gifts were no reflection on the man in red. He loved us all the same.”

Elizabeth Dierze of Topsfield, Mass., wrote, “We took a quality not quantity approach to the holidays. When our children were young, we told them that Santa brought every child in the world ONE gift, a very special one that they really, really wanted (after all, with millions of children in the world, even Santa, with all his magic, couldn’t possibly fit more than 1 toy per child in his sleigh). This encouraged them to give some thought as to what their heart desired, and was coupled by reassurances that they would (and did) receive presents from their grandparents (three sets of grandparents) numerous aunts and uncles, and of course mom and dad.”

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.

Michelle Obama is right. We can’t have it all.

The high price of being an unpaid caregiver

Newsletter Comments Policy

Please note it is my personal policy to identify readers who respond to questions I ask in my newsletters. I find it encourages thoughtful and civil conversation. I want my newsletters to be a safe place to express your opinion. On sensitive matters or upon request, I’m happy to include just your first name and/or last initial. But I prefer not to post anonymous comments. (I do make exceptions when I’m asking questions that might reveal sensitive information or cause conflict.)

Have a question about your finances? Michelle Singletary has a 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.

To read more Color of Money columns, go here.

If you’re viewing this post online, sign up to automatically receive Michelle Singletary’s newsletters right into your email box: “Your Retirement” on Mondays and “Personal Finance” on Thursdays

Follow Michelle Singletary on Twitter @SingletaryM and Facebook.