Now more than ever, heed this advice: Stop looking at your 401k so damn much. When there’s alarming news about the stock market (see: every last shred of economic news at the moment), you might feel compelled to obsess about how your retirement savings are faring, but don’t—even if the balance is listed clearly on the dashboard of your banking app. Just ignore it. Here’s why.
Your 401(k) is for later
Jim Keenehan, a senior consultant with AFS 401(k) Retirement Services, LLC, has been a financial adviser for years. He advises you to stop thinking of your 401(k) as money in the bank. Instead, “think about it as a way for you to be able to provide yourself with a paycheck in retirement,” he says. You stop working, your paychecks stop coming, and you can fall back on money you put away through a plan with your employer. It’s money for later. What the balance looks like right now doesn’t matter, unless you are currently at or very near retirement age.
That’s hard to remember when you know a drop in the stock market means a dip in your balances. It’s only natural to want to repeatedly rush to check on the extent of the damage, particularly in times of economic turmoil. But doing so, Keenehan says, is only to your detriment.
“That can be a fun thing to do when the stock market is doing well and your investments are doing well,” he concedes. “However, the stock market doesn’t always go up.” And whether it’s up or down, you’re in it for the long haul.
How often should you check your 401k?
Keenehan said there are other reasons you might check your 401k beyond seeking the thrill of the balance going up or anticipating the crush of it going down, like changing how much you’re contributing or updating your beneficiary.
That’s all fine. Otherwise? Do it annually, he says. In fact, to the best of your ability, only go in and change things around annually, too, and do so with the assistance of a financial advisor if you can.
What can you do to feel better and stop checking your 401k?
Keenehan warns against driving yourself mad by focusing on your day to day balance. Instead, take back a measure of control by looking at the big picture of your finances. Seek out a financial advisor, or check with your employer to see if they offer access to one who can answer your questions. (If they’re offering a 401k plan, they should.)
“Sit down with a fiduciary financial advisor. ‘Fiduciary’ is a key word there because that means that financial advisor is going to be acting in that person’s best interest,” he says. “A lot of times people are looking headlines about the stock market crashing—that’s really meant for shock value. They’re trying to get people to click on the links and they want eyeballs on the screen. That’s not intended to be advice that anybody should be acting on in their retirement accounts.”
Put simply, don’t make financial decisions based on an article or a tweet or a gut feeling. Sit down with an advisor who has the knowledge and experience to make sense of fluctuating markets and who can guide you a little more calmly. Do this once per year. Otherwise, stop logging in.