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Don't be afraid to open those monthly statements



With the market in an extended slump, investing seems to be the last thing on investors minds. But one day, things are going to change--they always do.

It's hard to stay enthusiastic about a long-term investing plan after a market bubble has burst---particularly if you'd been banking on those bubblicious returns to continue on indefinitely. And if you're like a lot of investors, that means that going to the mail box and getting your monthly account statements isn't what it used to be.

" I used to love to open that mail. Now I don't even open my statements anymore, " says Margaret Larson, a 61-year old who was hoping to retire when she turned 62. " I know the news isn't good so I've just let them pile up."

Larson, like so many others, hasn't liked watching the balances on her funds drop month-after-month for the past couple of years. So, she's not been paying much attention to her account or what she owns. But not looking at that statement might not be the wisest thing this investor could do.

"Ostriches get eaten even if they stick their heads in the sand, " says Harold Evensky, chairman of Evensky, Brown & Katz, a Coral Gables, Florida wealth management firm. "The only difference is they don't see it coming."

Because hiding doesn't make reality go away, Evensky suggests that investors who've chosen to let their statements go unattended would be far better served if they took the time to review their accounts.

Instead of hiding, he thinks they should sit down and figure out what they have, look at what their goals are and then what they need to earn to accomplish those goals. "Doing that will tell you basically how much needs to be invested in stocks and bonds."

After taking the time to look at how your money is currently invested, you might find out that your current mix of investments needs to be adjusted.

"People always want to start at the wrong end, " Evensky adds. "They always what to pick the best stock fund when they should be spending their time trying to decide how much they need to invest in stocks and bonds. Once they've decided that, they can make decisions about the kinds of stock and bond funds they'd like and how much to put in large- and small-caps or internationally."

Keeping tabs on where your money is invested is paramount for serious investors. And, whether investing during good times or bad, it's how you've managed your funds that counts the most. "No one has ever been successful in timing the market or predicting which sectors are going to be hot one year to the next, " says Evensky. " We don't even try. Instead, we just want to make sure investor's are well-diversified across sectors."

Along with a money management scheme that's flexible as well as diversified, it's important to be mindful of the very real fact that just as the total returns on funds rise and fall over time, the U.S. economy goes through periods of recession and expansion, too.

For example, between 1854-2001 there have been 32 recessions and 115 expansions, according to OppenheimerFunds. And between 1945 and 2001, 10 recessions and 46 expansions. How long each lasts varies but the good news is history shows us that the number of expansions far outweighs the number of recessions.

What this means to shareholders is that there are lots of variables that come into play within the investing arena. Some you can control; others you can't. Understand that and then, don't be afraid of this bear market--- learn from it. After all, it won't last forever.

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Dian Vujovich is a nationally syndicated mutual fund columnist, author of a number of books including Straight Talk About Mutual Funds (McGraw-Hill), and publisher of this web site.


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