Given the crash of 2008, how do you explain to a person in their 20's or 30's why a good portion of their retirement funds should go into the stock market? (And if you wouldn't, what would you recommend instead?)

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    "On Sale Now!! 50% Off!!" Why does that work for shoes, but not for stocks? ;-) Jan 25, 2011 at 14:30
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    What are you considering as the alternative to avoid having your money wither away from inflation?
    – JohnFx
    Jan 25, 2011 at 16:12
  • The stock market wasn't less risky earlier.
    – DumbCoder
    Jan 26, 2011 at 8:24
  • For a young person, the crash can be seen as a good thing. In investing, you generally want to buy low and sell high. Jan 27, 2011 at 14:52
  • As a note, This was not a question for myself. This was so I could pass on the answer to an actual someone else.
    – chrisfs
    Jun 24, 2015 at 4:51

5 Answers 5


I would start with long term data. It would show how 40 years worth of stock investing puts the investor so far ahead of the "safe" investor that they can afford to lose half and still be ahead. But - then I would explain about asset allocation, and how the soon to be retired person had better be properly allocated if they weren't all along so that the impact of down years is mitigated. The retiree is still a long term investor as life spans of 90 are common. Look at the long term charts for the major indexes. So long as you average in, reinvest earnings (dividends) and stay diversified, you will be ahead. The market is still not where it was at the end of 2001, but in the decade, our worth has risen from 5X our income to 12.5X. This was not genius, just a combination of high savings and not panicking.

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    Agreed 100% on the long-term trends, although IMO, if one is paranoid about sudden downturns then one should learn how to hedge; it's not that hard, and it actually protected many investors in 2008 unlike asset allocation. AA is only a defense against poor sector performance, not entire market crashes.
    – Aaronaught
    Jan 26, 2011 at 2:20
  • When you say "stocks" in your answer, this includes investing in mutual funds and ETFs, right? Dec 26, 2011 at 17:15
  • In this answer, by 'stocks' I meant a well chosen index, the S&P my preference. And I'd use a low ost ETF or mutual fund, keeping anual cost below .1%. Dec 26, 2011 at 21:59

Look. Here's a graph of the S&P 500. It's up 1200% since the start of the 70's, our late recession notwithstanding. You're not going to get that kind of return on bonds or commodities or savings accounts. (Maybe real estate stands a chance, if your real estate wasn't in, say, Detroit. It's not as easy to diversify real estate...)

People in their 20's who have plenty of time before they need to spend their retirement money invest in the stock market exactly because they're long-term and can withstand these dips just by waiting them out, and earn a ton of money. People approaching their 60's transition their portfolio to bonds so that a market crash won't wipe them out.

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    to support your position - moneychimp.com/features/market_cagr.htm shows that $1 in the S&P grew to $49.75 from Jan '70 to Dec '10. This would be "up 4875%". Which goes to show that dividends can't be ignored. Only 2-3% now? Money still doubles in 24-36 years at those rates. I'd observe, however, a 60 year old has a 30 year investing horizon. When you say transition, I image you mean to diversify, some portion, however small, in stock? Jan 26, 2011 at 16:37
  • I mean..... go here: personal.vanguard.com/us/funds/vanguard/TargetRetirementList ... click on any of the age ranges, and look at the bottom for the graph of asset allocation over time. Also, thanks for the note on dividends. :)
    – user296
    Feb 4, 2011 at 23:39

The stock market, as a whole, is extremely volatile. During any 3 year period, the market could go up or down. However, and this is the important point,the market as a whole has historically been a good long term investment.

If you need the money in 5 years, then you want to put it in something less volatile (so there's less chance of losing it). If you need the money in 50 years, put it in the market; the massive growth over those 50 years will more than make up for any short term drops, and you will probably come out ahead.

Once you get closer to retirement age, you want to take the money out of stocks and put it in something safer; essentially locking in your profit, and protecting yourself from the possibility of further loss.

Something else to consider: everyone lost money in 2008. There were no safe investments (well, ok, there were a few... but not enough to talk about). Given that, why would you choose another investment over stocks? Taking a 50% loss after decades of 10% annual returns is still better than a 50% loss after decades of 5% growth (in fact, after 20 years of growth, it's still 250% better - and that ratio will only improve the longer you leave it in).

  • "everyone lost money in 2008" - but the big banks ended up sitting pretty, no?
    – mfinni
    Jan 26, 2011 at 15:52
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    Or at least their execs and partners.
    – mfinni
    Jan 26, 2011 at 15:52
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    Not the thousands of banks that went out of business. Nor the giant firms that went bankrupt: AIG, Lehman Bros, et al. Jan 27, 2011 at 17:25
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    2008 was a bad year for stocks, but a diversified portfolio that included, say, bond funds, would have been less affected. I'd guess that, for example, most 15-year bond funds would have returned 15-20% on the year. Not advocating it - I stayed in stocks and they've already recovered - but just to point out that there were asset classes that appreciated in 2008. Feb 9, 2011 at 10:21
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    Most people who pick individual stocks have portfolios that under perform the market as a whole. That's not to say you will too; but it is difficult and takes a lot of work. If you're not willing to put in the time to do your research, you might as well go with am index fund. Jan 4, 2012 at 4:26

I recommend that people think for themselves and get a multitude of counselors. The more you understand about what drives the prices of various assets, the better.

Getting to good advice for a particular person depends on the financial picture for that person. For example, if they have a lot of consumer debt, then they probably would be better off paying off the debt before investing, as earning 5% (say) in the stock market year over year will be eaten up by the 18%+ they may be paying on their credit cards.

Here's a starter list of the types of information that would be better to have in order to get fair investment advice.


I'm going to go the contrarian route and suggest you stay completely out of the stock market for the foreseeable future. We're entering a period of time this country and world has never seen before. Our country is broke / insolvent. We are printing money to buy our own debt. This is beyond stupid. It will destroy us, just like it did Germany in the 1920's.

Many states are on the verge of bankruptcy. The only thing stopping them is a constitutional issue. California, Illinois, Michigan, New York etc. are all broke. They are billions in debt and massive underfunding of pensions.

More than a half-dozen European countries are on the verge of financial implosion. The Euro is just as bad off as our dollar. There are extremely powerful forces at work bent on destroying this country and the US dollar, to usher in a One World Government and financial system.

IMO, buy as much gold and silver has you can. Not necessarily as an investment vehicle. I would do it as a survival vehicle. And, I don't mean gold/silver stocks. I mean you buy gold/silver and you take physical possession.

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    Personally, I would refine this to say "don't put all your eggs in one basket", the basket being U.S. stock markets. I agree with much of what you say about the U.S. and Europe, but I'm still bullish on Canada, emerging markets, energy & materials stocks, etc. I limit my exposure to any single region or asset class. Diversification may be the only "free lunch" out there. Jan 25, 2011 at 18:25
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    You can't eat gold. If you're serious about survival, rather than shilling for Glenn Beck, then buy dry goods and supplies. Gold as an investment is no safer than pork bellies; it's just a commodity, just like any other, and I wouldn't recommend that new investors go straight for commodities. Jan 25, 2011 at 18:32
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    This kind of alarmist rhetoric needs a 72-point-high [citation needed] label slapped on it. But really the icing on the cake is recommending for people to buy actual physical gold and silver. As you yourself admit, it's terrible as an investment vehicle, and if you're planning for nuclear war and worldwide economic failure then a few ounces of gold aren't going to help you anyway; better start building your bomb shelter and stocking up on cans of beans.
    – Aaronaught
    Jan 26, 2011 at 2:29
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    @Randy, stocks do represent an asset. Say hyperinflation comes back. Dollars lose all their value. Don't my 1000 shares of McDonald's still represent 1 millionth of the value of this company? My stake is a share in the business, reported in whatever currency replaces the dollar. If I were planning for Armageddon, I'd be full up in stocks, 100%, no bonds, no cash. Jan 26, 2011 at 2:35
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    @DumbCoder - Yes - I was making a distinction between hyperinflation (the dollar literally becoming worthless) and the world ending. If the world ends, guns, ammo, food, matches, and candles. I don't subscribe to this, just noting the absurdity. Jan 27, 2011 at 19:57

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