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How is Your Risk Tolerance Holding Up?

Written by Nickel - 20 Comments

A number of finance-related websites have little quizzes that you can take to determine your risk tolerance when it comes to investing. These sites typically ask questions about your age, income, family obligations, and how you would react to certain market events.

My wife and I are, for the most part, patient and rational buy-and-hold investors, and our responses to these questions typically peg us as having moderate to high risk tolerance. This is in large part due to our view that market nosedives represent buying opportunities. That being said…

Imagining a 40% stock market decline and living through one are two totally different things. I’d be willing to bet that a large fraction of people that had previously considered themselves to be risk tolerant investors have changed their tune, and haven’t been ‘walking the walk’ over the past few months.

For our part, we’ve continued making our regular contributions, and have even actually ratcheted up contributions to our taxable investment account (we’re already maxing out our retirement accounts).

What about you?

How have you been reacting to the recent market turmoil? Are you proving to be as risk tolerant as you originally thought?

Published on December 5th, 2008 - 20 Comments
Filed under: Saving & Investing

About the author: is the founder and editor-in-chief of this site. He's a thirty-something family man who has been writing about personal finance since 2005, and guess what? He's on Twitter!

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20 Responses to “How is Your Risk Tolerance Holding Up?”

  1. 1
    matt @ Thrive Says:

    The recent change in market “changing people’s minds” is why I’m actually a big fan of risk-tolerance measures that aren’t money specific. The problem with money-specific measures is that they feel entirely different when you are in the moment, and have a great deal to do with the financial times.

    That is, in a boom market, everyone answers in a way that makes them seem risk-tolerant. In a bust, everyone answers in that makes them seem risk-averse. The whole point is to get a valid measures that actually reflects what you do in those situations.

  2. 2
    Paulette @ SpendTracker USA Says:

    My risk tolerance is fairly OK because I’m young and I know there’s time to bounce back. The retirement fund is looking pretty dismal, though.

  3. 3
    Tim Says:

    i’ve become numb to the gyrations. i focus on getting more shares for the same dollar now instead of focusing on my net worth up and down.

  4. 4
    Miss m Says:

    I guess my risk tolerance has gone down slightly, I did sell a sector fund in exchange for a broad market fund. But both are stock market investments and have a fair amount of risk, one is risky and the other is super risky! I’m still investing as I always have but I’ve started to add bonds finally, I had practically none. The downturn has revealed my investing weaknesses, like lack of bonds, so I’m now aiming for a more diversified and balanced portfolio. I’m not sure if that is being risk averse or just finally showing some common sense.

  5. 5
    Alain Says:

    Folks, this is no time to be investing especially when we are heading into a deflationary environment. This recession will be deep to say the least. I’ve been in cash since Aug 2007 and will stay out of the stock market until the economy recovers. But when will the economy recover?

  6. 6
    Shorty Says:

    I haven’t changed a thing. My stock investments (all in diversified mutual funds) are for retirement, which is 25+ years away. As a matter of fact, just minutes ago I raised my 401k withdrawal percentage up 2%. (I’m the e-trade baby….”I just bought stock!!!”) I implemented an asset allocation model last April, and will wait until next April to rebalance.

    Sure, it’s slightly painful to hit the “update” button on Quicken to see my net worth value in the bottom corner go down over the last few months, but I’m not particularly worried about it. However, I am in a stable, well-paying job, though I understand that not everyone is in this state. I am definitely being more careful about spending nowadays.

    Note that I don’t invest in stocks for anything short- or mid-term; I stay away from that no matter what the economy looks like. Short term stock investing is nothing more than Texas Hold-em to me.

    Alain–lots of generalization in your comment above, and lots of F.U.D. in your linked article. Sounds like, in “stay[ing] out of the stock market until the market recovers”, you are advocating selling low, buying high.

  7. 7
    Funny about Money Says:

    I was very glad that before the latest downhill part of the roller-coaster ride I pulled out and set aside enough to pay off a small loan, should my employer’s threatened layoffs occur. At least that much is in a safe account. It can double as an emergency fund, if push comes to shove. My financial managers moved much as they could into the money market at last substantial uptick. I’ve stopped asking them what they’re going to do, because the truth is even the most senior of them has to admit he hasn’t the faintest.

    As for all my other investments: there’s not a darned thing I can do about them, and so I’ve stopped obsessing about it. I haven’t changed my 403(b) strategy, which was relatively conservative at the outset. Risk tolerance? The risk has already morphed into “you lose!” It’s no longer a relevant term. At this point, all we can do is hang on and hope the roller-coaster doesn’t fly off into deep space at warp 6.

  8. 8
    Mr. GoTo Says:

    As a baby boomer, I have stayed invested with great trepidation. Although I have not pulled anything out of the market, I have delayed rebalancing my asset allocations which I had planned on doing in November. So I guess you could say that I have lowered my risk tolerance slightly, not wanting to inject more cash into the market to rebalance the worst performing asset classes.

  9. 9
    nickel Says:

    Alain: The trouble with waiting for an economic recovery before going back into the stock market is that the market typically recovers several months before the economy as a whole.

  10. 10
    Beef Up Your Piggy Says:

    I understand people’s hesitancy to invest, however, that shouldn’t stop you. If anything, now would be the time TO invest. Warren Buffett recently said “”…I always say you should get greedy when others are fearful and fearful when others are greedy…”
    If you keep your money invested, you are just buying more with your dollar. When the market recovers, you will be rewarded.

  11. 11
    Marion Says:

    My risk tolerance (high) hasn’t budged. I’m in my early 30s and have another 30-35 years until I likely retire. Sure my portfolio’s lost 40-50% of its value over the past year. But ups and downs (balloons and cliffs) are part of life, and you have to roll with the punches. Thankfully, my job’s secure, but even if it wasn’t, I have a healthy emergency fund, no debt, and I live below my means.

    I’m sure I’d be singing a different tune if I was 10 or less years from retirement. But from my current vantage point, things are fine. I expect the economy to get worse. Eventually it will get better. And life will go on. We still live in the richest, free-est country in history, a nation people literally die trying to get into, a nation that enshrined slavery in its constitution and now prepares for its first mulatto president; a nation that survived a civil war, multiple previous depressions, two world wars, a cold war, and Jimmy Carter.

    When’s the last time you took a crap? There are six billion people on earth. Four out of 10 don’t have toilets. I’m not discounting the hardship this recession will impose on the jobless, homeless, and other -less. Just remember that in the grand scheme of things, you’ve got it pretty good.

  12. 12
    Tim Says:

    another thing to consider is that we are going to go into serious deficit spending. it’s gonna eventually paid somehow. higher taxes, so you might as well invest, save or whatever as much as you can at this tax rate, because taxes are only going to increase.

  13. 13
    Brandon Says:

    Mine budged a bit, but mostly because of the volatility of the market coupled with the fact that I have no control over when my contributions go in. I know you should not try to time the market, but having no control is a form of risk in itself. Therefore, my plan has been to have my contributions go into a money market type stable trust and then convert it to stock holdings when I am comfortable.

  14. 14
    savvy Says:

    I guess I am as risk-tolerant as I thought. I haven’t changed anything in regard to my investments despite losing more than 30% over the last year. My stomach has stopped hurting quite as much when I look at my 401k statements – numbness, perhaps. I keep reassuring myself with the fact that we have close to 20 years before full retirement, so we should be fine.

  15. 15
    Danielle Says:

    We took the “invest more” strategy in our 401K’s while it made financial sense to do so. We have an emergency fund and both our jobs seemed stable into 2009.

    Now that we are facing losing 35% of our income my husband is going to reduce his 401K contributions to the maximum % that his employer will match and I won’t be making an effort to contribute to my IRA until I get a new job.

    So our risk tolerance is not any different, any changes we made were due to circumstances not directly related to the market.

  16. 16
    Writer's Coin Says:

    I’m 27 years old and am 100% in stocks right now. Not worried even the slightest. Why? I know my history—that’s why.

  17. 17
    Leslie Says:

    I have always considered myself very tolerant of risk but had this nagging feeling in the back of my mind that maybe I wasn’t as tolerant as I hoped I was. I am happy to report that it turns out that I am actually even more tolerant of risk than I thought. I haven’t changed a thing in my retirement portfolio. Fortunately, I still have 20+ years to retirement. If I had 10 or less I might be freaking out but I probably would have been in lower risk investments at that point anyway.

    Now…my kids 529 plans worry me a little more. My oldest is about 12 years away from school so we still have time but the shorter timeline does make me a little more concerned.

  18. 18
    Richard Says:

    To answer your question…I’ve increased my allocation for stock, and I’m considering buy 100 shares of Ford as my first individual stock purchase; their numbers actually don’t look that bad, given the economy. And they should be a four bagger at least when the economy recovers.

  19. 19
    Nate Says:

    Mine is holding steady. I’ve been trying to tell my coworkers to stay calm too(We’re all in the 23-27 range) There is no need to panic we have a LONG time left.

  20. 20
    Bill M. Says:

    I am still young and have about 30-40 years ahead of me, one little 40-50% drop is not going to dismay and stop my saving, in fact I am putting more in.

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