How to Recession-Proof Your Retirement Savings

This investment strategy will reduce the impact of stock market downturns.

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Investors are growing increasingly wary of the stock market. Some people have even postponed retirement because of the recession. But it’s time to stop blaming the stock market for the paltry condition of our retirement savings.

A Harris Interactive poll reveals that 34 percent of respondents have accumulated no retirement savings at all. Even among those approaching retirement, 25 percent of baby boomers and 22 percent of people 65 and older have nothing saved for retirement. Among those who do have something saved, it’s not nearly enough. According to a Wells Fargo survey, individuals between ages 50 and 59 have saved an average of only $29,000 for retirement. The problem isn’t the market, it’s getting that money into the market in the first place.

[See Why Retirees Shouldn’t Shun the Stock Market.]

If you diligently save over many years, a recession does not need to derail your retirement plans. In fact, you should have already been prepared to weather a few recessions over the decades of your retirement. To build a recession-proof nest egg, consider following the advice of Ray Levitre, a certified financial planner and author of 20 Retirement Decisions You Need to Make Right Now. Figure out what your annual living expenses will be and then store your nest egg in three different buckets.

[See How to Spot Bad Retirement Advice.]

The first bucket will hold your first three years of living expenses. These assets should be invested in liquid accounts such as CDs, money markets, and short-term bond funds. If the stock market tanks during the first three years of your retirement, you won’t be forced to sell your mutual funds to make ends meet.

The second bucket will hold the next six years of living expenses. This portion of your retirement savings is for your intermediate term living expenses and should be invested in bonds with maturities ranging from four to nine years.

The third bucket holds the remainder of your retirement assets. This bucket should be invested in a well-diversified mutual fund portfolio. Over the years, you will liquidate the assets in this bucket to replenish the other buckets, taking advantage of market upturns, and sitting tight during downturns.

[See 10 Key Retirement Ages to Plan For.]

Levitre explains that you won’t “need to worry excessively about a down year in the stock market because you’re not going to be spending any of your stock investments for at least ten years.” Using this approach, even if you had retired on the eve of the recession, your retirement would still be safely on track today. You would just now be dipping into that second bucket, with more than 6 years of cushion available to ride out what remains of the storm.

Sydney Lagier is a former certified public accountant. Since retiring in 2008 at the age of 44, she has been writing about the transition from productive member of society to gal of leisure at her blog, Retirement: A Full-Time Job.