Ask Ellen: Your questions answered

Ellen shows you why it makes sense to have a financial plan in place now.

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A financial consultant at Fidelity, Ellen O'Connell, CFP®, recently answered one of your money questions.

With the COVID-19 crisis and all that has been happening with the economy, what should I do?

I have found that it is during times of market ups and downs that my clients need me the most. It's not necessarily about changing the plan, but it's about reminding them of the plan they have in place to help achieve the goals that are most important to them.

When markets are volatile, emotions can run high, which can result in unwise decisions. It can be tempting to try to get out of stocks to avoid downturns, but knowing when to sell and when to buy is hard—if not impossible. Historically, some of the highest up market days took place next to some of the worst days in the market. Missing even a few of the best days can significantly impact your long-term performance.

The hypothetical example assumes an investment that tracks the returns of the S&P 500® Index and includes dividend reinvestment but does not reflect the impact of taxes, which would lower these figures. There is volatility in the market, and a sale at any point in time could result in a gain or loss. Your own investing experience will differ, including the possibility of loss. You cannot invest directly in an index. The S&P 500® Index, a market capitalization–weighted index of common stocks, is a registered trademark of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc., and has been licensed for use by Fidelity Distributors Corporation.


I have found that investors who remain focused on their goals, and not headlines, often have the most long- term success. The dramatic market swings just experienced are more extreme than normal. Remember, on average, we experience a bear market every 6 years.

Despite everything that is going on around us, here are 3 things you can do to help take charge of your financial future:

  1. If you have 3+ years until you will need to use your money, review your asset allocation to help ensure it aligns to your goals, time frame and risk tolerance. Asset allocation—or the percentage of your portfolio that is in stock vs. bonds vs. cash—is important. That's because the mix of stocks, bonds, and cash (aka, asset classes) can help you manage the total volatility of your portfolio. Asset classes may perform differently when markets move sharply—one may go up in value and another may go down. Investing across various asset classes can help provide smoother returns and a more balanced level of risk in your account.
  2. Have a plan and remain focused on your goals. If you don't have a plan or you aren't sure yours is still right for you, it may be a good time to meet with a financial professional to help you create a plan that makes sense for you and your family.
  3. Review expenses and see if you may have an opportunity to boost your emergency savings and/or increase your contributions to your retirement savings. If you have been sheltering in place and not spending as much on things like transportation, entertainment, travel, etc., or if you are expecting a stimulus check and don’t have it earmarked to pay bills, then consider using it to beef up your savings.

My words of wisdom are to stay focused on your plan and don't let the headlines scare you too much. Updates to your plan should happen when your life changes or your situation changes—not when markets change.

Please remember, that while you are dealing with the stress of this virus outbreak and what it may mean for you, your family, and loved ones, Fidelity is here to help you maintain and adjust your financial plan—or help you get one if you don't yet have a financial plan. Having a plan in place can help you achieve the financial goals that are most important to you.

About Ellen

Ellen O'Connell is a financial consultant at Fidelity's Investor Center on Congress Street in Boston. Throughout her 28 years with Fidelity, Ellen has helped clients develop financial plans to achieve their individual goals and improve their financial wellbeing. Most recently, Ellen worked on the Women Investors squad, focusing on empowering women to become more engaged with their finances.

Ellen holds a bachelor of science in business administration from Merrimack College in North Andover, Massachusetts, and is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER®.

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