Don't let dismal days drag down long-term goals

How often do you look at your retirement portfolio?

It's scary these days to examine monthly or quarterly statements on your 401(k), IRA or other investments. When you see your savings dropping like a rock, your spirits plummet as well.

But what about the real masochists who load up their retirement savings data into financial analysis programs? They can torture themselves daily – or even hourly – by checking out what market gyrations are doing to their savings.

A couple of years ago, my husband started feeding our data into software to forecast the likelihood of having what we need to retire at 63. When we've had tough weeks at work, we lower the age to 60.

It crunches our investments and expected benefits and spits out a percentage that shows how likely we are to meet our goal. If the percentage is high, we get an icon showing a blue sky and sunshiny face.

Sometimes, my husband e-mails me breaking news of our net worth. He says he only does this when the day's financial news is good. But it still makes me nervous.

Some financial planners say they follow financial information continuously but try not to let it overwhelm them.

Bob Higgins, a Charlotte certified financial planner who runs Dalton Financial Services, says he keeps two computers streaming real-time data all the time. One is to track a client's investments and the other to show what's happening with his own portfolio.

Does it make him nervous?

“On one level it does, because I'm human,” he says. “But I've got to keep everything in perspective. I have to watch my emotions to keep them from affecting my thinking.”

Higgins says he keeps his clients informed with market update newsletters. He says he rarely hears from them when unfavorable economic news hits the news media.

“It'll drive you nuts if you listen to the noise,” he says.

Todd Calamita, a personal financial planner with RBC Wealth Management in Charlotte, says his clients get monthly reports on investments and they can log in and look at their portfolios.

He says about a third of his clients log into their individual data, usually those that are more knowledgeable or detail-oriented.

He says some clients tell him they haven't looked at their monthly statements in recent months because they know their portfolios will be down.

“If you're looking at it every day, it gets more emotional,” he says. “If you don't want to look at it, fine. I'm looking at it for you.”

People who buy individual stocks and handle their own investments probably should check their portfolios more often, he said.

But if you have a good long-term retirement strategy, you shouldn't be rattled by short-term fluctuations.

“You should always revisit your plan at least once a year,” Calamita says. “But you can't make long-term decisions on what's happening day to day or week to week.”