Net Worth Nosedive: Can You Still Retire?

Let's say retirement is on your mind, and not in a good way. You are less than a decade from the beginning of your golden years, but the future doesn't look so bright. The stock market has recently crashed leaving your 401(k) in tatters, you don't have a pension, the value of your house has fallen and the employment picture is less than rosy. What can you do? It may feel like you're out of options, but there are still things you can do to tip things in your favor. Read on to find out how.

SEE: Investopedia's Net Worth Tracker 

Assess Your Situation
The first step in getting yourself acclimated to the new reality is to take stock of your situation. The picture might not be pretty, but it also might not be as bad as you think.

Assess the damage. What did you have? What do you have left? How long to you have to get it back? What are your options? Is there any low-hanging fruit in terms of steps you can take to get your situation under control? (Just because you receive your gold watch during a recession, doesn't mean you can't retire on time. Check out You CAN Retire In A Recession.)

Formulate a Plan
If the damage isn't too severe and your current income permits extra savings, you may be able to get your retirement savings plan back on track simply by making minor changes to your previous plan.

Investing when the markets are down means that you are getting in when securities are on sale. If you have the ability to increase the amount you invest each month, now may be the time to do it. When the market rebounds, the money you put in when the market was low will help to offset the money you lost when the market fell. It's dollar-cost averaging in action. (Read Dollar-Cost Averaging Pays for insight into how to get the most out of this simple but powerful strategy.)

Putting more money into the stock market may have little appeal after reading your most recent statement, but for most of us there simply isn't any other choice. Also keep in mind that painful downturns are generally followed by recoveries. Don't forget that we even bounced back from the Great Depression. It took 25 years for the Dow Jones Industrial Average to get all of the money back from its peak of $381.17 on September 3, 1929. But between July 1932 and March 1937 (less than five years) the Dow jumped 352%, from $43 to $194.

Cutting your spending to increase your saving is another solid strategy. Changes to your lifestyle may be necessary to accomplish this. Or, it may be necessary to increase your income. You may want to consider changing jobs to seek a better salary. If that's not possible, consider a second job.(Find ways to save money and increase your nest egg for the fast-approaching golden years in Retirement Savings Tips For 55- To 64-Year-Olds.)

If an assessment of your situation reveals serious damage, you may need to take a more aggressive approach to your get your plan back on track. Rebalancing your asset allocation to take on greater risk and the accompanying opportunity for greater returns may be an option. This is not always suggested, but it is an option worth mentioning. Drastic times could call for drastic measures. Generally, as you get closer to retirement, you will want to take on less and less risk. It creates fewer ups and downs in your portfolio so, ideally, you are not stuck in a down when it is time to retire. (For more insight, see Determining Risk And The Risk Pyramid.)

Retire Later
Changing your retirement date by extending it is another consideration. It may not be the ideal scenario, but it may be necessary in order to make ends meet. Changing your definition of retirement to include a part-time job may also be necessary. While working during your golden years may not have been in your plans a few years ago, economic reality may dictate a different way of thinking.

Recruit Help
If you are completely perplexed and overwhelmed, get help. You need to know where you stand, how much need to save and how to get there. A professional financial advisor can help you with all of these needs. (Read Do You Need A Financial Advisor? to find out how to make the call and Find The Right Financial Advisor to learn how to weed out those who are just out to make a quick buck from those who can help you.)

Take Action
Getting caught in a bear market leaves many people frozen like a deer in the headlights, especially those who are approaching retirement. While this reaction is perfectly natural and completely understandable, standing still isn't something that you can do forever. Procrastinating won't help you get out of the mess; neither will denying that it's problem. You need to shake yourself out of the trance and do something!

Difficult financial situations don't get any better if they are ignored. Getting your finances in order may entail some difficult changes and adjustments in your lifestyle and your way of thinking, but if you take these steps and make these hard choices today, you are more likely to be feeling comfortable in retirement. (Find out how to protect your assets so you can live out your dreams in style in Bear-Proof Your Retirement Portfolio.)