Have you lost money in the recent investment market downturn? If you have, certainly you're not alone. It's an unfortunate fact that literally billions upon billions of investors' dollars have evaporated into thin air. Many people have watched their retirement accounts drop in value by 30 percent or more in just the last month, prompting comparisons with the Crash of 1929 and causing considerable financial anxiety. But, take heart; all is not lost. Markets are cyclical in nature; in other words, they're going to go up and down. And, although this current bear is definitely bigger, stronger and meaner than any we've encountered in quite some time, it too will run its course and the bulls will undoubtedly return.

So, what do you do in the meantime? Well, it's true that many investors worldwide have run back to short-term U.S. Treasury securities. Others have pulled their remaining funds out of the markets altogether, even their retirement savings – feeling that they'd be better off watching their own money from a safe distance, such as no further away than the local bank or even underneath them as they sleep on top of it. Oddly enough, that general attitude of 'watching over one's own money' is a pretty good one to have.

It must be remembered that there's no such thing as a perfect investment – regardless of its safety or risk level, and regardless of the current overall condition the market is in. And this is a major oversight that the average investor has not really come to grips with until, perhaps, very recently. For instance, it's safe to assume that the majority of workers participating in their employers' 401(k) programs simply selected a ready-made group of investments when they began their contributions, not giving very much thought to their own overall financial plan or goals. And, once started, they rarely revisited the account except to occasionally check to see how much it had gone up. Unfortunately, to their dismay, they've now found out that virtually any investment program, unless specifically put together to do otherwise, is going to lose value in a bear market.

The point in all this is that you don't necessarily have to beat a wholesale retreat away from the markets, never to return again. In actuality, you should take this time to learn all you can about the basics of investing, so that you can manage your own money. After all, no matter how well-intentioned and experienced your financial adviser (if you have one) may be, no one is going to care more about your money than you do.

Now, don't go running off screaming "I can't do that!" You most certainly can. You don't have to learn every nuance that Warren Buffett or some other professional investor knows. You only need to be aware of basic things, such as how to recognize a market cycle or trend (in other words, is the general direction of the market you're interested in going up or down?). This is especially true if you're investing for the long haul, where short-term fluctuations (along with any real concern for them) are relegated to very little importance. When you have more of an understanding about the markets, and how to systematically reach your own financial goals, you'll realize that you don't need to make terribly risky moves, and you're investing will be much less complex and much more anxiety-free.

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