A Bear Market Checklist To Thriving In A Downturn


A bear market is a part of investing. The last bear market happened in March 2020, when the S&P 500 tanked by 32% in just a month. Thankfully, the bear market recovered and a bull market ensued until the end of 2021.

In 2022, another bear market has taken hold. Inflation is running rampant. The Fed is hiking rates and corporate earnings and consumer spending will likely slow.

The worst bear market in our lifetimes was from October 9, 2007 through March 9, 2009, when the S&P 500 fell by 57%. It took roughly five years after the beginning of the 2008-2009 Global Financial Crisis to get back to even. The average bear market declines about 37% over 380 days.

Losing time due to financial loss is the worst. Ask yourself how much you’d be willing to sacrifice to live five years longer. Or what would you give to be able to spend five years raising your child before never seeing then again. For many, that time is priceless.

This post will provide a bear market checklist to thriving in a downturn. The more prepared you are, the higher the chance of surviving in a downturn and coming out stronger.

Historical Bull & Bear Market Cycles

The below chart gives a great historical perspective on previous bull and bear market cycles. What’s particularly interesting about the below chart are the regression trend lines.

Thankfully, bull markets last longer than bear markets. But when you’re in a bear market, it feels terrible.

Historical bear market and bull market cycles

Thriving In A Bear Market Downturn With A Pre-Mortem Checklist

You always want to have a pre-mortem checklist for things such as:

  • What to do if you get into a car accident
  • What to do if your baby or toddler is choking
  • What to do if an intruder is breaking into your house
  • What to do if you’re having a heart attack
  • What to do if your spouse passes away suddenly

When disaster strikes, we often CANNOT think clearly. As a result, we tend to make suboptimal choices. With a pre-mortem checklist, we don’t have to think. Instead, we can follow instructions that were created when we were thinking clearly.

Hopefully, this post will spur you into action. Here are some easy things to do now to prepare for the inevitable downturn.

The markets are back to all-time highs. With interest rates rising quickly again, it could derail the recovery. Therefore, we must all be prepared for another correction or downturn. It’s important to change your investment strategy in a rising interest rate environment.

Bear market checklist when oil prices surge

Things To Do Before Another Downturn Returns

1) Make sure you have enough cash to last through a downturn.

Since 1980, the three bear markets have lasted between three months and 2.1 years. Therefore, it’s best you have enough cash to cover three to 36 months worth of living expenses.

Personally, I’d shoot for at least 12 months worth of expenses in cash given we’re close to a record high above trend. With cash yielding ~0.5%, cash provides some returns.

If there is a downturn, you will sure appreciate your cash hoard as stocks lose big.

2) Make sure your portfolio is diversified enough to match your risk tolerance.

If you have a regular stock and bond portfolio, you should understand what the historical returns are for various compositions and be OK with the potential upside and downside.

Due to a 12+-year bull market, I believe most investors overestimate their true risk tolerance either because they’ve never lost more than 20% in one year or they’ve simply forgotten what it’s like. A bear market checklist helps you think more clearly.

3) Write out your investment objectives.

With each investment objective comes an investment time horizon. Once you clearly understand your time horizon, you can better match your risk tolerance.

For example, if you’re investing for your child’s college education 16 years away, you can afford to be more aggressive with your investments. However, if you’re planning on purchasing a home within the next 12-24 months, then you should likely be more conservative.

Part of writing out your investment objectives include writing out a regular financial progress report to discuss with your loved ones. If you’re single, you’ll find the process of writing to be incredibly enlightening.

4) Run a Financial SEER Analysis.

After you’ve studied historical returns and written out your investment objectives, it’s time to quantify your risk tolerance through Financial SEER. Our minds often belie our actions.

Financial SEER forces you to come to terms with how many more months you must work to make up for your potential investment losses and adjust accordingly.

5) Make sure your work relationships are strong.

The people who get fired first during a downturn are those who are most disliked, followed by those who are the worst performers. If you do not have a wide and strong safety net of colleagues who will go to bat for you, then you best develop these relationships now well before you need them.

Take colleagues out for lunch or coffee. Go to happy hour even though all you want to do is go straight home and rest. I have personally survived ~20 rounds of layoffs during my time in finance and I can assure you that high performers are not safe if they are reclusive and/or prickly.

6) Have at least one alternative source of steady income.

The more income streams beyond your day job, the better. But you must have at least one alternative income stream that can help cover your basic living expenses as you try and survive tough times.

Ideally, this alternative income stream can grow if you spend more effort. For example, you might be a freelance writer making $500 a month with 10 hours of work. You could easily put in 40 hours of work a month to earn $2,000 if necessary.

Side hustle opportunities, dividends, and returns all tend to decline during a bear market. Therefore, look for countercyclical income and investment opportunities as well.

I’m personally heavily invested in real estate crowdfunding to diversify my real estate holdings across the heartland of America. Real estate tends to outperform when stocks are crashing. However, in this particular bear market, real estate will likely slowdown given interest rates have come up a lot from their lows.

Ranking the bst passive income streams

7) Collect on outstanding debt now.

Defaults skyrocket during a recession. If you have any outstanding loans, you should consider collecting when times are good. If you like to invest in debt instruments, perhaps it’s best to only invest in loans with short maturities, rather than ones that may expire in the 13th year of a bull market. The same goes for private equity or real estate investments.

8) Check in with your tenants.

Only professional landlords with zero emotions can capture the maximum amount of rent when times are good. For most mom and pop landlords, we feel badly raising the rents to keep up with inflation or stay even with the market, so we don’t.

However, individual landlords should absolutely treat their rental properties like a business. Check in on your tenants to see how they’re doing. See if you can do something extra for them or fix something that’s been nagging them to build a solid relationship.

Depending on your tenant situation, you may want to get your rents close to market if it’s been more than three years of no rent increases. I have one rental that hasn’t had its rent increased in three years because I feel bad doing so. It could probably earn at least $400 more a month, or $4,800 a year. But I’m unwilling to send them an e-mail notification because they’ve been good tenants.

Yet, I’m willing to fight tooth and nail to refinance my primary mortgage down in order to save $250 a month in interest to improve my family’s financial situation. Go figure.

9) Reconsider your safe withdrawal rate.

If you are already retired, see if you can reduce your withdrawal rate and still live a comfortable lifestyle. For example, if you’ve been regularly drawing down 4% of your portfolio, see if you can live off a 3% instead.

Even if you match your withdrawal rate to the risk-free rate of return, it still might be too high because your investments will likely lose money during a bear market. Therefore, the more of a buffer you can build in retirement, the more you can withstand a bear market.

The time to be flexible is during a bear market. Overall, I recommend you follow a dynamic safe withdrawal rate so you can better adapt with the times.

10) Don’t retire until things get really ugly. Counterintuitive, I know.

Retiring in a bull market is more dangerous than retiring in a bear market. The main reason is that we tend to extrapolate our returns and withdraw more aggressively when times are good.

If you retire in a bear market, the chances of things getting much worse are low. But if you’re able to retire in a bear market because your investments and alternative income streams cover your desired living expenses, any incremental improvement in the markets and in the economy is just gravy.

You get to make max money during a bull market. Take advantage of the good times for as long as possible until things turn bad. Only after 1-2 years of living through a bear market should you consider giving up your main source of income.

A Bear Market Checklist To Thriving In A Downturn

11) Don’t forget to spend your money.

If you’ve had tremendous gains, as you should in a bull market, you should consider taking some profits and spending some of your gains.

After being locked down for so long, consider revenge spending to improve the quality of your life. It feels great to use your gains on something that will last.

So there you have it, my comprehensive bear market checklist to survive the bad times.

Bear Markets Don’t Last Forever

Although going through a bear market is painful, the stock market has made money 95 percent of the time over rolling 10-year periods since 1926. Over a rolling 20-year period, it’s made money 100 percent of the time.

Unfortunately, we will all eventually run out of time. Running out of time is why I’ve put together a bull market and bear market checklist. Ideally, I want us to live our best lives possible all of the time.

Eventually, decumulation is in order so you don’t die with too much. If you do, that means you wasted a lot of hours and stress making money you’ll never end up spending. You could have used that energy while you were younger to enjoy life more.

Having to spend time to recoup losses is a terrible waste of time. As you get older and wealthier, you no longer want to worry about money anymore. All you want to do is spend time on what really matters.

Stay On Top Of Your Finances

Stay on top of your net worth with Personal Capital, the web’s #1 free financial app. Track your cash flow, x-ray your investment portfolio for excessive fees and inappropriate risk exposure, and use their retirement calculator to plan for the future. There’s no rewind button in life. Make the most of everything.

Personal Capital Retirement Planner Free Tool
Personal Capital’s Free Retirement Planner

Readers, what are some other bear market checklist items? How are you preparing for an impending downturn? Are you properly hedged? What could you do more of to improve your financial situation if a bear market hits? This bear market checklist should help if there’s another downturn.

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