How To Survive A Stock Market Crash

The first rule for surviving a stock market crash is not to panic, and the second is not to sell on the day of the correction. Markets typically rebound after a sharp sell-off as investors hunt for bargains, so wait before liquidating your portfolio. For example, two days after the 1987 crash, the S&P 500 jumped 15%, and the Dow Jones climbed nearly 20% from December 1929 to March 1930, following Black Tuesday, October 29, 1929. You probably won’t recover all your losses, especially if you bought stocks the day before the correction, but it will help.

The S&P 500 has fallen 23% this year, and the NASDAQ is down 31%. Will markets fall another 25% or 30% from here? It could, I guess, but no one knows for sure, especially the experts. It would be one of the worst corrections in history if it did.

One popular money manager said, “We’re being forced to choose between two overpriced assets. That is not always a terrific choice to make because there is a third choice, and that is, don’t play the game and hold money in cash.” He also recommended investors buy commodities for the next ten or twenty years and encouraged investors to sit in cash until stocks fell. His comments occurred in 2010. How did his prediction turn out? Since 2010, the S&P 500 soared 204%, while commodities dropped 9%.[1]

A famous economist said, “US stocks will fall, and the government will nationalize more banks.” He predicted a correction in 2009 after The Great Recession, where stocks dropped 53%. The S&P 500 has climbed 343%, and the government has not nationalized more banks since his comments.[2]

A prominent author wrote books about a depression starting in 2009 and a stock market crash in 2011, and neither happened. The market climbed more than 300% since 2009 and rose 2.1% in 2011.[3]

The S&P 500 is up 151% this century despite numerous corrections. The index dropped 46% from 2000 to 2003, 53% from 2007 to 2009, 30% during COVID, and it’s currently down 23%. Most investors consider a correction or crash a one-day event like October 19, 1987, or October 29, 1929. However, stocks routinely fall 10% or 20%, and the market usually finishes in negative territory about once every four years. The last down year occurred in 2018 when the S&P 500 fell by 4.4%.[4]

In the twelve months preceding Black Tuesday, October 29, 1929, the S&P 500 soared 58%, and from September 1926 to August 1929, it generated an average annual return of 40.3%. The S&P 500 rose 167% during the preceding five years and was up 35% through August before Black Monday, October 19, 1987. After the correction, the S&P started to recover, and by January 1990, it erased all its losses by rising by 57%.[5] Before this correction, the market was up 81%. Despite a crash, you may still have significant capital gains if you have been a long-term investor. 

Corrections are scary, violent, and short-lived, so here are a few suggestions to help you survive a stock market crash.  

  • Buy US T-Bills. The one-year US T-Bill currently yields 4.2%, and it’s guaranteed if you hold until maturity.
  • Fortify your emergency fund. We recommend an emergency fund covering your household expenses for three to six months. If you’re concerned about a further drop in the market, extend the duration to twelve to eighteen months.
  • Diversify your assets. A balanced portfolio of stocks, bonds, and cash will soften the blow of a market drop. During market drops, bonds perform well. In 2008, long-term US government bonds rose 25.9%, while stocks dropped 45%.
  • Buy stocks. Buy stocks if your time horizon is three to five years or more. According to Dimensional Funds, the 5-year average cumulative return after a 20% decline is a 72% gain.
  • Rebalance your portfolio. If you rebalance your portfolio, you can buy investments at lower prices. Rebalancing your accounts keeps your risk level and asset allocation in check.
  • Eliminate margin. One way to lose more money than you intended is to use leverage. If you margin your securities, eliminate it. Margin will make a bad situation worse.
  • Think long-term. You may own your investments for years, maybe decades, before you need the money, so think generationally.
  • Markets recover. The stock market has always recovered! It may take time, but they eventually rebound as they did in 2020, 2018, 2008, 2002, 2001, 2000, 1990, 1981, 1977, 1974, 1973, 1969, 1966, 1962, 1957, 1953, 1946, 1941, and 1929.

Stock market corrections come and go, and the market is a long-term wealth creation machine occasionally interrupted by short-term pullbacks. Do not fear a downdraft. Instead, use it as an opportunity to buy excellent companies or funds at enhanced prices.

I’ve done a lot of thinking about fear. For me the crucial question is not how to climb without fear-that’s impossible- but how to deal with it when it creeps into your nerve endings. ~ Alex Honnold

September 26, 2022

Bill Parrott, CFP®, is the President and CEO of Parrott Wealth Management, located in Austin, Texas. Parrott Wealth Management is a fee-only, fiduciary, registered investment advisor firm. Our goal is to remove complexity, confusion, and worry from the investment and financial planning process so you can pursue a life of purpose. Our firm does not have an asset or fee minimum, and we work with anybody who needs financial help regardless of age, income, or asset level. PWM’s custodian is TD Ameritrade, and our annual fee starts at .5% of your assets and drops depending on the level of your assets. We have waived our financial planning fee for the remainder of the year, so your cost is $0.00.

Note: Investments are not guaranteed and do involve risk. Your returns may differ from those posted in this blog. PWM is not a tax advisor, nor do we give tax advice. Please consult your tax advisor for items that are specific to your situation. Options involve risk and aren’t suitable for every investor.

[1], Michelle Lodge, November 11, 2010

[2], Larry Swedroe, May 20, 2011

[3] The Great Depression ahead, 2009 and the The Great Crash Ahead, 2011, both written by Harry Dent


[5] Dimensional Fund Advosrs Returns Web

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