A recent Boston Globe article offered this: "When millions of U.S. investors open their second-quarter retirement account statements soon they might be disappointed with their dividends, analysts say.
"Most investors will find their stock and bond funds in 401(k) and individual retirement accounts sank between April and June amid skyrocketing fuel prices and a slowing economy." The temptation many fear is that these individuals will begin tapping those plans, seeing the balances as better used for day-to-day living expenses rather than day-to-day expenses in the future.
You should avoid touching that 401(k), now posing more as a 201(k) after recent market turmoil for two reasons: One, if you are well away from retirement (say fifty or below) you are looking at a long time for the markets (and your savings tied to those markets) to recover.
The second reason has more to do with why. If it is for debt relief, then scale back your contribution and use the extra cash towards debt (contribute only what matches). If it is for market relief, reduce the fees in your plan and index your savings. Normally, I suggest index funds be held outside your defined contribution plans for the better tax treatment but with the markets sending mixed signals and more aggressive funds failing to offer fee relief, perhaps the switch would make the losses less painful.
These times do make pensions (defined benefit plans), those antiquated savings stabilizers (like Social Security) look awfully good. I just hope next time some politician suggests privatization, that we remember these trying times.