Over the past few weeks, bankruptcies, government bailouts, and talk of a global credit crisis have rocked Wall Street, while a weakened housing market continues to trouble Main Street. Virginia Cooperative Extension encourages all citizens to review their financial situation and goals and not to panic when the market fluctuates.

“When you invest in the stock market, you’re in it for the long haul,” said Celia Hayhoe, Extension family resource management specialist and Certified Financial Planner. “You have to weather these ups and downs now as you would any other time.”

Most do not enter the stock market unless they plan to keep their money in it for at least five years. According to Hayhoe, investors who prematurely exit the market because of an economic downturn and put their wealth in an account with a low interest rate, such as a savings or money-market account, will lose money when the economy rebounds.

“Money-market accounts are not for long-term investments,” Hayhoe said. “This is a safe place to store money for your kid’s tuition for college or if you plan to retire in the next five years. You should still keep the rest of your long-term investments in the market.”

In addition, singles and families should keep an emergency reserve fund in an easily accessible account in the event of a medical or other emergency or an unexpected living expense, such as new automobile tires. Most financial advisors agree that this fund should include three to six months of income, or more for those who plan to retire within five years. Other common tokens of financial wisdom, such as “Don’t extract from your retirement ‘nest egg’ too early” and “Reduce any debt and reliance on credit cards,” still apply during a struggling economy, Hayhoe said.

Virginians with questions about what they should do to manage their money may contact one of Extension’s 107 county and city offices for assistance.

“Extension agents are available in many, but not all, localities to review the financial situation of individuals and families,” Hayhoe said. “If you are in an area that does not have an Extension agent devoted to personal finances, your local Extension office can often track down an agent at a neighboring county or another financial expert who can help.”