03/28/2008 02:45 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Recession-Proof Your Portfolio

There's lots of talk of a recession these days, making many investors nervous. What exactly is a recession? The technical definition is two quarters (six months) of negative gross domestic product growth. (GDP is the total market value of the new goods and services produced during a specified time span.) More simply, a recession describes a shrinking economy rather than a growing one.

Although a downturn in market performance isn't necessarily a recession, the two can go hand in hand, as the last two recessions in 1990 and 2001 suggest. Currently there's not a consensus on whether the U.S. is in a recession, heading for a recession, or simply slowing down a bit, but it never hurts to be ready. Below are a few important steps to take when the economy turns sour.

Buy, Don't Sell

We all know the old adage "Buy low, sell high." Yet that's the opposite of what some people do when the economic climate looks gloomy. The start of a recession is not the time to liquidate your investments. Depending on your time horizon, you most likely have enough time to ride out short-term stock price drops that might happen during a recession. If you're in your 30s and saving for retirement, a few market bumps will be ironed out in the long run. Still, it's important to construct your portfolio with your time horizon and risk tolerance in mind, which can help you sleep easy if the market does start to tumble.

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