U.S. stocks are down 4.5 percent from their July high. That’s not a devastating amount, but it could be a harbinger of more to come.

The stock market is full of uncertainties, which is exactly why it’s an engine for growth, and why investors turn to stocks to stay ahead of inflation and maintain spending power throughout retirement.

But that uncertainty also carries a downside: market corrections.

It’s certain that a correction is coming, but no one can say when. It may have begun already, or it may not happen until a year from now.

Certainly, there are some ominous clouds forming. Bond yields are falling on fears of global recession. The spectre of a trade war between the U.S. and China is contributing to those fears, as are renewed worries about the possibility of the U.K. leaving the European Union.

Market corrections are not unusual, coming once a decade, on average. But they are unsettling, especially among investors who vividly recall the market debacle of 2008. Many recall their account values dropping sharply.

Now, 11 years later, closer to retirement or perhaps newly retired, those investors are more unnerved by the possibility of a steep market decline. That’s understandable.

The biggest problem investors encounter is not having any sort of plan for the inevitable downturn — or even crash.

So what constitutes a plan? Panic selling is not a plan. That tends to result in lost opportunity over time. First, panic sellers often become frozen, and unable to enter the market again when it seems the coast is clear.

But how, exactly, do you know it’s safe to get back in? There’s no official signal that markets will only go up from here.

Just as panic selling is not a plan, neither is a list of investments to buy.

A plan goes way beyond those surface-level considerations and helps determine answers to those big money questions that keep you awake at night:

u Will market crashes derail your ability to retire altogether?

u If you can retire, can you afford the life you’ve dreamed of?

u How much can you really spend?

u How much will you owe in taxes?

u Can you leave a legacy for your family or favorite causes?

u Can you achieve a sense of peace around your money, rather than be worried for several decades?

So how can you protect yourself against these market declines if sitting on cash will erode your spending power? What’s the answer?

First, keep a longtime horizon. That means the rest of your life and that of your spouse or partner. You probably need to plan to live longer than you expect. Don’t base your life expectancy calculations on how long your parents lived. Your own health and lifestyle data factors into life expectancy, as well. In addition, medical science is keeping the Boomers and Gen X-ers healthier than previous generations.

The lifelong time horizon is crucial, and it can help remove some of the fear from investing decisions.

According to data from Dimensional Fund Advisors, the long-term focus does indeed increase the chances of a positive outcome, despite year-to-year volatility. Over rolling periods of one year, between 1926 and 2018, the S&P 500 index of big U.S. stocks showed a positive return 72.5 percent of the time. Over rolling five-year periods, that increases to 87.7 percent, and jumps to 94.7 percent over 10-year timeframes.

The long-term data support critical thinking over emotion-based decisions. But without the context of a personalized, ongoing financial plan, it’s difficult to know what specific actions will protect your hard-earned money, rather than put it at risk.

For The New Mexican readers, my firm is offering a free workshop, “How to Survive the Next Market Crash.” It will be held at the Santa Fe Public Library’s La Farge Branch, 1730 Llano St., from 5 to 6 p.m., Sept. 9. To register, please call Traci at 844-507-0961, extension 700, or email WeCanHelp@BetterMoneyDecisions.com.

Kate Stalter is president, senior advisor and market strategist at independent, woman-owned asset-management firm Better Money Decisions. For a free report, “Will Lower Interest Rates Sink Your Retirement,” please visit http://bettermoneydecisions.com/special-offer-from-better-money-decisions/