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Near-retiree: Roller coaster economy isn't for 'average Joe'

  • Story Highlights
  • Economic woes hit older Americans hard as they ponder what to do with portfolios
  • Suze Orman: If you need money in five years or less, it shouldn't be in stock market
  • AARP study finds most people 45 and older plan to cut holiday spending
  • "This huge, ridiculous roller coaster really isn't for the average Joe," 62-year-old says

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By Wayne Drash
CNN
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ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Denise Edwards has seen her portfolio shed more than 6 percent this week. The 62-year-old near-retiree said she's angry and annoyed by this week's financial chaos, with the realization that she might have to work several more years to make up her losses.

Elizabeth Rose of Lehman Brothers MarketMakers sees fluctuations at the New York Stock Exchange this week.

"The average middle-class American doesn't understand the financial markets, and neither do I," Jean Sylvia says.

"This huge, ridiculous roller coaster really isn't for the average Joe," she said. "I did the right thing. It's in mutual funds. It's distributed the way you're supposed to do and all that stuff. But it's still decreased."

She said she could have put her money in a CD over the past four years and have been ahead right now.

"I don't know what to do," Edwards said.

Jean Sylvia, a 67-year-old retiree who lives off Social Security, said she feels the same way. She said people like her can't grasp everything going on in the markets right now.

"The average middle-class American doesn't understand the financial markets, and neither do I," she told iReport.

Hers is a sentiment millions in the middle class can relate to -- especially those nearing retirement or already retired -- as they've seen thousands of their dollars disappear in recent days amid one of the most serious financial crises in decades. Video Watch why taxpayers are paying up »

For older Americans, it's a particularly vulnerable time. The stock market is down, the housing market is slumping, and costs for things such as groceries and gas remain higher than in previous years. In late August, the AARP released a survey that found 57 percent of Americans 45 and older anticipated spending less in the upcoming holiday season due to the increased energy costs.

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This week's rocky Wall Street ride "just exacerbates" the pinch people were feeling, said David Certner, AARP's legislative policy director.

"It's very difficult. But don't necessarily panic at this point in time," Certner said. "If you have a plan, you really do need to stick to it."

He said there are always "gyrations in the marketplace," and it comes down to "how much risk are you comfortable with."

Personal finance expert Suze Orman told CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360" that if you have 10 to 40 years before retirement, "you have to keep investing. This is not the time to stop investing." Read Orman's survival tips for market mayhem

But she added, "I've always had a rule that money that you need within five years or less doesn't belong in the stock market. Why? Because if something goes down 50 percent and you need it to go back up, it could take a 9 percent annual average rate of return, 12 years to get back to where you were." Video Watch Orman describe when she'll start feeling better »

She also said that if people are having trouble sleeping at night due to market fluctuations, then they should consider getting out.

"Nobody has ever seen this happen before; nobody has an understanding of what's happening," she said of the economic crisis.

"So what does a normal human being do? You do what it takes to make yourself feel secure -- take the risk that you're able to take but don't do anything where you think, I'm going to catch a good buy now, maybe yes, maybe no."

Edwards said she had been classified as a "moderate-risk" investor. Describing her weak portfolio performance -- not just this week but over the last four years -- she asked, "That's moderate, making nothing?

"So it's aggravating, and you think: What do you do now? Do I take it out now and put it into CDs?"

She added, "I just wish I had not got involved."

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