Just when we start to cheer up after an exuberant Dow Jones rally, the market plunges again, our investments go south, and hundreds of jobs evaporate. Although some economists are predicting that the recession will end by the second half of next year, there are no guarantees, and nearly every forecast says the rest of ’09 will continue to be challenging for Wall Street and Main Street alike. So what can consumers do to deal with their losses and cushion themselves against what might be a long, bumpy ride? Ladue News consulted experts from three major financial institutions. Their advice ranged from common-sense suggestions (pare down on extras, keep close track of debit-card spending, rein in those credits cards, work longer, retire later) to money-saving tips only a pro would know.

REMEMBER YOUR GOALS: “Everyone’s holdings have fluctuated, but that’s no reason to lose sight of your financial goals,” says Maurice Quiroga, executive vice president and managing director of National City Private Client Group. “Even if you’re skittish about investing right now, stay on course by continuing to save in an account designed for a long-term goal. If losses are offset even in part by new savings, your bottom line number won’t be so discouraging. If you set aside some cash now, you’ll be ready to dip your toe into the market when you get your confidence back.”

DON’T CASH IN YOUR STOCKS: You may be tempted to cash in your stocks or 401(k) to meet expenses, but don’t. “Stay invested at your level of tolerance,” Quiroga advises. “If you’re still employed, take full advantage of any tools and benefits that might be available. Continue to contribute to your employer-sponsored retirement plan if it offers an employer match. At the higher end, if you make more than $250,000 a year, look into nonqualified deferred compensation and salary continuation plans, which are ways of building a savings pool.”

DEBT IS A DIRTY WORD: Above all, he says, “avoid the big D, debt, as much as you possibly can, particularly credit-card debt. Consolidate your loans and consider refinancing your home. Everyone can benefit from these historic low interest rates, and you can maximize them with a long-term loan, which will lower your monthly payments and free up your cash flow.”

RETIRE YOUR CREDIT CARDS: Gail Sneed, senior vice president of retail administration at UMB Bank, offers an organized approach to eliminating credit-card debt. “Every month, pay as much as you can on the card with the highest interest rate, even if it means paying just the minimum on your other cards,” she says. “When you’ve crossed that off the list, use the same method for the card with the next-highest rate. And while you’re at it, stop running up your cards!”

SHOP RESALE & BANK ONLINE: To save money on clothing, Sneed suggests shopping at resell-it stores such as Once Upon a Child, Plato’s Closet and the ScholarShop. “It’s a trend that’s becoming popular all over the country,” she notes. “You’ll be amazed by the quality, and it’s especially helpful if you have young kids, who outgrow their clothes so fast.” Consumers can also save money by signing up for online banking and bill paying. “It’s a smart way to keep track of what you’re spending and to make sure your payments are on time, and you don’t have to pay for postage or checks.”

RETRAIN YOUR KIDS: Talk to your kids about money. “Don’t burden the younger ones with too much information, but teach them the difference between needs and wants,” Sneed says. “Encourage them to save for what they want instead of automatically buying it for them.”

BANK BETTER: Sue Hutchins of Commerce Bank recommends visiting your bank at least once a year for a financial check-up. “There’s no better way to review your investments and accounts to make sure you’re maximizing your earnings and opportunities,” explains Hutchins, executive vice president and director of retail administration. “See if there’s a way to consolidate your debts, which can lower your monthly payments considerably. Take a look at what you’re paying for services at Commerce, a number of our accounts can be bundled to eliminate fees. You’d be surprised at what you can save. For high-value clients, for example, we can provide free foreign ATM access that saves at least $30 a month.”

REALITY CHECK: Hutchins views the current economic situation as a chance for consumers to reevaluate their financial goals. “There’s plenty of financial opportunity out there, as long as you get the best advice you can.” Sneed of UMB agrees. “If we buckle down and change our approach to saving and spending, we’ll come out ahead.” Quiroga of National City also sees the silver lining in an otherwise cloudy climate. “This recession has touched everyone, at every income level,” he says. “It’s made us think about how we save, how we invest and how we plan for our future, and we needed that.”