According to headlines, the economy appears to be in an upswing. Then again, prices at the pump are on the rise and the stock market has continued to experience 100-plus point swings as well, giving investors a couple solid reasons to remain cautious about their finances.

As far as gas is concerned, some economists are predicting prices could reach $5 per gallon by summer. In fact, the Oil Price Information Service estimates the nationwide average could reach $4.25 per gallon in late April, which would break the previous record high we saw in Salt Lake City of $4.16 per gallon in the summer of 2008. The fear associated with higher gas prices tends to cause consumers to spend less money, which in turn would slow down the recovery process.

While there is no crystal ball that can accurately predict the economic future of our country, there are ways to proactively protect your money during times of uncertainty like this. While many investors consider jumping back into the market, the “Recession’s lessons” should not be forgotten.

Consider the following steps to protect and preserve your life savings in any economic environment.

1. Protect the money you currently have from unnecessary risks. Because the stock market continues to fluctuate, you need to be sure at least some of your retirement investments is shielded from unnecessary risks. A general rule of thumb to follow is the Rule of 100. All do is take your age, subtract it from 100 and the result is the percentage that you could expose to higher-risk investments, with the remainder placed in more conservative accounts. Remember, many people lost too much of their money during the recession because they were exposed to too much risk. Adjust your investment strategy by following this rule.

2. Structure your accounts properly by not putting all your eggs in one basket. Diversifying your investments is very critical to avoid suffering a huge loss in any one particular investment, which could severely impact your long-term financial and retirement goals. Choosing a variety of different financial instruments and investment vehicles, even some not directly tied to the performance of the stock market, is the key to balancing your portfolio and protecting your assets. Noncorrelated investments can keep your assets from fluctuating in value or return in relation to the market.

3. Reduce unnecessary expenses and fees. It might be helpful to do an annual review of your savings and investment accounts along with your overall portfolio to figure out if you are paying too much money in unnecessary fees and taxes. Some brokerage firms charge hidden recurring fees on the investment products they sell you. You may want to consider working with a financial advisor or firm that does not charge this way.

In addition, your accounts should be positioned to protect against rising taxes. Putting your money into an account that could double in tax liabilities next year could take away from your savings, so contact a qualified financial professional who can assist you with making the right decisions. The less money that you pay in hidden fees and taxes translates to more money you can save, which is why you need to do your own due diligence.

Learning from the mistakes that were made yesterday can help you better plan for tomorrow. The delicate nature of our economy can make it difficult to plan ahead, but being flexible with your investment strategy can make it easier. In times like this, it is much better to concentrate on the return of your money than a return on your money and work to protect your financial future.

Sean P. Lee, an investment advisor representative, specializes in financial planning and assisting clients with retirement-income plans for their golden years. He works for Global Financial Private Capital, LLC. For more information see