On the Sunday before last week's "Black Monday," financial planner Alexandra Armstrong spent the day reviewing the stock portfolios of her clients to see where there were weaknesses. She called them to tell them that Monday could be a bad day, but not to panic.

As a result, when the market plummeted the next day, her clients weren't taken totally by surprise. "Their attitude is, 'We're where we should be, and we're going to hold on,'" said Armstrong, president of Washington-based Alexandra Armstrong Advisors.

"Our clients are lucky they have somebody to call," said Paul A. Yurachek, a partner with Dennis M. Gurtz and Associates Inc. in the District. "People are scared. I've turned counselor, psychiatrist, everything in the last week."

For clients of Yurachek, Armstrong and other financial planners, anxiety levels have not reached the panic level that many stockbrokers have had to deal with, according to local financial planners.

"People who are panicking have one mutual fund or one stock," said Armstrong. "Our people are more sophisticated. ... We don't have many first-time investors."

One reason financial planners like Armstrong don't get many first-time investors is that new investors can't afford the service. For most who want a certified financial planner to take a long-range look at where they should put their money, a minimum investment of $25,000 or more is required. Armstrong, who is at the top of the financial planning spectrum, sets a minimum of $100,000. The planners charge clients a fee or commission, or both.

Financial planners interviewed yesterday said portfolio diversification kept their clients from being severely hurt by the stock market's plunge. The planners said they usually recommend that no more than 20 or 30 percent of their clients' money be invested in the stock market. "We wouldn't have allowed people to get in a position where it was all in stocks," Armstrong said.

"The financial planner's job is to put money into areas that are reasonable," said Sally Law, a Silver Spring financial planner for Law & Associates. "We're not trying to make people rich, but to balance investments, pay off debt and make sure that there's savings ... to conserve capital and make sure it's safe."

To that end, many financial planners said that over the past several months, they had been gradually moving clients' money out of stocks and mutual funds and into other less volatile investments, such as Treasury bills and certificates of deposit.

But financial planners can only advise -- they cannot make the decisions for their clients. And several said that, given the strong bull market of the past five years, it's been difficult to keep some customers out of stocks.

Even as the market dropped last week, financial planners said, they advised clients to ride out the decline. Law said she advised only one client to pull completely out of the market. "They were older and had significant gains," she said. "We felt they could afford to move out." The experts said they believe that anybody still in the market should stay there and wait until things get better.

If not the stock market, then what? Financial planners are a conservative lot on that question, advocating high-quality, stable investments.

"I would have them keep it in cash -- an insured money market {fund}," Law said.

Dean Umemoto, a partner with McLean Financial Planning Corp, recommends annuities and single-premium, whole life insurance policies. He also advised that other items that produce steady income are good investments, such as Ginnie Maes -- investments in government-guaranteed home mortgages -- and limited partnerships invested in mortgages.

"The flight to quality makes immense good sense," said John Cammack, vice president of Alexandra Armstrong Associates. Cammack advised clients to buy Treasury notes and move money into investment-grade bond funds.

"The only other thing I've done is buy small positions on gold on the possibility that if we do enter a recession, it would create difficulty for financial institutions," Cammack said.

For Yurachek, the stock market is not yet dead. He advises investors to put some money in U.S. stocks, some in foreign markets and the remainder in real estate, Treasury bills and certificates of deposit.

Clients of Barry L. Cliff, of American Financial Consultants in the District, were lucky enough to miss the market's dive. Cliff said his firm uses a market timer -- a computer program that tells when to get in and out of the market -- that advised getting out of stocks in September. "Since Sept. 8, we haven't put any new money in the market," he said.

But Cliff is reluctant to take credit. "I don't think any of us -- financial planners or brokers -- looked for this drop. One was no better than another."

Cliff, like other financial planners, now is very bearish. "I think we'll have a recession next year," he said, although before it happens, he expects a lot of bargain hunters and greedy people to get sucked into the market.

One offshoot of the current instability may be that planners will get more business in the future, they said. "I think more people will think they need professional assistance," said Umemoto. "A lot of people now are just shell-shocked."