"Oh, you work for The Motley Fool? What stocks should I buy?"
I cringe every time I hear those words from a new acquaintance. My usual reply? "Buy some ETF's from Vanguard."
If I just learned your name, I don't know what your risk tolerance is, what your time horizon and goals are, what the rest of your portfolio looks like, how much time you'll put into vetting stock picks, or your level of investing prowess.
For 95% of people, a well-balanced portfolio of Vanguard exchange-traded funds is the best way to bet on the stock market.
I'm not one of those people.
But even if you're in the 5% of people who should be hand-picking stocks, I still can't tell you what you should be buying -- because I still don't know you. And your portfolio should be crafted to your goals, your tolerances, and your interests.
I'll do you one better, though. I'll tell you what I've actually bought recently with my hard-earned cash -- and why.
Get to the stocks already!
I've been using this stock market crash to pick up once-expensive companies I've long admired. While they've been languishing on my watch list, the market has turned from a Nordstrom to a TJ Maxx -- and I'm busy picking through the racks to find designer stocks for half off. Here are three of my recent buys.
Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL )
Purchase price: ~$110
Let's be clear here. I'm not a "Steve Jobs can do no wrong" fanboy. I haven't drunk the Apple-flavored Kool-Aid. I don't even hate Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) ; as I type this, I'm happily using Microsoft Word and Windows on my PC. I fear what will happen when Apple finally misses on a major product, and I know the synergistic success of the Mac/iPod/iTunes/iPhone foursome can't be replicated forever.
But even though Apple wasn't scream-out-loud cheap when I bought it (it's much closer now), it has long intrigued me. With no debt, it holds more than a quarter of its market cap in cash and short-term investments. That's a great position to be in during a credit crunch. And today's prices have much more reasonable growth expectations built in.
Apple's not the only tech company with loads of cash and no long-term debt -- Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) and Microsoft are in the same boat, and especially in a market like this, they're all worth checking out.
Accenture (NYSE: ACN )
Purchase price: ~$30
I've always said Accenture is the Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS ) of the consulting space -- well, back when that was a compliment, anyway. As a former Accenture employee, I may be biased, but I'm not the only analyst I've heard doling out such high praise.
Getting Accenture's reputation, talented workforce, and almost comical return on capital for an earnings multiple just north of single digits was too good for me to pass up. Along with the comfort of having seen the company's operations up close, I like knowing that Accenture has about 15% of its market cap in cash and virtually no debt.
Best Buy (NYSE: BBY )
Purchase price: ~$22
Best Buy is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Its share price reflects its predicament -- a discretionary electronics retailer during a recession. Its earnings multiple is puny, but that's because of fears that those earnings will continue to be hit after an anemic holiday season.
Even so, I'm optimistic. Its most direct competitors are Circuit City (which recently declared bankruptcy) and Radio Shack (which has a tenth of Best Buy's revenue). While Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN ) and everything-and-the-kitchen sink discount retailers certainly pose a threat, Best Buy's focus, expertise, and physical presence will be hard to overcome quickly.
All this puts Best Buy is in the position of taking advantage of Circuit City's weakness and emerging with more market share when the recession fades into memory.
The Foolish bottom line
Should you buy these stocks? Only you can answer that question. If they interest you, do your own due diligence. And that goes double for the tips you pick up from that guy you just met at a party -- even if you asked for them.
After all, every stock you buy has to fit not only your requirements for a good stock, but also your whole investing strategy. How much time you have left until retirement, what your risk tolerance is, and what stocks you already own will be factors you should consider for any stock purchase.
But if you'd like some other stocks to consider -- including a full write-up of why they're good bets -- check out our Motley Fool Stock Advisor newsletter. Each month, Fool co-founders David and Tom Gardner recommend two stocks they think are compelling buys, and their recommendations are beating the market on average by a remarkable 28 percentage points. If you like to check them out, a 30-day trial is absolutely free. Just click here to get started -- there's no obligation to subscribe.
Anand Chokkavelu owns shares of Apple, Accenture, and Best Buy ... in case you weren't paying attention. Microsoft, Best Buy, and Accenture are Motley Fool Inside Value picks. Google is a Rule Breakers recommendation. Best Buy, Amazon.com, and Apple are Stock Advisor recommendations. The Fool owns shares of Best Buy. The Fool has a disclosure policy.