There's a good chance that last week's 18% drop in the Dow was the biggest weekly percentage drop you will ever experience. And that means everything is different now.
You see, in more usual market times, you probably spend a significant amount time trying to find excellent stocks at good prices. But with yesterday's close 39% lower than the all-time high only a year ago, it's easy to find cheap stocks -- but waiting for the market to turn and value those stocks takes some patience.
So to help you ride out the bottom, here are the top 10 things to do while waiting for the end of the financial apocalypse. Drum roll, please …
10. Play the financial-apocalypse drinking game
Get friends together to watch the invigorating financial news on CNBC. Take a drink whenever someone says "contained," "1929," "subprime," or "Roubini," or uses a three-letter combination to refer to something that a reckless CEO has used or will use this year to blow up his century-old, multibillion-dollar business. "ABS," "CDS," and "MBS" count. "WMD" doesn't -- so far, anyway.
9. Improve your job skills
In these trying times, learning a new skill can provide you with increased job security. I imagine the demand for massage therapists and beauticians must be skyrocketing. I mean, if AIG (NYSE: AIG ) is willing to blow $440,000 on a spa getaway mere days after being bailed out by our tax dollars, imagine how big a tab Wall Street will run up after it gets its hands on our $700 billion.
8. Mock your favorite economist
Milton Friedman is a good target, since we've all discovered just how rationally Bear Stearns, Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS ) , and all of the other big investment banks act when regulations are relaxed -- rationally enough to catapult the world's financial system into chaos. If mocking a dead guy seems a bit irreverent, you could always target Alan "ain't no housing bubble here" Greenspan.
7. Read a book
While away the hours reading Benjamin Graham's classic The Intelligent Investor. Just by opening the cover, you'll feel smart -- and who better to learn from than a guy who almost went broke during the 1929 crash?
6. Take up a new hobby
Knitting can be fun. So is lending money to people who can't pay it back, pooling the loans, chopping them into tiers, persuading Moody's (NYSE: MCO ) to rate them "AAA," and selling them to some poor schmuck's pension fund. But knitting isn't as likely to bring down the economies of the free world.
5. Watch TV
There's a new comedy network in town, and it's called C-SPAN. On C-SPAN, you'll be able to catch the CEO of Lehman Brothers arguing that his actions were "prudent and appropriate" but that he still "feels horrible." You'll get to see the former CEO of AIG explain that even though he did try to persuade his board to ignore pay guidelines and give him a $5 million bonus when AIG was losing money, he asked simply as a way to help out the other senior executives. It's heartwarming that these ultra-wealthy CEOs have such compassion for the little people.
4. Try to fail horribly
If nothing else, this financial apocalypse proves that failure is the path to the American dream. Last year, former Merrill Lynch (NYSE: MER ) CEO Stanley O'Neal departed with a package amounting to $161 million. Former Citigroup (NYSE: C ) CEO Charles Prince left with a $105 million pay package. In fact, it's hard to find a failing CEO without an immense exit package. Why work hard for success when failure is so lucrative?
3. Increase your income by $2,292
The $700 billion bailout of the financials amounts to about $2,292 for every man, woman, and child in the United States. As a responsible citizen, you should be looking for ways to pay that money off. You could get a second job at McDonald's (NYSE: MCD ) . With starting salaries running at about $6 per hour, you'd need only 382 hours to pay your portion. To save time, you could become the CEO of Freddie Mac (NYSE: FRE ) . Making $19.8 million last year, Richard Syron accumulated his $2,292 in about 11 minutes. It's nice to see all Americans working together to do their part.
Since the market has fallen so much, you could just give up. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down about 39% from its high. In the 26 bear markets since 1900, it declined more than 50% only twice -- 90% in 1929 and 52% in 1937. Just based on these numbers, you should probably act quickly. If you don't capitulate soon, you may not get the chance to do so before sanity returns.
And the No. 1 thing to do while waiting for the end of the financial apocalypse:
1. Buy some cheap stocks
If you decide not to capitulate, then you should probably go ahead and buy some cheap stocks. There's a good chance that during this crisis, you'll see businesses trading at prices lower than you may ever see again. Look for inexpensive companies that are throwing off cash, have rock-solid balance sheets with no short-term debt maturities or cash needs, and have excellent competitive positions.
Don't worry about buying at the exact bottom, because the bottom is impossible to predict. Just buy at prices that are almost certain to provide long-term investors with amazing future returns. If you're looking for ideas, our Motley Fool Inside Value team has identified some excellent businesses trading for a small fraction of their fair value. You can read about them with a free trial.
Fool contributor Richard Gibbons has confidence that despite the outrage over CEOs who made hundreds of millions for driving their companies into the mud, CEO pay will continue to escalate. He owns none of the stocks discussed in this article. Moody's is an Inside Value and Stock Advisor recommendation. The Fool's disclosure policy avoids tranches of all kinds.