The stock market has had a tough year, and the tech-heavy Nasdaq has been hit particularly hard. The index is currently down roughly 30% from its peak in January, well into bear market territory.

Whether you're already investing in the stock market or considering starting now, it can be a nerve-wracking time to buy. Is it still worth it to invest during a bear market? Or is it safer to wait until stock prices recover? Here's what you need to know.

Why investing right now could pay off

On the surface, market downturns may seem like the worst time to invest. Stock prices are falling, and investing now can feel like you're throwing your money away.

However, bear markets can actually be fantastic times to buy. Because stock prices are lower, now is your chance to load up on high-quality stocks at a fraction of the cost. It's an especially good time to buy higher-priced stocks that normally cost an arm and a leg.

For example, at its peak in November 2021, Tesla stock cost nearly $410 per share (adjusted to account for its stock split this August). Currently, though, it's priced at around $229 per share -- a 45% drop in just under a year.

In other words, this normally high-priced stock is nearly half off right now. If you're looking for a chance to buy pricey stocks at a discount, now is the time.

Of course, it's still crucial to do your research before you buy. Just because a stock is more affordable right now doesn't necessarily mean it's a smart investment or the right fit for your portfolio. Doing your due diligence before you buy will give your stocks a much better chance of bouncing back after this downturn.

When you might want to wait

Investing now could be a profitable move, as the stock market is essentially on sale at the moment. But it's not the best move for everyone, and there are two situations when you might want to avoid the market:

  • Your emergency fund is falling short: Once you invest, it's best to leave your money in the market for at least several years (if not decades). If your savings are lacking and you face an unexpected expense, you could be forced to pull your money out of the market -- which could result in losses on your investments.
  • You expect to need your money in the near future: It's not necessarily a bad idea to invest for specific goals, such as the down payment on a house or your child's college tuition. But it's wise to avoid investing any money you might need in the next year or two. It can sometimes take years for the market to fully recover from a downturn, and if you withdraw your money before stock prices bounce back, you could incur losses.

The stock market may seem intimidating, especially during a downturn. But it's also a wealth-generating powerhouse and one of the best tools for increasing your net worth over time. If you can swing it, investing right now is one of the smartest financial decisions you can make.