I know a lot of you have been staring at the ticker feed on TV, watching stock after stock tumble during this market swoon. And yet ... you haven't bought anything. Why?

I have a question for you: If now isn't a great time to buy stocks, when would be? After all, many great names have been cut in half or more. Often we get excited when something is 10% off, or when we find a 20%-off sale. But folks -- Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT) is down nearly 50% so far this year! Legg Mason (NYSE:LM) has had its value slashed by almost three-quarters!

Check out how some well-regarded companies' stocks have fared over the past year:

Company

1-Year Return

Time Warner (NYSE:TWX)

(45%)

Caterpillar

(48%)

American Express (NYSE:AXP)

(54%)

KLA-Tencor (NASDAQ:KLAC)

(58%)

Graco (NYSE:GGG)

(39%)

Disney (NYSE:DIS)

(31%)

Legg Mason

(74%)

Data: Morningstar.com.

Those are all negative returns. Are you waiting for stocks to be down 98%? I don't think that will happen. And if it does, that might not be a great time to buy, as something might be terribly wrong. So why aren't you buying now?

Think back a couple of years, when the market was really cooking. If it suddenly dropped, say, 10% in a short period, many of us might have been licking our lips, searching for bargains. They might have been a little hard to find, but there would likely have been some. But it's different now. Gobs of blue chips are gasping for air, trading at bargain-level prices.

What to do
Review your watch list, and see which of the companies that interest you are most compelling at the moment. (Remember that you want to not only see them trading at significant discounts to their intrinsic values, but also with sustainable competitive advantages, healthy balance sheets, smart managements, impressive track records, and strong growth prospects.) You don't have to sink all your cash into stocks now, but think about investing some or all of what you won't need for five or more years.

Consider investing in steady dividend payers. For recommendations, you can take a free test-drive of our Motley Fool Income Investor newsletter, featuring many firms with dividend yields above 6%.

Here are some of my colleagues' thoughts on the attractiveness of our current market:

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of Time Warner. Legg Mason and American Express are Motley Fool Inside Value selections. Disney is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick. The Fool owns shares of Legg Mason and American Express. Try any of the Fool's market-beating investing newsletters free for 30 days. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.