Have you ever bought an item you loved, but then saw it for 40% off on a subsequent shopping trip? For most of us, it's downright painful to realize we could have gotten the same item far cheaper -- if we had only waited a while. 

Let's face it, looking up a quote on a stock that you've bought can sometimes have the same effect: "Oh [insert your favorite expletive], I bought too high!"

During bull markets, it can be really hard to hold off on stocks in our watch lists, waiting for a drop in price that seems like it may never come. Many of us have learned the hard way that patience pays off, but it may finally be time to exercise a little impatience.

That's because many stocks are currently on sale.

Patience is a virtue -- in investing, too
One of my favorite stocks -- one I still own -- is Urban Outfitters (Nasdaq: URBN). It's a great retailer with savvy, passionate merchants on its management team. Its inspired retail ideas include the core Urban Outfitters brand, as well as Anthropologie and Free People. Its Terrain concept is under way, and it also has a fifth concept planned. 

Even better, Urban Outfitters has plenty of cash on the balance sheet, no debt, and it generates free cash flow. Good deal, right?

Of course, when I bought the stock, I paid up for the privilege of owning a small piece of this solid company. It was difficult to wait it out -- after all, this was a stock that had been a 25-bagger in five years, and it historically carried a premium stock price reflecting its impressive growth. That's right, it felt like cheaper opportunities would never come.

However, an opportunity did end up presenting itself. Remember Urban Outfitters' fashion miss in 2006? As that situation shook out (and premium-priced stocks always take a serious beating when something goes awry), some investors had the opportunity to pick up the stock in the teens. I don't believe I made a mistake buying higher, given my intention to hold on for years to come -- but it would have been nice to pick up the shares on the cheap.

After four-plus years watching many exciting stocks here at the Fool, I'm coming around to the idea that if you wait long enough, you often will encounter golden opportunities to buy discounted shares of those great companies you covet (or buy more shares at lower prices), if you're patient.

Of course, you may also have to fight against the prevailing psychological bias that implies that just because the stock price dropped, the company's suddenly become a stinker. Again, Fool, be patient! If nothing's fundamentally changed about your investment thesis and you've got a long-term time horizon, why panic?

Tough times? Time to go shopping
Times may be rough, even a little bit scary right now -- but these are the times patient investors have been waiting for. This market is incredibly volatile, if not downright bearish. If you can look beyond the short-term angst and choose your stocks carefully, bear markets are when real bargains come about. And bargains abound these days.

Take a look at a few stocks that have been beaten down over the last year:


52-Week Price Change

P/E Ratio

PEG Ratio

Volcom (Nasdaq: VLCM)




Best Buy (NYSE: BBY)




Google (Nasdaq: GOOG)




Charlotte Russe (Nasdaq: CHIC)




All data from Yahoo! Finance, March 31, 2008.

Not all cheap companies are created equal. Given the rocky macroeconomic environment, investors should steer clear of companies that have been undergoing turnarounds for several years running and have loaded up their balance sheets with debt. Trying to navigate a turnaround during a recession is an awfully tall order -- and having accessible cash for rainy days is vital.

In these troubled times, it's a good idea to search out solid, well-run companies with competitive advantage. And of course, if you think Wall Street analysts' expectations are too optimistic for a particular company, that's a grand reason to steer clear.

Fool co-founders David and Tom Gardner are into quality, too, so if you're looking for top-of-the-line companies that are great bargains now, consider Motley Fool Stock Advisor. The Gardners ferret out the kind of businesses that will bring you pride (and profits) over the next 100 years.

And even though the service happens to be beating the S&P by 36 percentage points overall, there are some great stock recommendations there that have gotten beaten up along with the rest of the market -- Best Buy is one of those, as is Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL), which has fallen 28% in the past three months. Bargains abound.

You can get David and Tom's recommendations, past and present, by taking a 30-day free trial now. You'll also receive monthly updates, six-month reviews, and David and Tom's "Best Buys Now."

Patience can be a boon for investors, but the price you pay is important, too. And right now, there's a great chance that the price you pay may very well be a good one for the best businesses. 

Alyce Lomax owns shares of Urban Outfitters. Best Buy and Apple are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. Volcom is a Motley Fool Hidden Gems pick. Best Buy is also an Inside Value choice. The Fool has a high-quality disclosure policy.