There was once a woman who prayed every day for 20 years that she'd win the lottery. Every single day. Finally, in despair, she said, "God, I've been a true and faithful servant and have lived an exemplary life. Why won't you grant me this one thing?"

"Look," said God, "at least meet me halfway -- buy a lottery ticket."

Buy the ticket
Similarly, in order to take advantage of the greatest long-term wealth-building machine available to us individual investors, you have to be in the market. And if the current craziness is keeping you away because you fear a huge drop, you're ignoring the advice of some of history's top investors.

In the latest edition of his book Stocks for the Long Run, Jeremy Siegel charted returns for a hypothetical unlucky investor who happened to invest at the absolute top of six major 20th-century market peaks. After 30 years, this investor actually accumulated four times more wealth in stocks than he would have in bonds, and five times more than in T-bills. For a 20-year period, he doubled the return for bonds. And that was investing at the peaks; with the market down over 40% in the past year, we're in a deep value situation, with plenty of bargains out there.

There's more where that came from
Consider the late John Templeton, founder of Templeton Growth Fund, and widely regarded as one of the best investors of his generation. His advice about getting into the market is simple: "The best time to invest is when you have money. This is because history suggests it is not timing which matters, it is time."

Our own David and Tom Gardner, who've beaten the market by a tremendous amount in Motley Fool Stock Advisor, also eschew timing the market. "The best time to invest was yesterday," says Tom. "The next best time is today."

So even though the tongue-in-cheek title of this article implies you've missed your best chance, you can see that you really haven't. If you've got money you won't need for five years or more, just get in the game as soon as you can.

Still need convincing? I looked back 15 years, specifically searching for companies that had experienced a big one-year gain. Surely, many investors back then were worried that stocks were too rich and ready for a great fall.

Well, a gnarly bear market did start up in 2000, and yes, these stocks fell. But despite their tremendous prior one-year gains, and despite two big bear markets (including the current one), their returns have been solid for those who held for the long term.







Harley-Davidson (NYSE:HOG)



Best Buy (NYSE:BBY)



Charles Schwab (NASDAQ:SCHW)



Applied Materials (NASDAQ:AMAT)



Maxim Integrated Products (NASDAQ:MXIM)



Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT)



S&P 500



There are no guarantees
We're in another scary period, but history shows that if you can find superior businesses with good management, hold for the long haul, and add new money regularly, you will rarely be disappointed.

That's the advice David and Tom give to their Stock Advisor members, and they help them not only with new recommendations each month, but also with the top five stocks to buy right now. They've been at it a long time, through bear and bull, and their average recommendation is beating the market by 40 percentage points.

Right now, a special no-obligation free trial will give you access to all these stocks and more -- including 10 best buys for the current market. Here's more information.

This article was first published Jan. 25, 2008. It has been updated.

Rex Moore thinks now is a good time to buy stocks. Best Buy and Charles Schwab are Motley Fool Stock Advisor selections. Best Buy and Intel are Motley Fool Inside Value selections. The Fool owns shares of Best Buy and sold puts on Intel. This information is brought to you by the Fool's disclosure policy.