If you're under 30, odds are you received some cash from a distant relative over the holiday season (thanks Aunt Ruthie!). Money, or as I refer to it, "freedom in paper form," is the gift that never goes out of style.

So instead of spending your dough on postholiday discounts at the mall, why not investigate the postrecession discounts in the stock market? Since 2008's historic market crash, stocks have roared back, rewarding selective investors who have an eye for value. Remember, if you had bought Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) last March, you'd be sitting on gains upward of 400%!

Those armed with cash are scouring the shelves of the stock market in search of bargains. And it's not just investors who are bumping elbows and pushing carts down the aisles.

You're not the only one ...
Right now, companies are flush with cash as well. S&P 500 companies are sitting on roughly $100 billion more in cash reserves than last year, according to Thomson Reuters. As the business climate continues to improve, many executives will be looking to grow their businesses through mergers and acquisitions.

When companies go shopping, investors can benefit. Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK-A) rewarded Burlington Northern (NYSE:BNI) shareholders when Berkshire made its $34 billion offer for the company. ExxonMobil's (NYSE:XOM) recent bid for XTO Energy represented a 25% premium from XTO's stock price the previous day. Investors can also win when big companies gobble up small ones that aren't publicly traded. Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis' (NYSE:NVS) recent acquisition of California-based Corthera could bring long-term value to Novartis' shareholders.

You got to roll me ...
But individual investors don't always win when a company goes on a shopping spree. Just ask Alcon (NYSE:ACL) shareholders, who are being bought out by Novartis at a reduced premium from Alcon's recent close. Trying to make money by betting on one side of a merger or acquisition can feel like tumbling dice.

Instead, individual investors should be paying attention to executives spending personal cash on shares of the companies that they manage. Significant insider ownership can be a sign that the top brass thinks the share price of their company will rise. Discovering companies whose managers are willingly and openly aligning their interests with those of their shareholders will yield great ideas for that holiday cash.

Step inside and see
In fact, Motley Fool co-founder Tom Gardner considers insider ownership possibly the most important factor for selecting stocks. As he said at a Fool member event:

If you forced me to shield myself from all but one factor, and invest my capital according to that criterion for the rest of my life, I wouldn't look for growth. I wouldn't look for a great balance sheet. I'd focus only on insider ownership.

Indeed, Tom, his brother, David, and the Motley Fool Stock Advisor team, have focused on insider ownership, as well as other criteria, to select stocks. Granted, not all their recommendations have significant insider ownership, but of the 10 top-performing stocks on the Stock Advisor scorecard -- up an average of 578% -- only two had insider ownership of less than 5% when selected.

At the time of its recommendation, Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) had insider ownership of 31%. One of Stock Advisor's biggest winners, Marvel, was 64% insider owned at the time of its recommendation. If you had bought shares then, you'd be sitting on gains of 1,334%!!

What are you waiting for?
Don't let your holiday cash burn a hole in your pocket any longer. Our Motley Fool Stock Advisor service can give you plenty of great investment ideas to help you grow your wealth and create a diverse portfolio of stocks, based on a thoughtful and rigorous selection process. In addition to the big winners boasting outsized gains, the entire Motley Fool Stock Advisor scorecard has outperformed the S&P 500 over the last seven years. Try the service free for 30 days.

In addition to cash, Fool contributor Matt Hoffman received the gift of mystery over the holiday season. Amazon.com and Marvel Entertainment are Motley Fool Stock Advisor picks. Novartis AG is a Motley Fool Global Gains recommendation. The Fool owns shares of XTO Energy. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.