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 -- and buy a lottery ticket."

Buy the ticket
Similarly, to take advantage of the greatest long-term wealth-building machine available to individual investors, you have to be in the market. And if the current craziness is keeping you away because you fear further big drops, 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 bonds return.

There's more where that came from
Consider 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 was 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 a decade, specifically searching for companies that had been up 25% or more in one year. 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 a year later, and yes, these stocks fell. And yet despite their large prior one-year gains, and despite two big bear markets (including the current one), their returns have been strong for those who held for the long term -- especially when compared with a market that has lost 22% in the meantime.


February 1999 -
February 2000

February 2000 -
February 2010

Chesapeake Energy (NYSE:CHK)






Research In Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM)






Golden Star Resources (AMEX:GSS)



Rubicon (NYSE:RBY)



Valero Energy (NYSE:VLO)



Data from Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.

There are no guarantees
Many of our companies are being tested again by the financial crisis. Yet 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 with not only new recommendations each month but also the top five stocks to buy right now. They've been at it a long time, through bear and bull, and their recommendations are beating the S&P 500 by an average of 51 percentage points each.

Right now, a special no-obligation free trial will give you access to all of these stocks, as well as Tom and Dave's top five stocks to buy now. Here's more information.

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

Rex Moore is a Fool analyst and thinks now is a good time to buy stocks (though he owns none mentioned in this article). Chesapeake Energy is a Motley Fool Inside Value selection. Apple and NVIDIA are Stock Advisor picks. The Fool owns shares of Chesapeake Energy. This information is brought to you by the Fool's disclosure policy.