Bargains aren't as plentiful as they used to be, alas. The S&P 500 has, after all, soared more than 40% since touching its March lows.

By way of recompense, there is the likely fact that, if you stuck it out like all good Fools should, you're probably 40% (or more) wealthier than you were in March.

And who knows? You might even be back on track to retire when you planned to.

One small problem
Your investment plans were no doubt predicated on continuing to earn, if not 40% in a matter of months, then something approaching the market's historical average of roughly 10% per annum.

But here's a dirty little secret: You're going to need to earn more than that, much more.

Invest $10,000 a year over the next 20 years at that rate and, yes, you'll have roughly $630,000 at the end of the period. That figure, however is "nominal," not "real," which is just a fancy way of saying it doesn't account for inflation, a beast that hit its highest level in nearly a year last month.

Factor that in, and the purchasing power you'll have with your seemingly fat nest egg will be less than $350,000.

How not to proceed
That ugly math is why investors often gravitate toward riskier fare during inflationary periods, gambling that the potential downside risk outweighs the guaranteed erosion of purchasing power that inflation ensures.

Logical? Well, yes -- at least as a general principle. It even looks like it's held true in this most recent debacle.

Riskier fare has shellacked more buttoned-down plays over the last few months, and real names provide telling, even chilling detail: The iShares Russell 2000 Growth ETF (IWO) -- home to the profitability-challenged likes of Palm (NASDAQ:PALM), which is up more than 400% so far this year, and fellow triple-digit gainer J. Crew (JCG) -- has sailed past its Russell 1000 Value (IWD) sibling.

Unfortunately, though, this growth-fuelled rally isn't sustainable.

To be sure, the former ETF has its fair share of small-cap keepers, but Palm, in particular, serves as a textbook case study of the kind of stocks Fools should avoid: Pre-Pre, Palm hemorrhaged cash, shedding more than $200 million of it during the fiscal year that ended this past May.

And one bit-of-a-hit product does not a business model make, particularly given the company's anemic return on equity (ROE) and return on assets (ROA) figures. These key profitability metrics double as proxies for managerial acumen and, tellingly, both have been mired in negative territory during each of the last two fiscal years.

Much of the rally action has, in fact, been among distressed concerns. True, the likes of Motorola (NYSE:MOT) and homebuilder D.R. Horton (NYSE:DHI), for example, may not have hit the triple-digit heights of Palm and J. Crew quite yet. Nonetheless, these severely challenged companies -- each of which has seen dramatic, double-digit declines in revenue and net income during their last two fiscal years -- have shot up like bottle rockets over the year to date, sailing past the S&P 500 with returns in excess of 60% and 70%, respectively.

Fizzle and fade
But just because the stocks of the hour are bad bets doesn't mean you're relegated to tried-but-true value stocks like Chevron (NYSE: CVX), Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ), and Merck (NYSE:MRK) -- financial titans with rock-solid balance sheets all.

Yes, the Chevrons, Mercks, and Johnson & Johnsons of the world can -- and, for my money, should -- form the foundation of your portfolio. But if you want to earn outsize returns -- the kind that allow you to eat well, sleep well, and spend well into the early stages of retirement and beyond -- you'll need to stock up on high-quality growth companies.

Here's one
Chipotle's (NYSE:CMG) stock is a silver bullet, or maybe it's just a regular bullet wrapped in aluminum foil. Either way, it's a high-quality growth killer -- and I mean that in the good way.

It's enjoying double-digit revenue growth relative to a year ago and an increase in comparable-store sales, too. Its operating margins are the highest they've ever been, and customers appear to have swallowed recent price increases without complaint. Its check size -- a key restaurant-biz metric -- has moved up roughly in tandem with the menu hikes.

If Chipotle can not only make it here but actually excel -- amid near-double digit unemployment and moribund levels of personal income and spending -- it can make it just about anywhere. What's more, there's always tomorrow for breakfast burrito dreams to come true, and those are a surefire moneymaker the company still has waiting in the wings.

Wrap it up
Past performance is, as they accurately say, no guarantee of future results. As I see it, though, if Chipotle's annualized return over the last three years of nearly 21% -- consider the time frame! -- indicates what the company is capable of during the worst of times, it's not difficult to imagine what it might do during the best.

Chipotle, as it happens, is a recommendation of our Motley Fool Rule Breakers investing service, where it's chipped in a gain of nearly 60% compared to negative 30% for the S&P 500. If you'd like to sneak a completely free, no-risk peek at the whole shebang, including their best buys now, just click here: Thirty days of unfettered access to the complete service awaits -- and there's no obligation to subscribe.

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Shannon Zimmerman  runs point on the Fool's Duke Street and Ready Made Millionaire services, and he runs off at the mouth each week on Motley Fool Money, the Fool's fast 'n' furious podcast. A fresh edition of MFM hits iTunes each Friday, and you can listen by clicking here. Shannon doesn't own shares of any of the companies mentioned; the Motley Fool owns shares of Chipotle. Chipotle is a Motley Fool Hidden Gems and Rule Breakers recommendation. Johnson & Johnson is an Income Investor pick. You can check out the Fool's strict disclosure policy right here.