When 18 months of losses recently gave way to a nice three-month rally, many investors started to see a glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, the stock market was starting to get back to normal. Unfortunately, though, the "new normal" may not give you the kinds of results you got used to before the bear market.

For decades, investors have counted on rules of thumb, such as the 10% long-term average annual return on stocks, to guide their investing decisions. Nearly every financial plan has assumed that while investors would still see bumps in the road, you'd eventually get back to that 10% trajectory.

Getting used to less
Now, though, top investors have started to question that basic assumption. As Foolish fund expert Amanda Kish discusses in the brand-new issue of the Fool's Champion Funds newsletter -- which is available today at 4 p.m. ET -- the recent Morningstar Investment Conference featured two well-known investors, both of whom warned against excessive optimism about any potential recovery.

Both bond guru Bill Gross and index fund pioneer Jack Bogle spoke about the future of the world economy and where the U.S. will fit into it. Gross believes that as a more mature economy, the U.S. can't expect to sustain its past economic growth rates, and so the era of high stock returns is over. As Gross sees it, investors will be better served finding stable sources of income, along with a greater emphasis on overseas investing.

Bogle comes at the problem from a slightly different tack, but he comes to much the same conclusions. With his projections of an 8% average return on stocks and a much smaller payoff from bonds, the conservative allocations he recommends aren't going to get you anywhere near the 10% returns to which many people have grown accustomed.

How to meet the challenge
The toughest thing about lower returns is the impact they have on compounding. Over a typical 35-year career, you can expect to see the money you first invest grow to more than 28 times its original value if you earn 10%. If you assume you'll only earn 7% on your money, though -- not unreasonable if Gross and Bogle's projections are anywhere close -- then the same money will grow less than 11-fold. That will leave you with less than half of what you would have earned with higher returns.

So, what's the right solution? The Champion Funds article recommends three ways to get the most from your portfolio, along with smart fund choices to go with all three methods:

  • Demand dividends. While Amanda likes the idea of getting income from your portfolio, she prefers not to rely entirely on bonds. She recommends a fund that invests in ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM), Hershey (NYSE:HSY), and Home Depot (NYSE:HD) -- strong dividend-paying stocks with yields that can supplement the current low rates that bonds pay now.
  • Go global. The premise here is that if the U.S. economy stays slow, then you may get better results from companies with greater overseas exposure. The newsletter's fund recommendation here will help you load up on shares of global giants like Sanofi-Aventis (NYSE:SNY) and Nokia (NYSE:NOK).
  • Seek out strong growth. Even in the depths of the recession, some countries are still seeing their economies grow, albeit at a somewhat slower pace. If you prefer the strong growth of emerging markets over developed countries like Japan and Germany, then Amanda has the fund for you, offering an easy way to own parts of America Movil (NYSE:AMX), Petroleo Brasileiro (NYSE:PBR), and other powerhouses of the emerging world.

If you want to know more about getting the most from your investments in the coming years -- along with the particular funds that Amanda is recommending -- you'll find a lot more on this topic in the new Champion Funds issue. And if you're not a subscriber yet, Champion Funds makes it easy to join: just click here to try the service free for 30 days with no obligation.

Weaker returns from your investments can make your life more challenging. The right mix of investments, however, can help you make the most of whatever market environment you face in the years and decades to come.

Learn more about fund investing:

Fool contributor Dan Caplinger expects to reach his goals even with lower returns. He doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned. Home Depot and Nokia are Motley Fool Inside Value selections. Petroleo Brasileiro is a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation. America Movil is a Motley Fool Global Gains pick. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. The Fool's disclosure policy makes you a survivor.