The economy is in a big slump. That's no secret. Slump, slump, slump.

Stocks have fallen so much that we are afraid to buy any, lest they fall more. Here -- check out how far some well-known names have dropped:

Company

1-Year Return

Mattel (NYSE:MAT)

(25.0%)

Marriott

(51.3%)

Hansen Natural (NASDAQ:HANS)

(40.7%)

DuPont (NYSE:DD)

(38.3%)

Johnson Controls (NYSE:JCI)

(61.4%)

Source: Yahoo! Finance, as of Nov. 13, 2008.

But let's face it. In our hearts, I think most of us know that the economy will recover at some point. And what will happen then? Well, I suppose those of us who held off on purchasing stocks will finally buy some. Where will we deploy our cash? Here are some possibilities:

  • As the economy recovers, we'll likely see sales of big-ticket items such as automobiles and washing machines increase. Thus, stocks such as Ford and Whirlpool (NYSE:WHR) will likely rise.
  • Housing will eventually recover, too. We can expect to see real estate agents doing better (and perhaps many people lining up to join the profession, as has happened in the past). Home improvement retailers such as Home Depot and Lowe's should see sales pick up. Building-materials makers will also get a boost -- look for Eagle Materials and RPM International to see sales grow. There are actually gobs of companies related to the housing industry. Sherwin-Williams (NYSE:SHW), for example, brings color to new homes and old ones.
  • Manufacturing will experience a boom as companies begin to fire on all cylinders. Factories will hire more workers and new factories will be built. Steel companies will see their fortunes pick up.
  • Advertising will rev up, too. You can often get a sense of the health of our economy by checking the thickness of some magazines, such as Vogue. If it's a 400-page issue, chock-full of glossy advertisements, times are probably pretty good. If it's a slender volume, that's a sign that companies have pared back their advertising budgets.
  • Then there are staffing companies. If employers have lots of openings, they may look to temporary-employment agencies to bolster their ranks. Outsourcing specialists will likely get a boost, as well.
  • What else? Well, just imagine a booming economy: People working, salaries going up, stores full of wares ... What do people do when times are good? They tend to spend. And one category that they deprived themselves of during the hard times will now get more cash: travel and recreation. During an economic recovery, we're likely to see Southwest Airlines (NYSE:LUV) take to the sky. Cruise specialist Carnival may also advance, along with Marriott.

Maybe buy them now
Now that you're imagining our more robust tomorrow (which, admittedly, might take a year or more to materialize), and you're imagining investing in bustling companies like these at that time, imagine something else. Imagine buying into some of them now.

Why? Well, because once the economy is chugging along again, the stocks you want may have already risen considerably, in anticipation. As Warren Buffett recently noted in an op-ed piece in The New York Times, "If you wait for the robins, spring will be over." He also quoted Wayne Gretzky: "I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been."

If you don't have the conviction to buy now, then consider making a partial purchase now. You can buy the stocks you want on an installment basis. Put one-third of your intended investment into them now, one-third in a month or a quarter or two, and another third later. Years from now, I'm confident you'll be glad you did.

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Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of Home Depot. RPM International is a Motley Fool Income Investor selection. Home Depot is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. Sherwin-Williams is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Try any of the Fool's investing newsletters free for 30 days. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.