Are you tired of trying to figure out whether the market is going to keep going up or head back down?

I sure am. Of course, one of the principles of Foolish investing is that we shouldn't worry about the near-term direction of the market. We should find and buy good companies and resolve to hold them for the long term, regardless of the market's gyrations. Historically, that's been the road to enduring wealth.

But it's also true that the difference in price between buying now and, say, having bought back at the end of February might be 30% or 40% -- more, in many cases.

General Electric (NYSE:GE), for example, is trading around $13 as I write this. If you assume that fears about GE Financial's true condition are overblown, it's not utterly ridiculous (hypothetically speaking -- bear with me here) to think that GE might be trading around $40 several years from now. Depending on your goals and what else you've got in your portfolio, GE at $13 might be an attractive buy.

But if you'd bought three months back, when GE was priced for doom at around $6, that possible three-bagger suddenly becomes maybe a six- or seven-bagger. How'd you like to be holding twice as many GE shares at $40?

That line of thinking leads to a question I've been hearing often, given the continuing economic uncertainty: Should I buy now, or should I wait for the market to go back down?

And here's my answer: I don't know whether the market will go back down or not. But if you buy right, it doesn't matter.

How to take the market out of the equation
The secret (OK, it's not really a secret) is to buy value. Value investing is the art of buying good companies that, for one reason or another, are out of favor with investors -- and thus cheap -- and waiting for the market to realize their value.

One of the principles of value investing is that there's almost always value to be found somewhere in the market. If we look long and hard enough, we can usually find companies that are generating a high return on their capital, have a good chance of sustaining that return, have low debt loads, and are selling for a low price relative to their earnings -- no matter what "the market" does next week, next month, or next year.

Isn't that risky? I mean, they might be cheap for a reason.
Not if you do your research! What we're looking for are good companies with stock prices cheap enough to have a margin of safety, the term we use when a company's share price is lower than the company's intrinsic value per share.

By buying with as much of a margin of safety as we can find, we limit our downside. Of course, the intrinsic value calculation is never going to be more than an educated guess, with the emphasis on "guess" in these challenging economic times. But by paying attention to the other factors I mentioned -- and doing the usual common-sense work of understanding the company and its industry -- we improve our chances of owning companies with little risk and big potential.

How do you find these things?
It takes some digging, but stock screeners can help you narrow the universe of possibilities in a hurry. I just did a couple of quick screens and came up with this list. I haven't dug into them in detail yet, so I can't say for sure that they're buys, but I think they're all worth a closer look:

Stock

CAPS Rating

P/E

Long-Term

Debt/Equity

Return on Equity

EMCOR Group (NYSE:EME)

*****

7.7

0.18

19%

Endo Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:ENDP)

*****

7.9

0.29

18.6%

Terra Industries (NYSE:TRA)

****

5.0

0.30

57.6%

J2 Global Communications (NASDAQ:JCOM)

****

13.3

0

29.9%

Broadridge Financial Solutions (NYSE:BR)

*****

11.6

0.41

28.5%

Hub Group (NASDAQ:HUBG)

*****

13.6

0

17.8%

Sources: Motley Fool CAPS; Capital IQ, a division of Standard and Poor's.

These stocks all sport low-ish price-to-earnings ratios, low debt, and a high return on equity -- meaning that management is doing a good job managing company financial resources. They're also all highly rated by the CAPS community -- but you'll note that none of these are big-idea superstar stocks. They're all a little bit under Wall Street's radar at the moment -- and that's exactly what we want.

That said, we can't know for sure whether we want them without further research. As we all know, numbers only tell part of a company's story, and sometimes stocks are cheap because they're not worth buying.

All that said, to get more examples of some carefully vetted value ideas to buy today, give our Inside Value newsletter service a try. You can see its best ideas for new money in just a few seconds with a 30-day free trial.

For more on value investing, read about:

Fool contributor John Rosevear has no position in the companies mentioned. You can try any of our Foolish newsletters free for 30 days with no obligation. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.