Now that the S&P 500 has officially entered a bear market, it may seem like right now is not the best time to invest. Stock prices are slipping, and it can be tempting to stop investing or even pull your money out of the market altogether.
However, while it may sound counterintuitive, investing during a bear market can actually help you make more money over the long run. Here’s why.
“Buying the dip” can be a smart strategy
If there’s one thing to know about the stock market, it’s extremely likely to recover from even the worst downturns.
In its history, the S&P 500 has experienced countless corrections, crashes, and bear markets. But regardless of how severe those downturns were, the market has always gone on to experience positive average returns over time.
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For that reason, it can be wise to invest when prices are lower — a strategy often referred to as “buying the dip.”
The market will inevitably recover, and when that happens, stock prices will increase, once again. If you invest when prices are at their lowest, not only are you snagging quality stocks at a discount, but you could also see substantial returns when prices eventually rebound.
As Warren Buffett explained in his 2008 piece in the New York Times: “[B]ad news is an investor’s best friend. It lets you buy a slice of America’s future at a marked-down price.”
Staying focused on the long term
The best way to navigate a bear market is to maintain a long-term outlook. Even the strongest stocks will likely lose value when the market is down. But losing value is not the same as losing money, and you won’t lose money unless you sell your investments during a downturn.
The key, then, is to invest in good companies and hold those investments for years, if not decades. That’s often easier said than done, but patience will pay off. When in doubt, remember that many organizations today have experienced multiple bear markets in the past and still managed to thrive.
Case in point: When the dot-com bubble burst, the price of Amazon fell by a staggering 93% between 1999 and 2001. But if you had invested at its lowest point, you would have seen returns of more than 650% over the following two years alone.
Of course, not all companies will be the next Amazon. But by investing in quality stocks and holding them for the long term, you can reap the rewards when prices rebound.
When you should think twice about investing
Investing during a bear market is one of the most effective ways to generate long-term wealth, but there are instances where you may be better off waiting to invest. If you don’t have any emergency savings, for example, it may be best to focus on that goal first.
Market downturns are one of the worst times to sell your investments because prices are lower and you may end up selling at a discount. If you face an unexpected expense and have no choice but to pull your money out of the market, you could lock in those losses.
Also, if you expect to need your money in the foreseeable future, you may want to hold off on investing for now. Nobody knows how long this bear market will last, and in some cases, it can take years for stock prices to fully recover. If you invest anything now, be prepared to leave your money in the market for at least several years.
Bear markets can be intimidating, but they’re also one of the best times to invest more — if you can swing it. Not only are you able to buy stocks at a discount, but you could earn substantial returns once the market recovers. With the right strategy, then, you can set yourself up for a more financially secure future.
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John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. Katie Brockman has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has positions in and recommends Amazon. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.