I can't speak for others. Real estate has been good to me. No, I've not contributed to the "bubble", heck, my area had *appreciation* in December...but we're a desirable location, and have had a modest 2-4% increase in home value over the last 15 years.
There are some great deals out there now...and prices, even in my area, have been affected somewhat. Interestingly enough, it's the new home values that are most affected. Older homes seem to be right where they were a year ago, though with more time on the market. And you'd better hope it's under the $500k range, because above that isn't selling at all. Of course, the converse of that is that it's time to buy those - assuming 1) you have enough income to pay the mortgage 2) you can make a significant down-payment 3) you plan on holding that property for at least 10 years. In other words, you need to live there. I don't have enough of 1 or 2 to do that...so...I"m "out" of that market, even though I know there are tremendous opportunities there.
Stocks. For us young ones (under 35, I'd say) who can invest now, and relatively smartly, it will be a nice ride back up over the next 20 years. Some good ones: GE, BOA, Ford, AIG (questionable...but the gov't wont let it fail, and they've said they're going to continue cash infusions until the assets market recovers, and sell at that point - so should provide some return). Oil is a good bet, as is Progress Energy (PGN). Lots of other good ones - Apple, Google, etc. Trading the indexes - the DJIA, the Russel, the Nasdaq, for the upside, is all good as well. Just keep in mind, you need to buy and forget. There will probably be more pendulum swing in the next twelve months. You'll never get in on the very bottom, and never out on the very top.
Municipal bonds are good - a lot are tax-free, which makes for nice income as you get older. Yields are generally 2-6%, depending on where you are. Of course, you want to make sure the bonds are capitalized well - general bonds are what I look for - backed by economically sound counties, or states, and the bond must be funded from the "general tax fund", not a specific set of people or specialized tax. By being funded from the general fund, you have more insurance you'll get paid. Only invest in AA or AAA rated bonds. At least, that's my rule.
The first rule about investing is not to lose any money (ask me how well I've done that. LOL).
The second rule about investing, is that as you get older, you must slow down returns to preserve capital, in the case of a downturn.
A good example of this was last year - my grandmothers stock portfolio, all blue chips, mostly large cap, though some medium cap thrown in, had been consistently increasing in value. There were three months of decline, and that total decline was equal to 10% of the portfolios value. We immediately went to CASH. Yes, there was a capital gains penalty, but it preserved her capital, and she's pretty happy with that decision today. The 4% average that it's earning now (and has been earning for a year) is not too shabby, considering the rest of the state of the market.
I did not pull mine out - I'm 27. I have time on my side. She does not. The interesting thing about losing money is that once it's gone, it's harder to make back.
For instance, say a stock drops from $100 to $90. A 10% decrease, right?
Well, let's say that next month it goes back up 10%. What do you have now? $99.00. Hmm, not the same as the 100 we had two months ago. In order to make things whole again, we have to make back 11% (90*.11 = 9.9) so $99.9 dollars. 11% is a doable gain, over about two years, conservatively.
If you drop 20%, to 80.00, and then next month go back up 20%, you'll have $96.00.
if you drop 50%, and then have a 50% increase...you'll only have $75. So now you have to make a 200% return to get back to where you started...
If you drop 75%, to $25, a 75% increase is only.... $43.75. You have to make a 400% increase to get back to your original $100.00. Ouch.
This is why I use the 10% rule. You situation might be different, you might be willing to take a short term hit on a long term play (I have, and will continue to, currently). But...overall...if you're nearing retirement, and *need* your nest egg, I think it's a very good rule to play by.
Private businesses can be a good investment. I've got two right now that both want me to inject cash. Both are solid businesses with a proven track record, and solid numbers. The rewards are great - in the order of a 300% return over about 5-8 years. Not too shabby. We'll see what comes of them.
Above all, living within your means is important. Don't carry debt. Think about what you really *need* to live. Not what you want (though you have to indulge with prudence on occasion) but what you actually need.
Above all, save 10% of your take home income for a rainy day. If you have debt, pay it off. I have two fixed expenses, both mortgages. Car(s) are paid for. I operate from a cash position. I use credit cards - but pay them off. I like the cash back they give me, and it allows me a couple other nice factors. 1) I get the money for the month interest free, and pay the bill from the checking account 2) I don't like debit cards, they're too easy to steal and are relatively unprotected. If someone max's out the credit card, I can live with it. If someone empties my bank account, getting the actual cash back is a much larger hassle. 3) I get cash back on all my cards, that usually amounts to around 500-1500 a year, depending on the card. Not bad. 4) if there is a problem with a merchant, a product, or a service, the credit card company will go to fight for me. I turn it over to them, and let their collections department handle it.
I do use some cash, but very very little. Always good to have some tucked away in the house though. In the event of a major storm, ATMs and credit card machines may not work without power or without an internet connection.
Wow...that was long...sorry guys. maybe someone will find some of this useful. BTW - I'm not a stock advisor. Anything you choose to use out of this posting is your responsibility to research and decide if that investment is right for you.