As I believe there is a lesson in every experience, I am listing some of what I learned in 2009:
1. Forget the old saws -
"Stocks in the long term always go up" was disproved as we ended the decade with all major indices lower than they were in January, 2000. If you add in the effects of inflation, the "long term" is actually fairly disastrous.
Yes, 2000 was a year of elevated stock prices - with the dotcom boom and all. But, no matter how you slice it, the decade of 2000 - 2010 was not "up."
Another bromide, "you can't time the market," may in fact be true but if I had followed my gut instead of the doomsdayers on TV and bought stocks this spring, I'd be a pretty happy camper right now.
Similarly, a lot of people got hurt living by the advice "you can't make a better investment than buying your own home." Yes, housing is a good, solid stable investment. But, historically, it has appreciated just a point or two over inflation.
A lot of people got waylaid (about 25% of all homeowners with mortgages are under water today) believing that housing is an ultra-safe, always-ascending investment.
2. Ignore anyone with an agenda or conflict of interest -
I'm exaggerating of course but it is important to understand where someone's advice is coming from. My new rule is to talk to several people - even if all of them have an agenda I figure I will get a better chance of understanding the realities if I listen to enough disparate sales pitches.
3. Do what you can to educate yourself and then follow your gut -
I am a big fan of Warren Buffet. When the guy did not understand the dotcom boom, he stayed out of it. Yes, he too was hurt by the economic meltdown as Berkshire Hathaway suffered its first ever year-over-year losses. But, he also remained steady in the panic - investing at the depth of the market in GE and Goldman Sachs. Making lucrative deals for himself and his investors.
He is not overly swayed by what pundits are saying. He sticks with the basics (I mean he just bought a railroad for gosh sakes). In other words, he educates himself and then trusts his own instincts. That is one of my main "take-aways" from 2009.