UPDATED: So again we turn to the Financial Markets to see how the old retirement plan is progressing. Today we are going to look at an easy way to track how you are doing in your investing. While there are many ways to track your stock portfolio available today, I still prefer the simple tracking methods offered by Yahoo.com. There are many other sites that offer similar features, I just happen to use Yahoo. Other sites are better for researching stocks to buy, but for tracking your stocks a nice simple chart should serve anyone (but the crazy day-trader) nicely.

A good way to add a little spice to your stock trading is to create a contest. Put your stock picks up against your buddies and get the bonus of rubbing your returns in someone's nose… assuming your winning. Remember when you lose to LEARN from it. It can be an expensive lesson or an expensive mistake. If you can't find someone willing to risk it all in the battle of the portfolios, you can challenge the market to a duel. Use the major indices to compare your ROI (return on investment) and see if you are over- or under-performing the market.

For instance, I created a short-term investment portfolio out of a portion of my overall holdings last November. Meanwhile I created a mock portfolio to track the changes in the three major indices: The Dow, The Nasdaq & The S&P 500. Don't worry if want to go back and create one later, historical prices for the indexes are readily available online. So comparing this to your returns will give you a gauge of how you are doing in an up, down, or flat market.

My returns since November have been 13.22% or 19.83% annualized. Is that a good return? Well in the late 90's that would have been laughable, but during the depression it would have been awe-inspiring. Comparing yourself to the market is a good way to A) give you a real indication of how well you are doing and B) make you aware of when a bubble might be occurring.

So how has the market done? As of today, if you had invested equally in the three major indexes you would have a return of 3.79% (5.86% Annualized) — Not exactly what I would call huge gains, but it's been a rather flat (or sideways) market with high gas prices and all. So I've beaten the market but not to the extent I would like, so now I'm turning to Options to help leverage my holdings and increase my ROI — But that is another story.

How did I do it? Continuing to grow in my investment knowledge and skill — but growing slowly. Carefully. A lot of people try to dive in after the big returns they see someone else making. Weither it's tech stocks in the 90's, Real Estate today, or whatever tommorrow — people are afraid they will miss out on the upswing. The problem is that by diving in, they commit a large (if not all) portion of their assets to their first, most inexperienced pick. So then even if they are wise and learn from the experience, they still must rebuild their nest egg before trying again. This setback slows their opportunties for growth far more than a more conservative approach would have.

Don't get me wrong: I'm all for shooting for the stars on investments and expecting more than 8-12% returns on your money. But maybe you should take a closer look at the rocket before you strap yourself in for takeoff. My best pick has nearly doubled (84%) my money (Thank you Wild Oats Markets Inc :). But I have been trying some new investment strategies and so much of my gains have actually been offset by loses on these new areas. But because I was conservative in my forays in to new areas, I was still able to post an overall gain while learing the afore mentioned expensive lessons. The point is to expand your mind. You can make money in a slow market, but you have to remember to think differently and steadily increase your knowledge about money. Take Robert Kiyosaki's advice to the average investor: "don't be average".