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Personal-Finance Tools For Stressful Times

It's been an... interesting couple of weeks on Wall Street. And after seeing headline after headline about the imploding market, I finally decided it was time to see how my own investments were doing.

(In case anybody was wondering: No, I don't hold any stock in any company I cover, as per Post policy. In fact, I don't own any individual stocks, period, just some mutual funds -- though that has more to do with my own apathy as an investor than any high-minded attempt to avoid conflicts of interest.)

I could postpone this odious task because my own copy of Quicken normally hides the details of my investments behind a separate heading, with only bank and credit-card accounts listed on its home screen. For most home users, that makes sense; tinkering with your portfolio should not be an everyday task.

Unfortunately, Quicken's default reporting options only cover the year to date, which is unlikely to paint a pretty picture of anybody's investments. In my own case... well, it looks like every single investment held by me or my wife has gone into the red for the year. Ugh.

Stepping back to see a broader time horizon, however, yields a different view: Since 2002, most of these holdings have yielded an annual return of around 4 or 5 percent. That's not great, but since we're not planning on cashing in on any of these investments anytime soon, we can afford to ride out what -- over the long-term -- will be relatively minor fluctuations.

You can see the same bias towards short-term data at most personal-finance Web sites. Consider, for example, how these sites respond to a query about the stock price of a particularly battered media company:

* Quote.com

* CNNMoney.com

* Yahoo Finance

* Google Finance

* MSN Money Central

They all focus on today's trading, understandably enough -- but only one among them also makes room for a graph of the stock's performance over the past few years, providing valuable context in the process.

Considering the odds of further vomit-inducing plunges in the stock market, it might be better off for our sanity if more of our financial tools offered that long view. In that respect, the sanest, least stressful form of investment management might consist of ignoring online quotes altogether and just glancing at monthly or, better yet, quarterly account statements from a broker or mutual fund.

Are you trying to keep some distance between the market's daily ups and downs, or do you find yourself unable to resist getting a daily -- or hourly -- update?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  September 22, 2008; 11:19 AM ET
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Comments

About a year ago I stopped investing in a 401k, and started investing in paying down the credit card.

Posted by: wiredog | September 22, 2008 3:17 PM | Report abuse

I am an ostrich...I turn on the radio, listen to music and hide my head in the sand...I keep saying "I'm in for the long term"...over and over. Scary

Posted by: Tina | September 22, 2008 5:41 PM | Report abuse

On the contrary, moneycentral.msn.com provides excellent free graphing tools for tracking and comparing investments, especially mutual fund investments,for 1 mo, 3mo, 6mo, Year to date, 1 yr, 3 yr, 5 yr, 10 yr. Morningstar.com provides a variety of free and flexible portfolio analysis and management tools, as seen in the list at morninstar.com/cover/tools.html.

Posted by: Ivan | September 23, 2008 9:42 AM | Report abuse

Posted by: Pollux | September 24, 2008 1:00 PM | Report abuse

Take ANY 5 year period for stocks & compare it to the same period for any other investment and stocks always win.

If you're looking for the Stock Market to perform month after month like the bank, then you won't be happy.

To learn more about investing check out www.magchat.com where you can compare ideas and advice on the markets

Mag

Posted by: Mag | September 25, 2008 1:18 PM | Report abuse

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