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Apprenticed Investor: Trading Diary, Part II

If you manage your own assets, knowing how well you did -- or didn't do -- is crucial to your success. To do this, you need a reliable method to measure yourself. Some of you may discover that it's cheaper, more tax-efficient, to simply index; you may ultimately generate better returns by avoiding stock selection and market-timing altogether.

But before you can make that decision, you need to know, in the immortal words of former NYC mayor Ed Koch, "How'm I doing?"

Last week we reviewed the importance of memorializing what you were thinking when you bought a stock. This week, let's figure out how well you are doing with what you purchased.

Like most people, you think you know what your performance is. But I'll bet you cannot tell me what your returns were for the past one-, five- and 10-year periods. How did you do last month and last quarter? How have you fared relative to the S&P 500, the Russell 2000 or the Dow?

If you cannot answer these questions, you know far less about your own performance than you thought you did.

The Mighty Spreadsheet

The basic tool to help answer these questions is the spreadsheet. We start with an Excel template, and today we will review several ways by which you can evaluate your returns. You will be able to compare how well you are doing relative to the benchmarks over any time period you like (daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, etc.).

This Excel template is not locked; it's something you can -- and should -- customize to your own needs. (Special thanks goes to fund manager Dave Edwards for creating the original version of this for a Street.com column in 2000.)

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