Leave it to Wall Street to turn a good idea inside out and come up with an investment product that benefits the financial industry at the expense of the individual investor.

In 1976, John Bogle, then chairman and founder of the Vanguard Group, created the first stock index fund available to retail investors. Although his idea was subjected to harsh ridicule by the Wall Street crowd (why buy the market when you can beat the market?), eventually Vanguard’s S&P 500 index fund (symbol VFINX) grew to be the largest stock mutual fund in the business.

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Whether it is funding a college education or living your retirement years free from financial worry, it all comes down to the decisions you make in your life to achieve those financial goals.

One decision that is easy to make, is to admit to yourself that any effort to select the top stocks and industries to lead us out of this recession is a waste of your time and money. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t own any common stocks, because maybe you should.

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The first quarter of 2009 is almost over and unless we see a dramatic recovery in the stock market soon, it will go down as the worst quarter in the history of the stock market. This will almost certainly be reflected in those quarter-end statements you receive from your stockbroker or 401(k) provider.

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Ten years ago everyone was running after the next hot tip. The stock market was generating double digit yearly returns and the share prices of companies like Qualcomm and Intel seemed to be doubling overnight. Greed was running rampant in the psyche of investors, and no one wanted to miss out on the next hot stock.

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First it got entangled in the sub-prime mess by repackaging and selling mortgages without any transparency of the risk associated with these investments. Next, a slug of Ponzi schemes started to surface, topped by the infamous actions of Bernie Madoff.

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The morning commute gives you talk radio with a stockbroker who chimes in on his favorite local company. Noontime comes around and Jim Cramer is spouting his latest picks on his Mad Money show. The dinner hour arrives and two guys who call themselves the Motley Fools are chirping away on CNN’s Larry King Live about he next hot stocks to own that will lead us out of this recession.

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Just when you think the stock market has hit bottom, it drops another 1000 points, as it did the week of January 13.

The gloomy financial numbers just don’t stop. Major banks are knocking on the Treasury’s door for a second round of bailout funds. Companies are laying off employees by the thousands. Scandals rock Wall Street to the tune of billions of dollars. Major brokerage firms are bought and sold off like a monopoly game.

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I am not saying it is an opportunity of a lifetime. . .

. . .but there is a good chance that stock markets around the world will generate some eye-catching returns over the next ten years.

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When life throws you a lemon, make lemonade.

In this case, the lemon happens to be the miserable returns the stock market has generated for your portfolio, not only during the past twelve months, but over the previous decade.

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The election is over and our country moves forward with president-elect Barack Obama, who has his work cut out for him. Unemployment numbers are up and retail sales are down sharply; proof enough that we are staring into the teeth of a fairly severe recession.

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