Calculating your personal rate of return may not be your top choice for filling your free time on a Saturday afternoon. But doing so not only tells you how you're progressing toward your goals, but it also sheds some light on how well you've been investing.
If your personal returns for an individual investment are significantly lower than those reported by the fund company or shown on Morningstar.com, take a close look at when you've been buying and selling. Maybe you bought hot funds after they had already hit the top, or sold when a fund was bottoming out and therefore missed a subsequent rebound. In that case, a disciplined dollar-cost-averaging program could keep you from sabotaging your results. You'll likely find that making short-term swaps in and out of the market—or between different funds—has hurt you more than it has helped.