Goodbye virtual stock exchange, hello real world. As many of you know, MarketWatch's Virtual Stock Exchange Stock-Picking Competition has now come to an end. And with that, I think it's important to step back and expand our view a bit. But first off, you'd probably like to know how I did among my fellow newsletter advisors.

Well, at the close of this two-month contest, it seems I've landed in about 3,000th place out of nearly 4,000 total participants. And though that's nothing to write home about, my expectations for this exercise were, shall we say, modest. It also seems that most of the long-minded newsletter gurus in this competition, such as Mark Hulbert and James Dlugosch, have performed very similarly.

Like many of the newsletter advisors invited to participate in the contest, I'm a long-term investor who's concerned more with decades than days. Looking back over this competition, several of us have said that our strategies don't really work during the short term, but that's not exactly true. It is possible for our approaches to shoot the moon in the short term. Indeed, Carolina Group (NYSE:CG), which yields more than 3%, is up more than 60% over the past year.

But our point is that, as is the case with all short-term periods, our chances of getting that fast riser are simply 50:50, and that's just not good enough for our readers. It's only over a three- to five-year timeframe that the direction of stocks begins to prove predictable.

But I'm too young
Now, for those of you thinking you don't have the patience for a longer-term dividend approach, consider my belief that we're all fundamentally long-term investors. In the case of the young whippersnappers out there, a long-term, buy-to-hold strategy probably appears rather boring, since youthful folks tend to believe they need to be "doing something" in order to be making progress (probably a result of their spending so much time pounding those little video-game buttons).

But that's actually a shame, because research has clearly shown they're the ones who stand to benefit most from a dividend-focused strategy. Research by Dr. Jeremy Siegel has demonstrated that those who purchase the highest-yielding stocks from among a broad index and reinvest their dividends over time tend to outperform the market by the largest degree. In fact, Dr. Siegel recently put his ideas to work for WisdomTree's high-yielding exchange-traded funds. And not by coincidence, the top holdings of their Total Dividend Fund include a number of the stocks that Siegel previously identified as the market's best -- Altria (NYSE:MO) and Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) -- and two of my own Income Investor recommendations -- Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) and JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM).

Such a strategy is actually ideal for a young investor.

But I'm just a short-timer
On the flip side, there are the more mature investors. It seems an increasing portion of this group consider themselves to be short-term investors simply because they're approaching retirement. But I think that's a flawed view being pushed by the financial services community in order to spur you into commission-generating action. Really, it's not as if you're going to walk to the cage window and cash in your chips the day you turn 65. At that age, you should certainly still count yourself a long-term investor.

Despite the fact that you mature folks brought the scourge of the variety show upon us (and don't even get me started on elevator music), the gods have inexplicably smiled upon you and allowed your generation to live longer than any group in history. Not so long ago, people would consider themselves lucky to get in a good 10 years of shuffleboard before giving this world the old heave-ho. And not long before that, folks were fortunate to even make it to retirement. Not so today.

Nope, you're a long-timer
Even though you grew up on Ovaltine and Oreos, a reasonably healthy 50-year-old is highly likely to live at least another 30 years, and quite possibly make it another 40. That's probably more time than you spent working. I mean, with Lipitor sucking the cholesterol out of our arteries, vaccines immunizing us against that nasty flu virus, and Viagra, well, you know, it's probably going to be a while before we punch that big time clock in the sky.

And that's just considering the averages. It's possible you could live even longer. Think about it -- if you make it as long as the average game show host, you're going to need to save $4 trillion dollars in order to retire. You might think I'm joking here, but it's no laughing matter. That Wink Martindale guy is 482 years old as we speak, and he's not sitting around eating cans of beans and franks. Retirement costs money! You add the ages of Bob Barker and Chuck Woolery together and you get a license plate. But, I digress.

My point is, all this means you're going to need the power of stocks to avoid outliving your nest egg. They're simply the only investment that doesn't get clobbered by inflation over long periods. And of course, as the advisor of Motley Fool Income Investor, I have a pretty strong opinion about what type of stocks we should be purchasing. I truly believe dividend-payers present the greatest portfolio flexibility to investors of all ages. The young can outperform through dividend reinvestment and enjoy less volatility along the way, and the veterans out there can customize their dividend income stream without sacrificing the all-important growth element.

But in the end, no matter which investment approach you choose to adopt, the most important thing is that you employ one now. The future has a way of sneaking up on you. After all, Wink Martindale will be celebrating his 483rd birthday very soon.

For more dividend stock ideas, consider an absolutely free trial to Motley Fool Income Investor. There's no obligation to subscribe, and you'll gain immediate access to more than 50 specific recommendations with monster yields.

Mathew Emmert loves Wink Martindale, Jack Barry, and all the game-show greats. He's also the advisor of the Motley Fool Income Investor dividend-stock newsletter and owns shares of Bank of America and Altria. Pfizer is an Inside Value recommendation. The Fool's disclosure policy is timeless.