After going over a year without seeing anything but bad news and losses in your investment accounts, you might just want to give up. But when times are tough, you have to give yourself whatever incentives you can to keep on investing and striving to reach your long-term financial goals.

Of course, seeing your total account balances go up month after month and year after year gives you the positive feedback you want when you invest. But until the market starts to recover, you may not see your brokerage statements show rising figures anytime soon. So to keep yourself from giving up, here are four ways to remind you that you're still making progress with your investing plan.

1. Track new investments separately.
With the ease of Internet-based investing, you can track your entire investment portfolio from a single location, even if you have several accounts scattered among different brokers and mutual fund companies. One-stop tracking keeps you from having to waste time paging across different websites to gather all your latest information.

But if you have a six-figure portfolio, the money you add to your account may just seem to disappear in light of the big monthly drops we've suffered lately. So rather than following your portfolio as a whole, make a special note of how many shares of your stock or mutual fund you bought with the new money you add, and put those records in a separate portfolio tracker.

Keeping separate track of your new investments accomplishes two things. First, even if the market keeps falling, it reminds you that your new investment didn't just lose all its value. Moreover, when the market rises, you'll see that you have at least one profitable position -- on the shares you bought most recently.

2. Count your dividends.
Similarly, if your portfolio is down thousands of dollars in a given month, you may not notice the dividends you receive. But by taking special note of your dividends, you'll not only see more clearly how much they add to your returns -- you’ll also feel more confident thanks to the stream of cash that comes in regularly throughout the quarter.

For instance, consider a common set of stocks and when they make their quarterly payouts.


Dividend Payment Date

Quarterly Payout on 1,000 Shares

Merck (NYSE:MRK)

Jan. 2


Altria (NYSE:MO)

Jan. 9


Verizon (NYSE:VZ)

Feb. 2


MasterCard (NYSE:MA)

Feb. 10


Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG)

Feb. 17



Mar. 10


ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM)

Mar. 10



While most stocks make dividend payments quarterly, a diversified portfolio of strong dividend-paying stocks actually gives you a steady, constant monthly income that you’re able to predict. Moreover, you can also track where that money goes -- whether it's into more shares through a dividend reinvestment program or into cash that you use to make additional investments elsewhere -- to remind you that your payouts aren't simply going up in smoke.

3. Track toward smaller goals.
Saving for retirement takes a lifetime of work. But saving for particular pieces of that big goal is more attainable. Instead of thinking in terms of having to save $1 million or more to be able to retire, consider what it'll cost you to take five big vacations during each of the first five years after you quit your job. Say that number is $15,000 -- will you be able to save enough new money this year to meet that goal? If so, you can finish 2009 knowing that something is taken care of -- even if your existing savings doesn't grow in a slow market.

4. Track your achievements.
Investing isn't just about how much money you have. As an investor, there's always something else to learn or discover. So for instance, if you've always used mutual funds, consider researching and buying a stock for the first time. If you only own U.S. stocks, take a closer look at some foreign companies and find one you like as an investment. Even if you don't see your net worth rise for the year, that doesn't mean you can't make your investment knowledge grow.

As hard as it is right now, staying disciplined takes patience. These four tips can help you keep your nose to the grindstone long enough to reach the goals you've already worked hard to achieve.

For more on investing in a tough economy, read about:

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Fool contributor Dan Caplinger always looks forward. He doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned in this article. The Fool owns shares of Procter & Gamble. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. The Fool's disclosure policy keeps you out of the dark.