As this past year has proved yet again, investing in the stock market isn't for the faint of heart. Even investors in long-haul success stories such as Lowe's (NYSE:LOW)Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), and Schlumberger (NYSE:SLB) -- each of which has spanked the S&P over the past 10 years -- haven't been immune to Mr. Market's mood swings: All of them currently trade more than 20% below their respective 52-week highs.

Take the long way home
Still, while the short-term to-ing and fro-ing can be tough to take, long-haul investors can take solace in knowing that the market's upward trajectory over time is impressive indeed. Since its inception way back when Gerald Ford was in the White House, for example, the Vanguard 500 Index -- a world-class and dirt-cheap S&P tracker that provides quick and easy exposure to such household names as General Electric (NYSE:GE), Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), Chevron (NYSE:CVX), and ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP) -- has notched an annualized gain of 11.32%.

To put that in dollars-and-cents terms, an investment of $10,000 on the fund's opening day would have grown to roughly $313,000 today.

And you thought three-baggers were exciting!

Thing is …
That's the good news. The bad news is that, if you're just investing in individual equities, you're not really investing "in the market"; you're cherry-picking and hoping for the best. And even if you do go the indexing route, you're still destined to lose to the market over the long haul, thanks (or no thanks, actually) to the fund's expense ratio.

So what's a Foolish investor to do? Glad you asked.

Van Hagar had it right
As one of the Fool's resident fund geeks, I'm a firm believer in shooting for what the inimitable Sammy Hagar once called "the best of both worlds."

That is, I think it's entirely possible to beat the market over the long haul while avoiding that sinking feeling that all too often comes with investing solely in individual equities. How so? Through top-shelf mutual funds run by stock-picking greats, money managers with public track records of delivering the market-beating goods for shareholders over the course of many years. Even better, once you have a rock-solid foundation of mutual funds in place, you'll be much better positioned to take on the additional risk that comes with the stock-picking territory.

As it happens, that's precisely the game plan we've followed at The Motley Fool's newest investment service, Ready-Made Millionaire.  Our set-and-forget, real-money portfolio features three of the Grade A funds I tapped back when I headed up our Champion Funds service, but at RMM, we aim to juice our returns with a clutch of companies -- all highly profitable ones -- and a revved-up ETF designed to double up on its underlying benchmark's daily return. Our aim: to beat the market while sleeping peacefully over the next three to five years and beyond.

RMM will reopen to new members next month. Between now and then, we invite you to learn more about our service and grab a free copy of The 11-Minute Millionaire, a to-the-point special report designed to help you navigate up markets and down. Click here to snag the report, and stay tuned: We'll let you know just as soon as RMM is ready for new-member action!

Shannon Zimmerman runs point on Ready-Made Millionaire and doesn't own any of the securities mentioned above. Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Microsoft is an Inside Value choice. You can check out the Fool's strict disclosure policy by clicking right here.