Money Magazine is recommending that those wishing to build their net worth over a long period of time simplify matters by putting all their eggs into seven baskets in the form of mutual funds.
1. Fidelity Spartan 500 Index (FSMKX). This fund’s total expense ratio is a minuscule 0.10%. It tracks the S&P 500 index.
2. Vanguard Total International Stock Index (VGTSX). “Nearly 60% of the world’s stock market value resides in companies outside our borders,” so you’ll want a piece of that action.
3. T. Rowe Price New Horizons (PRNHX). New Horizons is a small company stock fund. There are periods of time in which small company stocks have outperformed the market at large. This isn’t an index fund, though, so expect to pay an expense ratio of 0.79%, still low for managed funds.
4. Vanguard Value Index (VIVAX) . If you pay attention to value funds, your investments will return dividends. Literally. This fund currently offers a dividend yield of 2.94%.
5. Vanguard Total Bond Market Index (VBMFX). Got bonds? I don’t. But if your asset allocation calls for bonds, this fund beat the industry average by 14% over the past 10 years and its expense ratio is 0.20%.
6. Vanguard Inflation-Protected Securities Fund (VIPSX). First of all, official government inflation statistics underestimate the real increase in prices we see every year, partly because those who calculate the statistics assume Americans “trade down” to lower quality products when prices get high. Thus, inflation-protected securities are likely misguided. Money Magazine has nevertheless included them among the other suggestions.
7. Fidelity Cash Reserves (FDRXX). Cash reserves are good for when you spot a buying opportunity in the market and need flexibility and liquidity to jump. A money market fund like this is decent for at least part of your emergency fund. Personally, since I have some of my retirement accounts at Vanguard, I chose Money Magazine’s alternate, VMMXX. This Vanguard fund features an expense ratio of 0.24% compared to Fidelity’s 0.40%.
Probably more important than the specific funds is the overall asset allocation strategy. Investors spend a lot of time talking about investments, analyzing and choosing the best funds that will help us reach our goals, but asset allocation is just as important. If an investor ignores his allocations, her investments might not provide the results.
Updated February 10, 2011 and originally published May 16, 2008.