If you love investing, then the idea of juggling dozens of different stocks, funds, and other investments is the adult equivalent of being a kid in a candy store. But if you have better things to do with the spare hours in your day than do research on obscure little stocks that no one else has ever heard of, don't worry -- you're not doomed to be poor.
It's crunch time
As we move further into April, you'll see more reminders about how now's the time to start thinking about putting together a retirement strategy. With the deadline for IRA contributions coming in less than two weeks, setting up a retirement account is a great first step toward securing your financial future.
But if you're like many investors, one of the things that trips you up and leads you to procrastinate is simply the sheer number of investment choices out there. With thousands of stocks and thousands more mutual funds, ETFs, and other investments, you may feel like you'll never find the best ones for your portfolio. And anything short of the best may not seem like it's worth the effort.
Let me give you some good news: You don't have to think that way. Just using simple investments to create an asset allocation strategy will get you the lion's share of the returns you need to succeed with your money.
Why asset allocation works
The allure of top-performing stocks is enough to make anyone greedy. But studies have shown that most of the returns investors earn come from how they divide their money across stocks, bonds, and other asset classes -- and not from the individual stocks and other investments they choose within those broad categories.
Put another way, as long as you get the basic mix of investments right, it doesn't matter nearly as much as you might think which ones you pick. Obviously, avoiding clear losers will boost your results, but you don't have to feel pressure to find the top winners either.
Keep it simple
So with that in mind, let me suggest a simple portfolio that includes nearly everything you could want in a long-term portfolio:
Vanguard Dividend Appreciation (NYSE: VIG ) includes a host of large-cap stocks that pay healthy dividends and have demonstrated track records of boosting payouts over time. With less volatility than regular stock index funds but reasonable growth prospects, this or similar dividend ETFs are a good way to get basic stock exposure.
Vanguard MSCI Emerging Markets (NYSE: VWO ) takes you to the highest-growth areas of the world right now. Yet with China having been slumping lately, emerging market stocks also represent a better good value than they have in years past -- and this ETF gives you a wide range of companies at a low cost.
iShares Barclays TIPS Bond (NYSE: TIP ) is a fixed-income vehicle owning inflation-indexed bonds. The bond market looks overpriced at current levels, but unlike traditional bond funds, this ETF at least hedges against rising inflation.
Vanguard REIT Index (NYSE: VNQ ) provides income through another vehicle: real estate investment trusts. Commercial real estate has largely avoided the implosion that many expected following the housing bubble, but yields are somewhat lower than normal, so you'll want to be conservative in this arena as well.
Finally, some alternative investment that strikes your fancy could be a good way to round out your portfolio. For instance, if you're a precious-metals fan, then Central Fund of Canada (AMEX: CEF ) is a closed-end fund that owns both gold and silver bullion. Its price will track gold and silver prices fairly closely, with the convenience and tax advantages of the fund structure over owning bullion outright.
These five funds aren't the only ways to get the broad investment allocation you want. If your broker offers similar funds at no commission, then they may be a better fit for you. Moreover, this particular selection leaves some gaps, including developed-nation international stocks and corporate bonds. A slightly larger portfolio could fill those gaps in.
The point, though, is that you don't have to search far and wide for ideal investments. Even plain vanilla index ETFs are enough to get you to your financial goals.
On the other hand, if you do have some time to look at promising stocks, you won't want ot miss the Motley Fool's latest special report on retirement. Inside, you'll find three promising stock picks for long-term investors. It won't cost you a thing, but don't wait; get your free report today while it's still available.
Tune in every Monday and Wednesday for Dan's columns on retirement, investing, and personal finance. You can follow him on Twitter here.