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Can You Retire a Millionaire With ETFs Alone?

By Ryan Downie – Aug 4, 2021 at 6:06AM

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ETFs can make you a millionaire, but you have to follow some investment rules to get there.

You can enjoy the retirement of your dreams using exchange-traded funds instead of some complex investing strategy -- but there are a few catches. Reaching $1 million in your investment account isn't easy; that's why most people don't do it. Still, there are some key steps you can follow that don't involve stock picking, high risk, or any advanced trading techniques. There's no guarantee you'll get there as life throws its hurdles at you, but some core rules will lay the groundwork for plenty of long-term growth.

How to accumulate $1 million

The equation to reach $1 million is simple from a numbers standpoint. Make money, save a fraction of it, and invest those savings for growth. The complications arise in strategy and execution.

If you can save $500 each month, and you invest those savings to achieve an 8% average annual growth rate, then you'll have accumulated $1 million after 35 years. The S&P 500 long-term rate of return is around 10%, so that piece of the plan isn't far-fetched. Instead, this process can get thrown off the rails by inconsistent stock performance or shifting investment goals.

In real life, you probably won't be able to save the same amount every single month. Not every family can set aside $500 every month. Young families with new children, new mortgages, and other monthly bills usually have to navigate those challenges before they reach their peak earning potential. Unexpected expenses and income disruptions also pop up along the way, and there will be times that you simply can't save.

On top of all that, most people have to start monitoring volatility as they approach retirement. If you're hit by a market crash too close to the day you stop working, then your 401(k) might not have time to recover. As a result, most people increase their bond allocation as they approach retirement. This is a smart move, but it also limits your growth potential. Suddenly that 8% rate of return isn't as easy to achieve across your entire portfolio.

As a result, it's important to take full advantage of responsible growth opportunities throughout your investing lifetime. Growth stocks have been a great source of wealth creation for countless investors, but they can be risky and difficult to manage. For many people, growth-focused ETFs are a perfect solution.

Retirees with family on a private jet.

Image source: Getty Images.

The best ETFs for building wealth

The returns provided by index funds are fine for most investors, but you don't have to settle for those growth rates. There are numerous ETFs that have outpaced the S&P 500 over the long term, but they still provide enough diversification to reduce risk and volatility in a way that you can't achieve with individual stocks.

The Vanguard Growth ETF (VUG -0.36%) is probably the most popular growth-focused ETF, with nearly $83 billion in assets under management. The Vanguard Growth fund offers excellent liquidity and razor-thin expense margins, which are both great for investors. It provides efficient exposure to nearly 300 different large-cap companies with more growth upside than the S&P 500. It's outpaced the market by almost 200 percentage points since 2007, rewarding investors who are willing to take on the higher volatility inherent in growth stock investing. Don't be shocked if this fund gets rocked harder during bear markets, owing to heavy concentration in tech stocks and companies with aggressive valuations.

The Invesco S&P 500 Equal Weight Technology ETF (RYT -0.20%) is an alternative with a different approach. This fund holds 75 tech stocks from the S&P 500 index, but no single holding makes up more than 2% of the total allocation. This keeps huge companies like Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, and Alphabet from dominating its performance. The result is serious long-term growth. The ETF has returned nearly 600% since launching in 2007, more than 70 percentage points ahead of the Vanguard Growth ETF. Investors have to pay up for the privilege, though -- the 0.4% expense ratio is high compared to most index funds, but it's justified that cost over the long term.

The Invesco S&P 500 Equal Weight Health Care ETF (RYH 0.53%) is nearly identical, but it holds more than 60 healthcare stocks. Its mixture of device makers, pharmaceutical stocks, biotechs, and care providers has propelled well beyond the S&P 500 since the fund's launch, and it provides a different flavor than most of the other growth ETFs.

VUG Total Return Level Chart

VUG Total Return Level data by YCharts


There's a huge list of growth ETFs that will provide more than enough growth to achieve millionaire status, but you have to get the fundamentals right to take advantage of the opportunity.

Retiring a millionaire requires some combination of a solid household income, a high savings rate, and investment growth -- most likely a combination of all three. There's no magic investment strategy that can make up for insufficient savings. Most people aren't successful stock-pickers over the long term, so they'll turn elsewhere to accomplish their goals. If you're doing the hard work to save enough each month, then there are great ETFs available that are more than good enough to make you a millionaire.

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Teresa Kersten, an employee of LinkedIn, a Microsoft subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Ryan Downie owns shares of Alphabet (A shares) and Amazon. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and Vanguard Growth ETF. The Motley Fool recommends the following options: long January 2022 $1,920 calls on Amazon, long March 2023 $120 calls on Apple, short January 2022 $1,940 calls on Amazon, and short March 2023 $130 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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Stocks Mentioned

Invesco S&P 500 Equal Weight Technology ETF Stock Quote
Invesco S&P 500 Equal Weight Technology ETF
RYT
$259.03 (-0.20%) $0.53
Vanguard Growth ETF Stock Quote
Vanguard Growth ETF
VUG
$228.93 (-0.36%) $0.83
RYDEX ETF TRUST Stock Quote
RYDEX ETF TRUST
RYH
$289.24 (0.53%) $1.53

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

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