The Vanguard Group is a pioneer in passive investing, creating the first index fund that was available to individual investors. It is also a pioneer in the creation of no-load mutual funds and is known for having among the very lowest expense ratios on its exchange-traded funds (ETFs).

These are a couple of reason why Vanguard is the second-largest ETF provider in the world, behind only BlackRock, which owns the iShares brand of ETFs. Many investors rely on Vanguard ETFs to help them save for retirement, taking advantage of their low cost and long-term performance. While there are dozens of Vanguard ETFs to choose from, these three could help you navigate the market's ups and down and retire a millionaire.

1. Vanguard Extended Market ETF

The Vanguard Extended Market ETF (VXF 0.09%) is one of the two oldest Vanguard ETFs, along with the Vanguard Total Stock Market ETF. While Total Stock Market ETF is the more popular of the two, with $243 billion in assets, making it the second-largest Vanguard ETF, I think the Extended Market ETF is the better option for long-term investors.

The Total Stock Market invests in the total investible universe of U.S. equities, with more than 4,000 holdings, while the Extended Market ETF includes all mid-cap and small-cap stocks -- everything but the S&P 500. Overall, it has more than 3,600 holdings. The three largest are Blackstone Group, Palo Alto Networks, and Uber Technologies.

So, it gives you greater exposure to small- and mid-cap names and is not overweighted by large caps. Thus, it provides your overall portfolio with some diversification, as you can get concentrated access to large-cap stocks elsewhere.

In addition, it outperforms the Total Stock Market ETF over the long term. The Extended Market ETF was introduced in December 2001, while Total Stock Market came out in May of that year. Over the past 20 years, Extended Market has a solid 9.2% annualized return, while Total Stock Market has an 8.1% annualized return, as of Oct. 10. It did not perform as well over the past 10 years as Total Stock Market, as large caps led the way during the bull market. After this recessionary period that might be ahead, though, small caps could well lead the way higher during the ensuing recovery.

VXF Chart

VXF data by YCharts

2. Vanguard Growth ETF

That large-cap exposure I mentioned can come from the Vanguard Growth ETF (VUG 0.09%). This ETF invests in the CRSP US Large Cap Growth Index, which draws from a universe of large caps that is slightly bigger than the S&P 500. Specifically, it draws from roughly 562 large-cap stocks, representing 85% of the market cap of the investible stock market universe.

This fund, via the index, features roughly 259 stocks from that pool that exhibit growth characteristics, based on the index's screens. So, its largest positions are the familiar names: Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon.

This ETF does not quite have a 20-year track record, as it launched in January 2004, but over the past 15 years, including the Great Recession market crash, it has returned 8% on an annualized basis, as of Oct. 10. That beats the S&P 500, which has a 5.7% annualized return over that period. 

VUG Chart

VUG data by YCharts

3. Vanguard Information Technology ETF

The Vanguard Information Technology ETF (VGT -0.24%) has been the best-performing Vanguard ETF over the years, among those with longer track records. This ETF, which has been around since January 2004, tracks an index that consists of approximately 373 stocks across the market-cap spectrum that are in the information technology sector.

So, while it is more diversified than many other technology stocks, it is cap weighted, so the large caps represent the bulk of the portfolio. The top three holdings currently are Apple, Microsoft, and Nvidia.

Over the last 15 years, dating back to 2007, it has an annualized return of 11.1% through Oct. 10. That includes the Great Recession, the pandemic crash, and the current bear market. Over the past 10 years, it has posted a 15.7% annualized return through Oct. 10.

All three of these ETFs have low expenses. Information Technology has the highest expense ratio of 0.10%, while Vanguard Growth's expense ratio of 0.06% and Vanguard Extended Market's is 0.04%. They are also among the best long-term performers in the fund family, with long track records of success.

Finally, what I like about this trio is they offer plenty of growth across the entire spectrum -- from mega caps to small caps. Since they are all growth oriented and include volatile smaller-cap stocks, you'd want a long runway for these three, but if retirement is 15 or more years out, they should post market-beating returns. This, in combination with an employer-sponsored plan, should help you retire a millionaire, if you start early enough.