Stocks are a lot of work. I should know -- I'm addicted to them. While I try to keep a concentrated portfolio, today my wife and I own 14 stocks in our taxable accounts and keep up-to-date on every one of them. That means reading the news, checking the financials, monitoring conference calls, and updating my valuation models.

It's fun, sure, but not as much fun as it sounds. And if you're not addicted to stocks, a portfolio like that can be an utter disaster.

Our individual retirement accounts (IRAs), on the other hand, are a dream. We have long timelines, and I've constructed them so that I don't have to worry about day-to-day fluctuations. I know what's in them, and I know they'll be just fine.

Sound like a good deal? Then I'll let you in on my little secret ...

Mutual funds
When building our IRAs, I was most worried about smart asset allocation. I wanted a mix that would meet our needs and not jump the shark.

Where'd I start? I started with the entire stock market: Vanguard Total Stock Market VIPER. This exchange-traded fund (ETF) tracks the U.S. Broad Market Index and invests in more than 3,700 stocks for the low, low cost of 0.07% per year. The major holdings are the stalwarts you'd expect: JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM), Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), and Johnson & Johnson, to name three. And because Total Stock Market is an index tracker, the beauty of this low-cost holding is that it will change with the index. In other words, it can never jump the shark.

But wait -- there's more
From there, I decided to gain some extra international exposure. While it's true that many of the stocks in the U.S. Broad Market Index operate internationally, it's also true that many of tomorrow's global stalwarts are overseas firms that most investors haven't even heard of yet. And with GDP growth in China and India exceeding that of the United States, the odds are that many of these companies will come from countries outside my realm of expertise. So my low-cost, long-term solution was Vanguard Emerging Markets Stock VIPER. With an expense ratio of just 0.30%, this ETF tracks the performance of the Select Emerging Markets Index. The top holdings include Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing (NYSE:TSM), Petroleo Brasileiro (NYSE:PBR), and Sasol. The ETF returned nearly 30% in 2006. Not bad for a low-cost, low-stress option.

Because smaller companies can really punch up a portfolio with their long-term gains, I added some extra mid- and small-cap exposure. Historically, the S&P MidCap 400 is a difficult index to beat, so I bought the whole enchilada through the iShares S&P MidCap 400 ETF. The average company in the index has a market cap of just $3.5 billion, and top holdings include Expeditors International (NASDAQ:EXPD) and Health Net (NYSE:HNT).

Finally, I added two actively managed funds -- one small-cap and one value-oriented -- that should complement my own investing style. By filling out our asset-allocation plan, I'm confident that my wife and I will be OK when it comes time to retire. Plus, the best part about holding funds like these is that they self-correct and evolve with the world around them. The most work I'll have to do is rebalance annually.

The Foolish bottom line
Today, our IRAs are ahead of the broader market, and I've barely had to check in on them.

So where does a stock guy like me get all of these fund tips and asset-allocation hints? From Fool fund guru Shannon Zimmerman, of course. He's constructed three model portfolios in his Motley Fool Champion Funds newsletter -- for aggressive, moderate, and conservative types -- that are chock-full of premium ideas. And they're beating their benchmarks to boot!

To get started building your own custom autopilot portfolio, click here to join Champion Funds free for 30 days. Shannon's fund picks have all made money for investors, and they're collectively ahead of their benchmarks by nearly 15 percentage points to date.

This article was originally published as "The Autopilot Portfolio" on Jan. 3, 2006. It has been updated.

Tim Hanson owns shares of Vanguard Total Stock Market, Vanguard Emerging Markets, and iShares MidCap 400. JPMorgan and Johnson & Johnson are Income Investor recommendations. Sasol is a Global Gains pick. No Fool is too cool for disclosure.