After spending a lifetime saving toward retirement, many people think that they can hang up their investing tools and cash out once they retire. Yet the harsh reality is that with retirement potentially lasting for decades, most people can't afford to let their retirement assets sit idle.

Fortunately, there are ways to put your retirement savings to work even after the end of your working career. By using exchange-traded funds that are tailored to the specific needs that retirees have, you'll be able to stay invested and stretch your savings further during your golden years.

ETF

Assets Under Management

Expense Ratio

2017 Return

iShares Edge MSCI Minimum Volatility (NYSEMKT:USMV)

$15.3 billion

0.15%

19%

Vanguard High Dividend Yield (NYSEMKT:VYM)

$21 billion

0.08%

16%

Schwab US REIT (NYSEMKT:SCHH)

$3.95 billion

0.07%

4%

Data source: Fund providers.

Avoiding big bumps

For many retirement investors, the biggest potential threat to their savings is market volatility. An ill-timed market crash can devastate an investor's portfolio, especially when that investor no longer has a paycheck coming in to replenish lost savings with new retirement contributions. That's where the iShares ETF comes in, choosing stocks that tend not to have as much sensitivity to market movements as the overall market.

The iShares ETF typically won't perform as well as other stock ETFs during bull markets, again because the stocks it holds respond less violently to market movements. The intention, though, is for those stocks to outperform during bear markets. Although losses are still possible and even likely in a big market downturn, the goal is to limit those losses enough so that they don't pose a threat to your long-term investing strategy throughout your retired years.

Three piles of coins with letter-cubes spelling ETF on top of them, on a blue background.

Image source: Getty Images.

Counting on income

Retirees love income because they need money to pay for current living expenses. Dividend ETFs can provide much-needed cash, and the Vanguard High Dividend Yield ETF aims to offer as much of that income as possible.

The Vanguard ETF focuses on stocks that have above-average yields, delivering yields in the 3% range that dramatically outpace what the overall market pays in dividends currently. With more than 400 stocks in its portfolio, the ETF provides plenty of diversification, leaving you less vulnerable to dips in any one particular stock holding. With a solid long-term track record, the Vanguard ETF should serve retirement investors well over the long run.

Going beyond regular stocks

Just because you need to stay invested doesn't mean that you have to limit your investment exposure to the stock market. Real estate investment trusts provide an attractive mix of income and growth prospects, and thanks to the recent tax reform measures, these pass-through entities could provide even greater tax benefits in 2018 and beyond for some investors.

The Schwab ETF is just one of many that focus on REITs, but it weighs in with one of the lowest expense ratios in the market. REITs haven't had huge performance over the past few years, lagging behind the stock market, but many believe that the different cyclical nature of real estate can help hedge against stock exposure. Looking ahead, funds like the Schwab ETF could help you balance out your other holdings and generate a smoother ride for your portfolio.

Be smart about retirement investing

Investing in retirement is essential, but it doesn't have to be complicated. With funds like these three ETFs, you can put together a solid investment portfolio that will serve you well in your golden years.

Dan Caplinger has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.