If only building wealth for retirement wasn't so complicated. It's not enough to save your money, but you have to invest it too. And learning the ropes of investing may not be your favorite free-time activity.
But here's some good news: You can invest successfully without spending hours reading financial blogs, crunching ratios, or unpacking earnings reports. Here are four easy investing strategies that are perfect for the hands-off retirement saver.
1. Buy and hold
Buy and hold is an investing style that involves choosing positions with long-term growth potential and holding them for extended periods of time. As a buy-and-hold investor, you don't trade often or chase quick profits. You instead look to capitalize on long-term trends -- and specifically, on the idea that solid, stable companies generally increase in value over time.
The beauty of the buy-and-hold approach is that it has a simple solution for managing through turbulent market cycles. All you have to do is nothing. Your job is to ride out volatility this month or this year, because you know it eventually gives way to growth.
Here's some food for thought. The S&P 500 was introduced in 1957. Between 1957 and the end of 2019, that index produced an annualized return, including dividends, of about 6.5%, adjusted for inflation. That includes 2008, when the index dropped more than 37%, and 2002, when it lost nearly one-quarter of its value. Even at the worst bottoms in stock market history, the growth trend is still up when you stand back and view it in the context of a longer timeline.
2. Own the market with S&P 500 index funds
The S&P 500 index is comprised of about 500 of the largest U.S. publicly traded companies. It's considered a gauge for the entire stock market. If you hear someone say, "the market went up 10% today," that likely means, specifically, that the S&P 500 index increased by 10%.
An S&P 500 index fund builds its portfolio to mimic the performance of S&P 500 index. That means you get something close to market-level returns from a single position. Index funds don't exactly replicate the performance of the underlying index, mostly because funds have operating and administrative expenses while indexes do not. Choose a fund with an ultra-low expense ratio, like 0.1% or less, to keep that gap to a minimum.
3. Choose dividend payers for peace of mind
It's easy to plan on riding out market downturns, but it can be hard to stick to that plan. Once you see your portfolio balance take a big hit, you'll naturally want to do something, anything, to stop the losses.
Dividend-paying stocks and funds can help you stay the course in those tough times. Why? Because the good ones keep sending those quarterly payments no matter what's happening with share prices. You're not going to sell off those dividend payers in a panic if they're the only positions working for you. And hopefully, the income can pacify you enough so you don't panic-sell other positions either.
Look to invest in a dividend-paying index fund rather than individual companies. A fund is already diversified and easier to manage over time than a bunch of individual company stocks. One to look at is the Vanguard High Dividend Yield Index Fund (NASDAQMUTFUND:VHDYX) which tracks the FTSE High Dividend Yield Index.
4. Balance equity ownership with bonds
The equities in your S&P 500 index fund or a dividend fund are great for growth and income, but they can be volatile. If you're in the early years of retirement saving, you may not mind a little volatility. But as you get older, it's important to moderate that volatility with assets that are more stable in value, like bonds or bond funds.
You can buy government bonds, municipal bonds, or corporate bonds with short to long durations. In the vein of keeping maintenance and decision-making to a minimum, though, it makes sense to invest in a broad bond fund like iShares Core U.S. Aggregate Bond (NYSEMKT:AGG). This fund has a low expense ratio of 0.04% and gives you exposure to a range of investment-grade, U.S. bonds, including U.S. Treasury bonds, mortgage-backed securities, and corporate bonds in the financial, industrial, and utility sectors.
Easy does it
Commit to a buy-and-hold approach, invest in index funds and dividend payers, and add a splash of bond exposure with a low-cost bond fund. That's your easy formula for growing your retirement savings over the long term.