Survive the Market: Your Two-Fund Solution


This week, I'm going to keep it simple.

I'm going to suggest a simple way to invest that provides broad diversification, an opportunity to participate in market upswings and a buffer against downturns at a minimal cost.

Looking for financial advice? Click here to send David your questions and they might end up as a topic for his next column.

Sound too good to be true? Of course, it is. But the strategy I have in mind is a sensible way to get started with a long-term plan for investing after the most brutal period any of us could have imagined.

It's what I'll call the Two-Fund Solution, a simple yet elegant way to construct a portfolio that can overcome the forces of procrastination and indecision. It is not intended to be a finished product but rather a solid building block for the future.

As the name implies, the Two-Fund Solution involves the purchase of two broadly based mutual funds. The intent is to make it as easy as possible to implement.

The first is an index fund designed to track the overall U.S. stock market. Such funds usually are called total stock market funds. My favorite is the Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund, but there are similar funds available from Fidelity, Charles Schwab and T. Rowe Price among others.

A total stock market fund will allow you to capture the long-term rewards of stocks in a low-cost, tax-efficient manner that provides broad diversification across all segments of the market from large caps to small caps.

The second fund is one that tracks the overall U.S. bond market. Again, these kinds of funds are usually called total bond market funds. I like the Vanguard Total Bond Market Index Fund, but other mutual fund families offer good choices, as well.

Again, a total bond market fund exposes you to all segments of the bond market and eliminates the need to guess when is the best time to invest in particular portions of the bond market.

Together, the total bond and total stock funds allow you to establish a solid foundation that either you can build upon or allow to stand on their own for years to come.

Making Up for Missing the Stock Market Rally

If all you ever did in life was to invest in a total stock market fund and a total bond market fund along with some cash, you'd still be doing pretty well compared to many who view investing as an all-or-nothing activity, buying high and selling low as they chase last year's top performers.

I won't pretend this is the most finely-tuned portfolio out there, but it's also one that won't get you into a whole lot of trouble.

The audience I have in mind for the Two-Fund Solution is those who missed out on the recent stock-market rally as they sat on a pile of cash.

Either they knew they wanted to invest but recent events made them nervous and indecisive. Or they panicked during one of the past year's free falls and liquidated everything in favor of cash. In both cases, they are just unsure how to move forward

The key question these investors face is what portion of their assets they should allocate to each of these funds.

My recommendation for those who remain skittish is that they move slowly at a pace they're comfortable with. The Two-Fund Solution can be implemented all at once or in a series of steps.

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