Build a Portfolio With the Best Vanguard Funds

A Sample Vanguard Portfolio

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There are so many great Vanguard funds on the market that it can be hard to decide how to build a portfolio with them. The trick is to narrow down the options to a few funds, choosing those that work best for your needs. There are options for every type of investor.

Vanguard might be the go-to source for investing in index funds. It offers a broad base of high-quality, low-cost funds to choose from. Some are the best actively managed funds that money can buy. Most people can build a strong portfolio using only Vanguard funds.

Start With the Right Structure

It can be helpful to review a simple, but effective, structure called the "core and satellite" before beginning to choose the best Vanguard funds. Your portfolio is built around a "core holding" with this strategy. A large-cap stock index mutual fund represents the biggest portion of the portfolio. Other types of funds, called the "satellite holdings," make up smaller portions. They balance out the risk level.

The satellites usually consist of funds from various categories, such as foreign stocks, small-cap stocks, bond funds, and sometimes sector funds.

The prime objective of this portfolio design is to reduce risk through diversification. In other words, you're putting your eggs in different baskets. Your goal is to achieve this while outperforming a standard benchmark for performance, such as the S&P 500 Index.

A Sample Portfolio

We can look at an example that serves as a model, now that we have a smart design for our portfolio of Vanguard funds:

  • 35% Vanguard 500 Index Admiral Shares (VFIAX): Large-cap U.S. stocks
  • 15% Vanguard Total International Stock Index Admiral Shares (VTIAX): Foreign stocks
  • 10% Vanguard Explorer (VEXPX): Small-cap stocks
  • 5% Vanguard Health Care (VGHCX): Health sector
  • 35% Vanguard Total Bond Market Index Admiral Shares (VBTLX): Bonds

This blend of Vanguard funds is an example of a moderate portfolio. It would be a good fit for an investor who has a somewhat high risk tolerance and can invest for at least five years. A holder of this blend should be willing to accept periods of modest market volatility in exchange for the chance that returns would outpace inflation by a healthy margin. The asset allocation breakdown is 65% stocks and 35% bonds.

Using sector funds such as VGHCX is an option. Be sure to keep the allocation around 5% for each sector, and try not to exceed a total of 15% allocation to sectors if others are added. For example, you might allocate 5% to three different sector funds.

The Lazy Option

This model includes actively managed Vanguard funds as well as index funds. But you might like the idea of investing only in Vanguard's index funds. They have extremely low expense ratios, and they track their benchmarks. These features reduce the manager risk of actively managed funds. They don't require your active attention to make sure everything is correctly allocated.

Some investors call a portfolio of index funds a "lazy portfolio" because of the passive nature of index funds. An example of a lazy portfolio of Vanguard funds might include 40% Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund Admiral Shares (VTSAX), 30% Vanguard Total International Stock Index Fund Admiral Shares (VTIAX), and 30% Vanguard Total Bond Market Index Fund Admiral Shares (VBTLX).

This moderate allocation is made up of 70% stocks and 30% bonds. You don't have to pay extra fees for someone to actively watch each fund's mix to ensure that it's performing the way you want. You can be secure in knowing that the index funds will follow the market index on which they're modeled.

The Bottom Line

Be sure you're using a diverse mix of mutual fund categories, no matter which Vanguard funds you choose. You want each to perform well under different market conditions.

Indexes available only as Admiral Shares require a minimum investment of $3,000. You could also invest in exchange traded funds (ETFs) that follow the same investing strategy. Here are the alternatives suggested by Vanguard:

Index Funds Now Closed to New Investors Equivalent Admiral Shares Fund  ETF
Vanguard 500 Index (VFINX) Vanguard 500 Index Fund Admiral Shares (VFIAX) Vanguard S&P 500 ETF (VOO)
Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund Investor Shares (VTSMX) Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund Admiral Shares (VTSAX)  Vanguard Total Stock Market ETF (VTI) 
Vanguard Total Bond Market Index Fund Investor Shares (VBMFX) Vanguard Total Bond Market Index Fund Admiral Shares (VBTLX)  Vanguard Total Bond Market ETF (BND)
Vanguard Total International Stock Index Fund Investor Shares (VGTSX)  Vanguard Total International Stock Index Fund Admiral Shares (VTIAX)  Vanguard Total International Stock ETF (VXUS) 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How do you invest in Vanguard funds?

You can invest in Vanguard mutual funds by opening an account directly with Vanguard. Vanguard also offers ETF versions of many of its funds, and those are widely available. Most brokerage accounts should offer access to popular Vanguard ETFs like the Vanguard 500 (VOO). Some brokerages also offer access to Vanguard mutual fund shares, but you may pay extra fees if you're investing in Vanguard mutual funds through a competing fund company.

What are the best performing Vanguard funds?

Based on 10-year average annual returns, the top-performing Vanguard fund is the actively managed U.S. large-cap growth fund (VWUSX) at 20.74%. The passively managed large-cap growth index fund (VIGAX) comes in second with 19.32%. Two closed funds come next, Capital Opportunity (VHCAX) and PRIMECAP (VPMAX). Rounding out the top five is the Explorer fund (VEXPX) at 17.13%.

What time to Vanguard mutual funds update their NAV?

Mutual funds update their net asset values (NAV) and execute trade orders after markets close every day. There isn't a set time that this happens, and some days may have earlier updates than others. You can usually expect to see the figures updated in your account by 6 p.m. EST. Trades may not be reflected in your account immediately, but the updated NAV will let you know the price at which your trade will execute.

Why did Vanguard funds drop today?

Vanguard funds are baskets of investments, and the value of the fund will move up and down depending on what happens with those investments. If you want to get a sense of whether a Vanguard fund is likely to rise or fall on a given day, take a look at the index it tracks. If you hold Vanguard 500 shares, for example, you can watch the S&P 500 index to learn whether your shares will rise or fall. As for why stock and bond prices move up and down, that has to do with market forces and broader economic conditions.

The Balance does not provide tax, investment, or financial services and advice. The information is being presented without consideration of the investment objectives, risk tolerance, or financial circumstances of any specific investor and might not be suitable for all investors. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Investing involves risk including the possible loss of principal.