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10 Years with a One-Fund Portfolio

Roughly 10 years ago (December 2011), we switched our retirement savings portfolio from a combination of individual index funds to a single fund: Vanguard LifeStrategy Growth.

I wrote a couple of articles about it at the time:

And I gave an update about 18 months later:

I haven’t written too much about it since then, but people still ask regularly: are we still using the LifeStrategy fund? Are we still happy with it?

Yes, we’re still using it. Yes, we’re still happy with it.

I like it because it’s easy to understand. It owns “total market” funds for both stocks and bonds, US and international. And that’s it.

I like it because it’s reasonably low-cost (expense ratio 0.14%, as of this writing). Using individual ETFs or index funds would be slightly cheaper, but I am willing to pay the extra cost for the convenience.

I like it because it’s hands-off. I never have to rebalance. It makes it easy to ignore what the market is doing from one day to the next, which is the whole idea of the Oblivious Investor blog to begin with. (That said, if you use an “all-in-one” fund, you do still have to pay some attention, at least occasionally, because the fund company can make changes to the underlying allocation. And you want to know about such in order to check whether or not the fund is still a good fit for you.)

As an all-in-one fund, it is not particularly tax-efficient. But for our household, that doesn’t matter, because basically all of our savings are in retirement accounts.

It is not, frankly, the exact asset allocation that I would select if I were creating a DIY portfolio of individual index funds/ETFs. (I would probably exclude international bonds, I might use just Treasury bonds rather than a US “total bond” fund, and I would probably use a higher international stock allocation.)

But as I’ve written before, I’m really not that optimistic about the value to be gained from various modest changes to asset allocation. For any given investor, there’s an unlimited number of asset allocations that would be “good enough.”

We treat the fund roughly like a savings account — not in the sense that it’s low risk, because with an 80%-stock allocation it most definitely is not — but in the sense that it occupies a similar level of mental space (i.e., almost none). We just dump money into it, and we’re confident that it will grow over time.

An all-in-one fund is about as boring as it gets, which is what I want. And it also checks the boxes of being diversified and reasonably low-cost. For us, that’s (still) a good fit.

Full disclosure: our portfolio is not strictly one-fund anymore, because the 401(k) at my wife’s place of employment uses non-Vanguard funds. But she uses a target-date fund in that 401(k) for all the same reasons discussed above: it’s simple, it’s diversified, it’s low-cost, and it’s low-maintenance.

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