As investors, we're surrounded by an amazing number of choices. There are thousands of mutual funds, dozens of large mutual-fund firms and scads of small boutique-fund firms.

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As investors, we’re surrounded by an amazing number of choices.

There are thousands of mutual funds, dozens of large mutual-fund firms and scads of small boutique-fund firms.

But building a basic portfolio with products from a single firm is a lot harder than you’d think.

Even starting at Vanguard, the prime mover in index investing, we couldn’t get everything from one fund family. To own a nonhedged international bond fund, we had to buy American Century International Bond fund because only three international bond funds don’t hedge for currency risk. T. Rowe Price has an unhedged international bond fund. PIMCO launched one late last year.

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Fortunately, most major firms now offer mutual-fund supermarkets in which we are free to “mix and match” across fund companies. American Century International Bond fund is a no-transaction-fee fund in Vanguard’s fund network.

What happens if your account is at Fidelity?

Although Fidelity offers 167 of its own funds, you’ll still have to do some shopping. Fidelity offers the Spartan Total Market Index (ticker: FSTMX) with a guaranteed low-expense ratio of only 0.10 percent on a minimum investment of $15,000.

It also offers Spartan International Index (ticker: FSIIX), with the same low expense ratio of 0.10 percent on a minimum investment of $10,000. And it offers Fidelity Inflation Protected Securities (ticker: FINPX), a managed fund with a $2,500 minimum investment.

But you’ll have to shop elsewhere for your international bond fund, your REIT fund and maybe your energy fund. Fidelity offers an energy fund, Select Energy (ticker: FSENX), but an index fund would be preferable. That isn’t a problem because Fidelity has a large fund network.

Fortunately, there is a near-universal solution: Use exchange-traded index funds. If you have a brokerage account anywhere, you can get five of the six asset classes as low-cost exchange-traded funds. Here are the funds.

• Total domestic stock fund. You have four choices. The iShares Russell 3000 fund (ticker: IWV), with an expense ratio of 0.20 percent. The iShares S&P 1500 fund (ticker: ISI), with an expense ratio of 0.20 percent. The Dow Jones Total Market Index fund (ticker: IYY), with an expense ratio of 0.20 percent. And Vanguard Vipers Total Market Index fund (ticker: VTI), with an expense ratio of 0.15 percent.

• Treasury inflation-protected securities fund. Only one choice here, the iShares Lehman TIPS index fund (ticker: TIP), with an expense ratio of 0.20 percent.

• Total international stock fund. Only one choice here as well, the iShares Morgan Stanley EAFE index fund (ticker: EFA), with an expense ratio of 0.35 percent.

• REIT fund. There are three choices here. The iShares Dow Jones U.S. Real Estate Index fund (ticker: IYR), with an expense ratio of 0.60 percent. The iShares Cohen and Steers Realty Majors Index fund (ticker: ICF), with an expense ratio of 0.35 percent. And Vanguard REIT Vipers (ticker: VNQ), with an expense ratio of 0.18 percent.

• Energy fund. There are four choices here. Vanguard Energy Vipers (ticker: VDE) tracks an index of domestic energy companies and has an expense ratio of 0.28 percent. The iShares S&P Global Energy Index fund (ticker: IXC), follows the energy sector of the S&P Global 1200 index and has an expense ratio of 0.65 percent. The iShares Dow Jones U.S. Energy Index fund (ticker: IYE) tracks the U.S. energy industry and has an expense ratio of 0.60 percent. And SPDR Energy (ticker: XLE) tracks the U.S. energy industry and has an expense ratio of 0.28 percent. ExxonMobil looms large in each of these funds.

Choose the lower-cost funds in this mix and it will cost you less than 0.25 percent to have a diversified index-fund portfolio.

What do we do while waiting for an exchange-traded fund that invests in an unhedged international bond portfolio? Well, we can continue to buy American Century International Bond fund through fund supermarkets. We can also visit www.everbank.com and invest in single-country or currency-index CDs.

Questions about personal finance and investments may be sent to Scott Burns at The Dallas Morning News, P.O. Box 655237, Dallas, TX 75265; by fax at 214-977-8776; or by e-mail at scott@scottburns.com. Questions of general interest will be answered in future columns.