9 Proven Ways to Boost Your Index Fund Returns (Video)

I’ll tell you how I’ve invested most of my career.

S&P 500 index fund.  That’s it.

But, shouldn’t I be able to do better than that?

This post will show you a data-proven way to boost your index fund returns.


Paul Merriman is a believer in index fund investing.  Additionally, he is a nationally recognized authority on mutual funds, index investing, asset allocation, and ran his own investment advisory firm since 1983.  Paul has been on Wall Street since the 1960’s.

He’s been preaching something called the ultimate buy-and-hold portfolio for the past 20 years.  His ideas aren’t revolutionary.  It’s very similar to Larry Swedroe’s research on small value stocks and their superior performance over long periods of time.  Moreover, he believes in the work of Dr. Fauna and Dr. French in regards to diversification to increase returns without adding risk.

With the ultimate buy-and-hold portfolio, we are going to keep the S&P 500 index, but only 10% of the portfolio, and then give 10% each to 9 other asset classes.

Most people say nothing outperforms the S&P 500 index over the long term. Well, that’s not exactly true.

Over the long term, 8 of the 9 asset classes we’ll be diversifying with have outperformed the S&P 500.  Consequently, the risk is also roughly the same.

So the main ingredient in this portfolio is still the S&P 500 index.  According to Merriman’s research, it has compounded at 9.3% between the years of 1970 to 2016.

Personally, that feels a bit high, but we’ll stick with his numbers today.  I’m more comfortable claiming a historic 7% rate.


Portfolio 1

For the sake of explaining this portfolio, think of the S&P 500 index as      Portfolio 1.  To start, we will invest $100,000 into our portfolio today between the dates of 1970-2016 to illustrate the growth that would have occurred with each step of diversification over that period.

At 9.3%, $100,000 would have grown to $6.5 million.  No way I can live off that!  We’ve got to do better!!

Compound return:    9.3%

Growth:                         $6.5 million

Portfolio 2

The first step is to add U.S. large-cap value stocks, which gives us Portfolio 2.  These are larger companies that are regarded as relatively underpriced (that’s what value means).  Although only 10% of the portfolio has changed, the 47-year return takes a good jump.

The 9.7% return of Portfolio 2 turns $100,000 into $7.8 million.  Now I’m a little more comfortable.

That’s a 19.3% increase from that one small change.  This diversification business is no joke people!

Compound return:    9.7%

Growth:                        $7.8 million

Portfolio 3

Portfolio 3 comes from adding 10% into U.S. small-cap blend stocks, decreasing the weight of S&P 500 index to 80% in our portfolio (it get decreased by 10% with each addition).  Small cap stocks (small companies) have a long history of higher returns than the S&P 500 index.  This applies not only domestically, but internationally as well.

Compound return:      9.9%

Growth:                           $8.3 million – an increase of $1.84 million (28.4%).

A good start!


Portfolio 4

Next, we have U.S. small-cap value stocks for Portfolio 4, reducing the weight of S&P 500 index to 70%.  These have historically been the most productive asset class:

Compound return:      10.3%

Growth:                           $10.1 million – double digits baby!

Portfolio 5

Portfolio 5 is near and dear to my heart, real estate.  REITs or Real Estate Investment Trusts.  It’s like investing in real estate through a mutual fund.

Talk about diversity!

Compound return:      10.4%

Growth:                          $10.6 million

  • Portfolio 5’s impact on returns was minimal, but you can see it still meant $500,000 over the long term.  With these numbers, small differences are worth looking for.
  • Portfolios 2 through 5 had a lower standard deviation, or risk, than just the S&P 500 index.  That means average higher returns with average lower risk.  That’s a no-brainer!

The rest of this portfolio will use international stock to boost returns.  You could stop here, if you’re not cool with that.  Nothing wrong with the returns we already have!

If you are greedy, and want to make more money like I do, read on.

boost index fund investing

Portfolio 6

In Portfolio 6 we will add four international asset classes in 10% increments reducing the S&P 500 index contribution to only 20%:

  • International large-cap blend
  • International large-cap value
  • International small-cap blend
  • International small-cap value

Compound return:      11.1%

Growth:                           $14.1 millionNow I’m sleeping a little more comfortably at night

Portfolio 7

The final step, which is Portfolio 7, is adding 10% in emerging market stocks.  These represent companies in countries with expanding economies and prospects for rapid growth.

Compound return:      11.3%

Growth:                           $15.3 million – Hell yeah!

Emerging markets is slightly more volatile than S&P 500 index.

Keep in mind, we’ve went from $6.5 million to $15.3 million.  Not bad for a little diversification!

The interesting thing about these numbers is that Paul Merriman assumed 1% was paid as a management fee.  I’m not a believer in paying management fees.   You could easily build this portfolio on your own, so your returns would be 1% higher.

DISCLAIMER TIME:  I am not a financial advisor and cannot predict the future.  Index investing is based on a belief these trends seen in the past will continue into the future.  That is likely, but there is no guarantee.  This portfolio could lose more than the S&P 500 index in a bear market.  Choose your investment strategy at your own risk.

Paul Merriman points out the following guidelines.  Most academics agree stocks will have higher returns than bonds, small-cap will perform superior to large-cap, and value stocks will have superior returns to growth.  I tend to agree.

However, as the old saying goes:

It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.

Ok, this isn’t your only choice in the world for a portfolio.  If you are interested in shopping through samples of several different types of portfolios with explanations see:

150 Portfolios Better Than Yours

You can find a way to build this portfolio, or something close to it, with the mutual funds or ETFs available at many mutual funds companies.  Paul Merriman actually has recommendations for mutual funds for Fidelity, Vanguard, Charles Schwab, and T. Rowe Price.


Many of my readers (maybe 10 people) are in the military.  We have the thrift savings plan (TSP).  Unfortunately, this doesn’t really lend itself well to this portfolio because of a lack of variety of choices including value stock options, which is the strongest performer in the portfolio.

This is not a good method for use in a TSP, as the options available can’t utilize the variety of asset classes employed here.

This is meant for a normal brokerage account or an IRA.

Here is what the TSP funds are:

C fund: S&P 500 index clone

S fund: all funds not in the S&P 500 index, so mid-cap and small-cap

I fund: International stocks in 21 developed markets excluding the United States and Canada

F fund: index of world-wide bonds, both government and corporate

G fund: short-term U.S. Treasury securities

Really, all you can do is mix C, S, and I to try to mimic something similar to what we talked about above, but it will be a lot less diversified.

Were you surprised how much more money you can make by increasing the return a small amount?  You’d be surprised what a massive effect fees can have on a portfolio!  You can read about this here:

The 10 Cheapest Index Funds to Supercharge your Portfolio

What did you think of this portfolio?

Do you buy it?

I think it’s awesome.  Am I right or wrong?  Why?

Comment below!

Rich on Money           

Also see:

How to Invest Your Money and Retire Early

15 thoughts on “9 Proven Ways to Boost Your Index Fund Returns (Video)”

  1. Hi Rich – thanks for publishing this information.

    Just a thought, have you run this information by the “Godfather” – Jim Collins? It would be interesting to get his take.

    Also, maybe as a follow-up would be how these portfolio would perform if you substituted the Total Stock Market Index fund for the S&P 500.

    Semper FI,

    • I thought Jim would want to chime in, but when I asked him, I found out he has a policy of not commenting on other people’s strategies. This is probably a very good idea. I will say the difference in returns between using Total Stock Market Index and S&P 500 is very little, but if we are talking about diversification, then total stock market index is better, because you get the mid and small cap companies as well.

  2. Hey Rich,
    Thanks for the video and article. In reference to your military disclaimer, would this method be more useful for my IRA and other investment accounts, rather than trying to replicate it with C, S and I funds in my TSP? You mention it will be much less diversified, so wouldn’t that negate a lot of the benefits of using this portfolio for a TSP? I ask because right now my TSP is sitting in a 2050 fund, until I figure out what to do with it.
    Thanks again!

    • Matt,

      You are right. This isn’t the article that gives you options how to invest your TSP (sounds like a project, though). This is ideal for a normal brokerage account or an IRA, if it’s a philosophy you agree with and can stick to long term.

  3. Hi Rich,

    In thinking about this last night, I was wondering if you diversify your portfolio and in these percentages across all of your investment buckets combined or within each one separately (Brokerage, IRA, Roth, etc…) Does this get difficult to rebalance from time to time?

    It looks like the link to Paul’s Mutual Fund Recommendation breaks it down separately.


    • I’m not practicing this myself yet, but I like it. Most of my retirement money is in a military TSP, which doesn’t have access to the funds needed to do this. I would do them across all investment buckets personally, but that works better if you are not touching those investments buckets for an equal amount of time.

    • Thanks. That’s an interesting comparison between Jill’s website and mine. I think they are totally different philosophies. Her’s is probably more professionally done, but she’s all about watching the small movements in the market day to day and week to week and trying to make sense of it. I pay no attention to that stuff. Waste of time for me.

  4. Hey Rich,

    Just wanted to say great article and blog! I found you through Jim Collins and his book which I found through Mr. Money Mustache. Wish I had found all of you guys years ago but no time like the present to start. I’m looking forward to future blogs, keep up the great work!


  5. Hey Rich,

    Great post, I have been considering this strategy since I heard Merriman on the Meb Faber show earlier this year. My concern would be the overall expense ratio. Have you simulated any of these portfolios to see what the expenses would be?

    Seems like it would be a bit higher than an S&P 500 or Total Stock Market portfolio. Question is, does the increased performance cover these expenses and additional time needed to manage?

    I think I’ll put is together over the holidays and see what we come up with. Thanks and looking forward to your comments!


    • The estimated returns take into account a 1% management fee, so fees have been added into the equation. These funds can be mimicked with Vanguard funds at at other mutual fund companies as well without going insane with expense ratios, and it would be worth it in the long run.

  6. Excellent post! I appreciate all the great content that you put together on your website, to share with others who have the same financial goals. It would be a lot more difficult road without your help! This is the first I heard of this type of diversification, I’m definitely going to explore it further!


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