One of the benefits of exchange traded funds (ETFs) is their flexibility to meet a wide spectrum of investor needs. Recently, I had a little extra cash, so I thought I’d take my own advice by buying some ETFs.

Of course, I already invest in ETFs with the help of my financial advisor; we’ve built an investment plan and it has been a financially rewarding experience. But this time, since it wasn’t a lot of money, I thought I might try investing on my own rather than add it to my advised portfolio.

As I embarked on the adventure of making my investment selections, I realized there aren’t many useful tools online to help those of us who aren’t investing a large sum of money. I work in this industry and have been exposed to training, resources and information, yet this experience made it very clear how someone without much investment experience may find it overwhelming.

But here’s something to keep in mind: Choosing the right ETF really isn’t that complicated. If you stay focused on a few key areas, you may find the experience to be much easier.

  1. Understand your goals—Are you investing for the long or short term? Do you need to build a core of broad investments or do you want specific exposures?
  2. Know the fund provider—Is the firm reputable in the ETF business? How well does it know its markets and industries?
  3. Examine total costs—Look at the fund’s management fees, commissions, capital gains distributions and index tracking performance.

Let me share with you how I went about it.

Simple steps for a short journey

Starting online. When I started researching ETFs, I ended up on my company’s iShares site to play with our Core Builder, which was the most helpful tool I could find. But after considering my investment objectives and time horizon, I realized I wanted to find exposures beyond the basic core funds. I already had that covered in my retirement and advised accounts.

Going beyond the basics. I thought about other strategies to invest in, and then it hit me—smart beta. I’ve been super excited about the concept of smart beta, especially factor funds and minimum volatility. I felt that these funds, which seek to provide exposure to specific market attributes that have historically driven risk and return and may potentially provide greater returns compared to traditional index benchmarks, such as the S&P 500, might best enhance my portfolio. So I honed in on smart beta ETFs.

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