Inflation and stock market depreciation are obvious detriments to a portfolio designed to last throughout retirement, but fees are an equally damaging hurdle. In this article we'll look at a group of low cost ETFs for investors hoping to cash in on the volatility in the market. (For more on the fee structure common to many mutual funds and ETFs, read Stop Paying High Mutual Fund Fees.)

IN PICTURES: 5 Tips To Reading The Balance Sheet

Low Cost Equity Exposure
The SPDRS S&P 500 Index (NYSE:SPY) fund gives investors exposure to a breadth of large U.S.-based firms from online giant Google (Nasdaq:GOOG) to commodity concerns like U.S. Steel (NYSE:X) and widely held conglomerate Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG). An investor could consider the SPY fund as the foundation of his or her portfolio.

The SPY fund has an extremely low expense ratio of 0.10% and is up +10.11% year to date.

Going Overseas
International ETFs, like the Vanguard FTSE All-World ex-US ETF (NYSE:VEU), with a heavy concentration in Western Europe and other regions outside of the U.S., provide an additional level of diversification to a portfolio. True, more than 100 companies on the S&P 500 like Intel (Nasdaq:INTC) generate 50% or more of their revenue overseas; however, an additional international component like the VEU fund should be considered.

The VEU fund has a low expense ratio of 0.25% and is up +8.55% year to date.

Inflation Hurdle
When the value of the dollar is headed south and inflation fears arise the SPDR Gold Trust ETF (NYSE:GLD) offers protection. With inflationary pressures potentially growing on the horizon and oil prices creeping near $90 per barrel, it might still be a good idea dollar cost average this ETF even though gold is above of $1,400 per oz. (To learn more about inflation, and how it affects you, read our Inflation Tutorial.)

The GLD fund has an estimated expense ratio of 0.40% and is up +28.76% year to date.

Fixed-Income Dividend Yield
Finally the SPDR Barclays Capital TIPS (NYSE:IPE) is a fixed income ETF designed to help investors outpace inflation. The IPE fund is composed of a variety of medium- and long-term U.S. Treasuries. Along with the GLD fund, IPE offers another measure of protection for a portfolio.

This fund has a low expense ratio of 0.18% and is up +5.05% year to date.

Final Thoughts
There are many barriers and fences in the form of inflation, economic slowdowns and high fees that will sap the earnings potential of your portfolio. The low cost ETFs mentioned above, weight adjusted based on the age and goals of the investor, will give long-term investors a way to mitigate expenses as they build a portfolio for retirement. (To learn how to pick the best ETF, read Five Ways To Find A Winning ETF)

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