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The incredible cheapness of investing with ETFs cannot be over-stated after the fee cuts of the past year or so.

A simple but sound portfolio can be built with a total fee of 0.15 per cent, which means $15 on a $10,000 investment. Even the most frugal of investors should be happy with that. Here are the ETFs to build this portfolio, chosen with the help of the screening tool on the ETF Insight website.

Bonds:
The iShares High Quality Canadian Bond Index ETF (XQB) is suitable as a core bond fund to act as a hedge against stock market risk, and it has a low management expense ratio of just 0.14 per cent. If you wanted something that would hold up comparatively well in a rising rate environment, you could add some of the BMO Short Corporate Bond Index ETF (ZCS), also with an MER of 0.14 per cent.

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Canadian equity:
According to ETF Insight, there are three exchange-traded funds tracking the Canadian market with management expense ratios of 0.06 per cent – the Horizons S&P/TSX 60 Index ETF (HXT), the iShares S&P/TSX Capped Composite Index ETF (XIC) and the BMO S&P/TSX Capped Composite Index ETF (ZCN).

U.S. equity:
Four funds offer exposure to the S&P 500 with a fee of just 0.11 per cent – the iShares S&P 500 Index C$-Hedged ETF (XSP), the iShares S&P 500 Index ETF (XUS), the BMO S&P 500 Index ETF (ZSP) and the BMO S&P 500 Hedged to CAD Index ETF (ZUE). For an extra 0.05, you could buy the entire U.S. market, not just the big stocks of the S&P 500, using the Vanguard U.S. Total Market Index ETF (VUS).

International Equity:
A more expensive category where a low-cost choice is the iShares MSCI EAFE IMI Index ETF (XEF) at 0.23 per cent.

Here's how to blend these ETFs in a way that might be suitable for someone with 10 years or more until they need their money and the temperament to weather stock market ups and downs:

Bonds: 25 per cent

Canadian stocks: 25 per cent

U.S. stocks: 25 per cent

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International stocks: 25 per cent

If you averaged the fees of the ETFs in this category (and you use VUS for U.S. equity), you get a portfolio MER of 0.15 per cent, which is incredibly cheap.

Coming soon: What cheap ETFs mean to investors in fee-based advisory accounts.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article contained an incorrect MER under the Canadian equity sub-heading. This version has been corrected.

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