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DIY investing is so cost-effective these days that you can get your fees and commissions down to almost inconsequential levels.

But paying close to nothing in fees means little if your returns are substandard. How to tell if your DIY investing is helping or hurting? You can use a mix of benchmark stock and bond indexes to assess your returns or you can take a quicker and more practical approach.

Asset allocation exchange-traded funds offer prefab portfolios in a single, low-cost, easy-to-buy package. It’s hard to see the point in managing your own portfolio if you can’t beat an asset allocation ETF. Same goes for robo-advisers, which manage portfolios of stock and bond ETFs for a modest fee.

Asset allocation ETFs come in conservative, balanced and growth versions – find one close to your portfolio breakdown and compare returns. The breakdown of stocks and bonds is usually 40/60 for conservative asset allocation ETFs, 60/40 for balanced and 80/20 for growth. If you have a 70/30 portfolio, the Horizons Balanced TRI ETF Portfolio (HBAL-T) is a rare balanced fund with a 70/30 split. Other ETF companies that offer asset allocation funds you can use to compare your portfolio include BMO, Fidelity, Franklin iShares, TD and Vanguard.

The Vanguard Balanced ETF Portfolio (VBAL-T) averaged an annualized total return (share price changes plus dividends) of 5.2 per cent for the five years to April 30, 6 per cent for the three-year period and 4.1 per cent for the 12 months. If you beat those numbers, particularly the five-year return, then you’re doing well as a do-it-yourselfer. Keep up the good work.

If you’re more of a growth investor, the Questwealth Growth Portfolio is a relevant benchmark from the robo-adviser world. The five-year annualized return to April 30 came in at 5.8 per cent, the three-year return at 10 per cent and the 12-month return at 6.5 per cent. For the names of other robo-advisers you can use for portfolio comparisons, consult the latest Globe and Mail robo-adviser guide.

DIY investing is about low costs and having control. It can also be a fun and gratifying hobby. But what we’re really talking about here is your financial future. If your attempts to manage your portfolio are coming up short, take a moment to reflect on your approach. If necessary, consider the asset allocation ETF or robo-adviser alternatives.