Do you like to take the occasional chance on a high-risk, high-reward stock? You're not alone. As long as you don't risk more than you can afford to lose, there's nothing inherently wrong with keeping things interesting.

If the capital in question is money being tucked away in an IRA to build a retirement nest egg, however, things change. Growth is something that must be achieved, and risk is something that must be managed. Many future retirees will find this balance by buying a theme-based basket of stocks rather than taking swings on trendy individual equities.

With that as the backdrop, here's a rundown of three top exchange-traded funds any investor saving for retirement should consider adding to their IRA.

SPDR S&P 600 Small Cap Growth ETF

When the average investor may be better off just sticking with index funds rather than dabbling in individual stocks, the fund many suggest is the SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust (NYSEMKT:SPY). Most everyone understands the index's constituents are some of the country's most recognizable corporate names, and everyone has easy access to information about the index itself. It is, after all, among the most widely accepted barometers of the broad market's health.

The S&P 500 index isn't necessarily the most productive index when it comes to performance, however. The smaller companies that make up the S&P SmallCap 600 Index log greater gains over time, and small-cap growth names lead the small-cap charge. Over the course of the past 20 years, the S&P 600 index has more than doubled the performance of the S&P 500. This puts an exchange-traded fund like the SPDR S&P 600 Small Cap Growth ETF (NYSEMKT:SLYG) in play.

^CVK Chart

^CVK data by YCharts

Those superior gains have come with something of a price. Namely, sometimes gut-wrenching volatility is the norm here. This volatility, however, has been more than worth it.

First Trust NASDAQ Clean Edge Green Energy Index ETF

There was a time when clean energy stocks were more bark than bite. Their underlying technologies were new, somewhat unproven, and not widely adopted.

The environmentally friendly energy movement's most prolific stocks, however, have lived up to their long-term potential. Nearly 20% of the United States' energy production now comes from renewable energy sources like solar and wind, according to data from the Energy Information Administration, roughly mirroring the whole world's power production profile. But the EIA forecasts that by 2050 about 38% of the United States' power production will come from renewable sources, again mirroring the expected increase in adoption all over the globe.

Numbered wooden blocks stacked in descending order, from 3 to 1.

Image source: Getty Images.

This shift isn't going to simply happen by the hands of governments and regulators, though. It's going to take incentivized corporations to get us there. The question is, which corporations?

With the First Trust NASDAQ Clean Edge Green Energy Index ETF (NASDAQ:QCLN), you don't have to take the risk of picking the wrong ones. The fund currently holds 53 different names ranging from Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) to First Solar (NASDAQ:FSLR) to NextEra Energy Partners (NYSE:NEP), offering investors a little exposure to every facet of the clean energy landscape.

Vanguard High Dividend Yield ETF

Finally, add the Vanguard High Dividend Yield ETF (NYSEMKT:VYM) to your list of funds to consider adding to your IRA.

Truth be told, the dividend yield of this dividend-oriented exchange-traded fund isn't exactly sky-high. The current yield of 2.8% is respectable to be sure, but not unattainable using other investment choices.

The dividend, however, isn't really the only point in owning a piece of this fund. While billed as a dividend stock position, what shareholders are buying into is actually a collection of high-quality stocks capable of reliably paying -- and increasing -- their dividends. Among the fund's biggest names are JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM), Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ), and Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG) -- names that are built to last. Indeed, most of the fund's biggest holdings are Dividend Aristocrats, underscoring just how reliable the dividend is.

The clincher: Vanguard makes it incredibly cost-effective to hold these quality names in one bundle rather than forcing you to do a ton of buying and selling of these individual stocks on your own. The expense ratio as of early this year is a (very) modest 0.06% of the fund's total assets. You could easily spend more than that on commissions and slippage away from the best bids and asks at any given time.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.