Saving vs. investing: What's the difference?

May 14, 2021

You know that putting money aside for the future is important. But do you know the best strategies to tackle both saving and investing in the years ahead?

There are some key differences between saving and investing. Both strategies involve accumulating money for future use, but their level of risk is not equal. And how you determine when to save and when to invest will depend on your budget and financial goals.

Fortunately, you can do both at the same time, which means you don’t have to choose one or the other. 


The difference between saving and investing

Saving is generally considered a good approach if your financial goal can be reached in five years or less, such as planning for a vacation or buying a house. The money you put into a savings account is more liquid than the money you put into investments.

Investing, on the other hand, can help you work toward reaching your longer-term goals, such as retirement or a college fund for your future children or grandchildren. When it comes to investing, patience is key. The longer your money is invested, the more potential it has to grow and earn compound interest, which occurs when you reinvest the investment’s earnings to potentially generate more earnings.


How savings accounts work

Saving is the lower-risk, lower-return option. Saving can come in the form of a certificate of deposit (CD), money market account or a traditional bank savings account.

If you deposit money and leave it in a savings account, it will accrue interest over time, although typically at a lower rate than what investments have the potential to provide. You agree to let the bank keep your money for a while (sometimes a set amount of time, as with a CD; sometimes indefinitely, as with a savings account). In turn, the bank gives you a percentage of interest on that cash.

In general, it’s recommended that you begin building savings and pay off high-interest debt before you dive into investing, especially as protection against unexpected costs.  The rule of thumb is to have at least three to six months' worth of your household income set aside in an emergency fund.


Savings accounts key takeaways:

  • Establish your savings before you begin investing.
  • Your money will be easier to access and it’s a lower risk than investing.
  • You’ll typically have a lower rate of return than investments.


How investing works

There are many types of investment vehicles: stocks/bonds/mutual funds/ETFs and real assets (such as real estate and commodities) are a few examples.

While you can buy and sell these assets at any time, some types of investments may need more time to mature and there could be costs or penalty fees associated with selling or removing money from investments before they come to term. Others are more marketable, but you may not want to sell during a market downturn, so it’s better to approach them as long-term investments to get the best potential for growth.

A good way to start investing is through a retirement account. This could be a 401(k), an IRA or both. If you have access to an employer-sponsored 401(k), check to see if they offer contribution matches. This means that for every dollar you contribute to your 401(k), your employer contributes a certain amount, too—usually up to a specific limit.

IRAs, or individual retirement accounts, are a good option if you don't have access to a 401(k). IRAs are set up through a financial institution and most people are eligible to open and contribute to a traditional or Roth IRA. There are even options for individuals who are self-employed or small business owners.

Retirement accounts are typically made up of a mix of investment types such as stocks, bonds and mutual funds. You can either set up your own ratio of these investment types, or choose a target date fund, which is an investment mix that’s optimized for your anticipated retirement date.

For example, if you’re close to retirement, your investment mix will often include lower-risk assets, whereas the farther away you are from retirement, the more risk you may be able to shoulder because you’ll have more time to bounce back from any market volatility.


Investing key takeaways: 

  • Take advantage of your workplace retirement plan, if you have access to one.
  • Potentially offers a higher rate of return over a long period of time.
  • If the market takes a hit, your investments will be affected.

A healthy financial future involves both saving for goals in the short-term and investing for long-term growth. Whatever your financial situation, start thinking about both options today as you plan for tomorrow.


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Before purchasing a certificate of deposit (CD), investors should understand all terms and carefully read any disclosure statements. CDs have a maturity date and if money is withdrawn prior to this date, investors may be subject to a penalty and early withdrawal fee. Investors should also confirm the interest rate that will be paid and at what interval payment will be made. An investment in money market funds is not insured or guaranteed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) or any other government agency. Although these funds seek to preserve the value of an investment at $1.00 per share, it is possible to lose money by investing in these funds. Equity securities are subject to stock market fluctuations that occur in response to economic and business developments. Investments in fixed income securities are subject to various risks, including changes in interest rates, credit quality, market valuations, liquidity, prepayments, early redemption, corporate events, tax ramifications and other factors. Investment in fixed income securities typically decrease in value when interest rates rise. This risk is usually greater for longer-term securities. Investments in lower-rated and non-rated securities present a greater risk of loss to principal and interest than higher-rated securities.  Mutual fund investing involves risk and principal loss is possible. Investing in certain funds involves special risks, such as those related to investments in small- and mid-capitalization stocks, foreign, debt and high-yield securities and funds that focus their investments in a particular industry. Please refer to the fund prospectus for additional details pertaining to these risks.  Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) are baskets of securities that are traded on an exchange like individual stocks at negotiated prices and are not individually redeemable. ETFs are designed to generally track a market index and shares may trade at a premium or a discount to the net asset value of the underlying securities.  Investments in real estate securities can be subject to fluctuations in the value of the underlying properties, the effect of economic conditions on real estate values, changes in interest rates and risks related to renting properties (such as rental defaults).

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