Should I save or invest?

Both investing and saving can help you reach your financial goals and make your money work harder. Savings should be used for short-term needs (less than 5 years) whilst investments should be considered for medium to long-term goals (at least 5 to 10 years).

Saving

The starting point when saving is likely to be a bank or building society account. With a savings account, you'll usually get back the amount you put in plus a bit extra in interest. This means they are a low-risk way to store your spare cash. This risk is the key difference between saving and investment products.

However, although cash held in savings is generally secure, the impact of inflation will reduce the buying power of your money over time, unless the growth you receive through interest is at a higher rate than the rate of inflation.  The chart below shows the effect of inflation on cash savings over a ten year period.

The effect of inflation on £10,000 over 10 years between December 2004 and December 2014

Graph showing effect of inflation on £10,000 over a 10-year period

Source: Lipper 2014. Inflation is represented by the Consumer Prices Index (CPI)

Consider saving if...

  • You do not want to take any risks with your money
  • You have a short-term goal in mind – for example, saving for a wedding or a holiday
  • You want to build up a fund so you have money available in an emergency e.g. for house and car repairs
  • You need easy access to all or part of your money, although not all savings accounts offer immediate access without charge.

Investing

Investments are unlike savings accounts as they invest in assets such as shares, bonds and funds. Therefore there is a greater level of risk to your money, because they can go up and down in value, but this can mean greater returns. There is a possibility that you could lose some, or all, of your money, depending on how much risk you choose to take.

Because of the risk of losing money, investing should only be considered for money that can be put aside for the medium to long-term (at least 5 to 10 years) to potentially balance out the ups and downs in the markets. Investments can be made using a lump sum or regular investments of smaller amounts, usually on a monthly basis.

There are a wide range of different types of asset that can be used for an investment, and each of these will have different potential for growth and carry a different amount of risk.

Understanding risk

Investment time periods

When talking about investing, you will frequently see references to the short, medium and long-term. While these time periods aren’t definitive, this usually means the following:

Short-term – less than 5 years

Medium-term – between 5 and 10 years

Long-term – more than 10 years

Consider investing if...

  • You want the chance of receiving a return higher than you’d get by putting your money into an easily accessible savings account
  • You are willing to accept an element of risk to your money
  • You wish to invest for the medium to long-term (at least 5 to 10 years).