Saving vs. investing: What's the difference?

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?

Tags: Investing, Savings
Published: July 17, 2019

There are some key differences between the two, but they can also be handled at the same time — meaning you don’t have to choose one or the other.


Saving vs. investing: What’s the difference?

While saving can help you reach shorter-term goals (planning for a vacation) and even some longer-term goals (buying a house), it’s generally considered a good approach if your financial goal can be reached in five years or less. The money you put into a savings account is more liquid than the money you put into investments.

Investing, on the other hand, may help you reach even longer-term goals, such as retirement, or a college fund for your future children or grandchildren. You also get the opportunity to compound, which occurs when you reinvest the investment’s earnings to potentially generate more earnings.

Throughout any investment process, however, patience is key. 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.


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 more traditional bank savings account.

If you deposit money and leave it in a savings account, it will accrue additional value 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. If your financial institution is insured by the FDIC, you are protected up to $250,000 if your bank fails.1

In general, it’s recommended that you begin building savings before you dive into investing, especially as protection against unexpected costs. Forty percent of U.S. adults say they couldn’t cover an unexpected expense greater than $400 without selling something or borrowing money.2 Anything from replacing a laptop to suddenly being out of work could put you in danger of not being able to afford monthly payments like your rent, mortgage, or car payment.

The rule of thumb is to have at least six months' worth of your household income set aside in your emergency fund. If six months sounds intimidating, start with three months and grow your savings from there.


Savings accounts key takeaways:

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


How investing works

There are many ways to invest: stocks/bonds/mutual funds/ETFs and real estate are a few examples. While you can buy and sell these assets at any time, 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, however, are usually self-directed, individual accounts you set up through a financial institution. You may want to speak with a tax professional if you’re considering investing into a Traditional IRA since there can be tax benefits in certain situations, or investing into a Roth IRA since eligibility is based on household earnings.

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 for the market to even out.


Investing key takeaways: 

  • Take advantage of your employer-sponsored retirement plan, if there is 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 on the horizon and investing for long-term growth. Whatever your financial situation, start thinking about both options today as you plan for tomorrow.


Learn about the difference between investing and financial planning or take a look at our approach to investing.






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).