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5 Min Read | April 1, 2022

Saving vs Investing – What’s the Difference?

Saving and investing are two different ways to achieve financial goals. Understanding the differences can help you choose the best approach for you.


Saving and investing are two approaches to setting money aside for future goals.

Saving tends to be better suited for smaller goals with definitive values and time frames.

Investing is a tradeoff: it takes on greater risk in return for potentially greater earnings, in pursuit of large, long-term goals.

Save for tomorrow. Invest in your future. That saying may sound repetitive, but it represents two very different ideas. Saving and investing play important roles in our financial health, and experts recommend doing a mix of both to build wealth. They each include setting money aside for future use, but that’s where the similarities end. 


There are many differences between saving and investing, and in my mind, the two most important are timing and liquidity. Some experts cite the risk/return tradeoff as a big difference that sets saving and investing apart. I’ll explore all three so that you can make your own determination on how to get started saving, investing, or both.

What Savings and Investment Mean

Saving is a relatively straightforward process where you set aside some amount of money toward a goal. Saving goals tend to be small or fixed, like establishing an emergency fund, building up a down payment for a car or house, or paying for a vacation or wedding. You can put your savings in variety of accounts, from a regular bank deposit account to an online high-yield savings account, which usually offers higher rates of return. 


Investing means dedicating money toward the purchase of assets that you expect will increase in value over time. The underlying goal here is growth. Investments tend to lock up larger amounts of money for longer periods of time. The value of these assets, like stocks or mutual funds, fluctuates over time, so investing for growth generally requires a longer-term view. Such investment goals may include funding your retirement, or college expenses for your children.

The Differences Between Saving and Investing

Three key differences between saving and investing relate to timing, liquidity, and risk:



  • Saving helps best with shorter-term goals or things that need to happen at a certain time. Some examples include a summer vacation, a special anniversary, or a certain home repair or upgrade. In these cases, the predictability and stability of savings better equip you to help reach the goal. Calculating in advance how much you need to put away at regular intervals also can help hit the number.
  • Investing gives you the opportunity to benefit from a longer horizon. Compounding financial growth over time helps you ride out any short-term dips in asset values. Generally, investments are held for three to five years at a minimum. Many investing gurus suggest holding investments like stocks for decades.


  • Your savings are liquid funds, meaning that you can easily access them at any time. Unlike some investments, savings require no conversion and immediately can be received as cash. This is an important characteristic, especially in the case of emergency savings. 
  • Investments have varying degrees of liquidity depending on the nature of the underlying asset. But, even the most liquid investment typically involves a process and some time to convert to cash. Many times, the process also includes a sales commission, withdrawal fee or penalty, which reduces the value. It also may not be a good idea to sell an asset on a particular day because of market fluctuations.


  • Savings accounts come with low risk. Your money is practically guaranteed, but interest earnings are small. The Federal Deposit Insurance Company (FDIC), an independent agency of the U.S. government, protects depositors from loss up to $250,000 per qualified account/bank/and ownership category. It’s a good idea to ask your bank about FDIC insurance, because this can get complicated. The FDIC says that since 1933, no depositor has ever lost a penny of FDIC insured funds.1 The tradeoff for this almost zero risk is low earnings potential.
  • Investing is more of an open-ended, uncertain venture because you can never fully predict how much an investment will increase or decrease in value. For this reason, investment brokers and brokerage accounts have very clear disclaimers regarding the risks. That being said, common investment indicators, such as the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, show 10% average annual returns since the stock market’s inception in 1926.2 The more market growth an investment achieves, the less money of your own you need to contribute toward your goal.

Saving vs Investing

  Saving Investing
Timing 1-3 years 5+ years
Liquidity Immediate access Access takes time
Risk Low Various – medium to high
Returns Low High

How to Save vs How to Invest

Common ways to save money include bank savings accounts, high-yield savings accounts, money market accounts and Certificates of Deposit (CDs). Some savings accounts don’t generate interest, and those that do may offer rates below the rate of inflation. Others may require minimum balances or charge fees. Annual percentage yield (APY) is a good tool to compare the earning potential of different savings accounts. To learn more, read “The Differences Between APR, APY, and Interest Rates.”


Investments most often occur through brokerage accounts, which let you buy and sell individual stocks, mutual funds, bonds, and various other types of investments. Different fees and costs are associated with such accounts, depending on the degree of service they offer. For clarification, when banks offer brokerage accounts, they’re not FDIC insured.

The Takeaway

Saving and investing are two distinct methods for shoring up your financial position and building wealth. Saving carries low risk and fits neatly into shorter-term goals. Investing is longer-term and presents greater risk – along with the potential for greater reward. It’s important to match the right method to your goal. Most experts recommend that you start doing both as soon as you are able.

Kristina Russo

Kristina Russo is a CPA and MBA with over 20 years of business experience in firms of all sizes and across several industries, including media and publishing, entertainment, retail, and manufacturing.


All Credit Intel content is written by freelance authors and commissioned and paid for by American Express. 

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