- Saving is putting money aside bit by bit. You usually save up to pay for something specific, like a holiday, a deposit on a home, or to cover any emergencies that might crop up, like a broken boiler. Saving usually means putting your money into cash products, such as a savings account in a bank or building society. Your money grows by earning interest - see this video on compound interest from the Money Advice Service to find out how it works.
- Investing is taking some of your money and trying to make it grow by buying things you think will increase in value. For example, you might invest in stocks, property or shares in a fund.
Who should save?
1 Setting up an emergency fund
Everybody should do their best to build up an emergency savings fund.
The general rule is to have three months’ worth of living expenses saved up in an instant access savings account. This should include rent, food, school fees and any other essential outgoings.
Your emergency fund means you have some financial security if something goes wrong - see Saving for emergencies.
2 Keep saving
Now that you've got an emergency fund, it's a good idea to save up at least 10% of your earnings each month (or as much as you can afford).
Set yourself savings goals and put away enough to buy what you want. This could be a home deposit, a wedding, or a trip.
You could start to think about investing your money.
When shouldn't you save?
The only time you shouldn’t save, or invest, is if there are more important things you need to do with your money. For example:
- Getting your debts under control
- Making sure your family would be able to cope financially if you died.
See Should I save or pay off debts? and Life insurance for more information.
Are you ready to invest?
Whether or not it makes sense for you depends on your goals - specifically if they are long, short or medium term.
- Short-term goals are things you plan to do within the next five years.
- Medium term goals are things you plan to do within the next 5-10 years.
- Longer-term goals are ones where you won't need the money for 10 years or more.
For your short-term goals, the general rule is to save into cash deposits, like bank accounts.
The stock market may go up or down in the short term and if you invest for less than five years you might well make a loss. See Cash savings.
For the medium term, cash deposits might sometimes be the best answer, but it depends on how much risk you are willing to take with your money to achieve a greater return on your investment.
For example, if you are planning to buy a property in seven years and you know you’ll need all your savings as a deposit and don’t want to risk your money, it may be safer to put your money into a savings account.
However, bear in mind that your savings will still be at risk from inflation. This is where the interest you earn on your savings fails to keep up with the rate of inflation so the buying power of your money is reduced.
On the other hand, if your needs are more flexible, you might consider investing your money if you’re prepared to take some risk with your original capital to try and achieve a greater return on your investment than would be possible by saving alone.
For longer-term goals, you may want to consider investing because inflation can seriously affect the value of cash savings over the medium and long term. The stock market tends to do better than cash over the long-term providing an opportunity for greater returns on money invested over time.
You can lower the level of risk you take when you invest by spreading your money across different types of investments. This is called diversification - see Spread your risk.
If you're nearing 30 or older, you should have at least one long-term goal – retirement. Although you will get a pension from the Armed Forces, do you know how much that will be? Check the Armed Forces pension calculator to see how much you might get. You will probably find that you will want some additional income when you retire. Money you put aside for retirement should usually go into investments. Most people invest in a pension, but other investments can be suitable too. See Investments for more information.
When investing it is a good idea to consider if you would benefit from professional advice from a regulated independent financial adviser - see Do you need a financial adviser?
A look at some goals – save or invest?
|| Situation and timescale
|| Save or invest?
|Buy a new car
||Your old car is ready to give up the ghost – you need a new one within a year.
|Put down a deposit on a home
||You'd like to move into your own home by the time you start a family – maybe in three years.
|Pay for your child's wedding
||Your child is still very young – probably at least 15 years away from getting married.
|Your child is older – a couple of years away from getting married.
|Have a comfortable retirement
||You've just turned 30, and you'd like to retire when you're about 65 – 35 years in the future.
Set your savings goals
As you can see, from the table above, you probably have quite a few financial goals. They’ll all have different timescales, which means you might want to do some saving and some investing. That’s why it’s important to make a plan.
If your finances are fairly simple, take a look at Goal setting to see how to set your goals.
If your situation is more complicated, for example, if you have various assets and liabilities, gather the facts and do a money fact find - on the Money Advice Service's website.