Should I Save or Invest? Why you Deserve Better than a Savings Account

Welcome to the first article in the ‘Foundation level’ learning series. We begin with a huge problem. A problem so frustrating that it drove me to create this entire website! It emerges when we compare saving to investing in bonds or shares.

In 2019 the best UK one-year savings account pays an interest rate of 2%. However, the current inflation rate is 2%. Therefore, at the end of a year, savings can buy only the same amount of products as they could at the beginning. It seems hardly worth bothering!

So 2% feels like a poor deal, but how does this compare with other places we can invest our money? When other factors are considered – like the price swings of stock market investments – does the humble bank account begin to look like a better prospect?

An introduction to the alternatives to savings accounts

Looking beyond savings accounts, the most common investment options are:

Equity (Ownership of a fraction of a company, which gives an entitlement to a share of its income and assets to the holder).

Debt (The right to be repaid a specific sum, plus interest at a later date)

  • Corporate bonds
  • Peer-to-Peer lending

Property (Possession of title over an area of land, or the buildings upon it).

Commodities & other assets (Ownership of other items which may not produce an ‘income’, but whose value may rise over time).

  • Gold
  • Collectables, such as wine, art and classic cars.

These are called ‘asset classes’, each category represents a group of investments which have similar characteristics. These alternatives all offer legitimate ways to store wealth and even grow it grow over time. In this article, I will focus on shares listed on the stock market.

Saving v investing in shares – Comparing performance

The table below shows the annual gain or loss in the total value of the 100 largest companies on the London Stock Exchange (known collectively as ‘The FTSE100’).

YearAnnual Return
2018-8.7%
201711.9%
201619.1%
2015-1.3%
20140.7%
201318.7%
201210%

If you had invested £1,000 in those same companies in 2010, this would now be worth £1,579. That’s an average return of 6.7% per year!

In sharp contrast, £1,000 placed in a 2% savings account for the same period would have only grown to £1,148.

Is this a fair comparison? To find out, we need to look over a much longer period. Credit Suisse, an investment bank, has crunched data which shows that over the last 118 years UK equities have returned an average of 5.5%. This is lower than recent experience has shown, but paints a clear picture of outperformance.

But what about the risks?

The price of any share may fall tomorrow. The value of a listed company fluctuates daily, resulting in good news on some days and bad news on others. Even for seasoned investors, this can be difficult to stomach.

This risk becomes apparent in the most dramatic fashion when a rare stock market crash occurs, in which shares lose a significant fraction of their value in a single day. For example, on 6 November 2008 during the height of the Financial Crisis, the FTSE 100 fell by 5.7%.

If you would resent even a small loss in the short term, then owning shares is probably not appropriate, as this risk can never be fully eliminated. As you will learn in later articles, it is precisely this risk which causes the higher return that shareholders have come to expect.

Use our ‘Investing Risk Appetite Questionnaire‘ to understand your tolerance to and discover how you can tweak your investment strategy accordingly.

A wise shareholder does not pray for an unbroken string of gains. They accept that share prices will ebb and flow like waves crashing on a beach. They understand that long term returns are like the creeping tide; it might be difficult to perceive against the thrashing sea, but it will nevertheless have the bigger effect.

It is when viewed over these long periods, that shares begin to look and feel like a stable and reliable investment. In the UK, for instance, the stock market has never lost value over any 25 year period (source).

This track record makes shares a popular choice for retirement funds, and other long term saving goals. The length of time you will be investing over (your ‘time horizon‘), is a crucial concept which has its own article.

Why do people fail to invest?

  1. Crash anxiety from 2008. A survey conducted by Gallop in 2018 (source) revealed that only 37% of under-35s in the US were invested in stocks and shares, compared to 52% in 2007 ahead of the stock market crash which occurred during the financial crisis. The stock market crash during 2008-2009 acted as a deterrent to young investors. What isn’t widely reported is that despite the crash, the US stock market has still delivered an impressive performance. Even if you include the effect of the crash, US shares have gained 8.2% per year since 2007 (source).
  2. A lack of confidence. Investing concepts can be difficult to grasp, and it is easy to lose yourself in a sea of acronyms and jargon. This confusion works to the benefit of active fund managers and financial advisers, who earn commissions and fees from investors who don’t feel equipped to make investment decisions on their own. For some – delegating this mental effort is a conscious choice they are happy to make. For others – it feels like the only option, despite a nagging feeling that they are being taken advantage of. Tragically, a final group decides that the smoke and mirrors of the stock market make savings accounts the only rationale choice after pondering ‘should I save, or should I invest?’. This website was created to balance the equation and provide more people with access to sound investing principles to help guide them to make better choices.

The costly mistake most of us make

If I asked you to visualise what a disastrous investment decision might look like – what comes to mind? A retiree conned into placing their life savings into a worthless company? Or perhaps a naive investor buying shares in a company the day before it files for bankruptcy?

These types of mistakes are both rare and avoidable. Instead, let me paint you an alternative picture. Here’s a horrifically expensive investing decision that millions are making:

Imagine having £250 to save each month for 30 years, but deciding at the age of 25 to put it in a savings account rather than building a basic investment portfolio.

In a 2% bank account, those payments over the years would have grown to £123,000.

However, had they placed this in the stock market and generated a typical return of 6%, that £90,000 would be worth £244,800.

The bank saver missed out on £121,800! Can you imagine the ecstatic celebration of a contestant on Who Wants to be a Millionaire winning £125,000? This is the prize on offer to anyone saving £250 per month.

Should I save or invest?
A missed opportunity

Are shares the solution to poor savings returns?

So far this article has demonstrated that shares have reliably outperformed savings accounts over long periods. However, we have also highlighted that shares bring risks such a short term price instability. The question of whether shares are appropriate for your circumstances, and what portion of your funds you should invest, depends upon factors such as;

  1. Risk profile & personal circumstances – how well do you personally deal with the risk of loss, and how do your circumstances impact the risks you can afford to take? For example, if you are in retirement, your inability to earn further income means that extra care must be taken to preserve your existing wealth.
  2. Time horizon – how long will it be before you need to use the money?

I will explore each of these points and also reveal what makes a great investment portfolio over the rest of foundation course! Continue onwards to pick up this important knowledge.

Learning Summary


Should I Save or Invest?

Savings accounts pay tiny rate of return which cannnot keep up with increases in the cost of living.

There are several alternatives to saving, such as investing in property, shares or bonds. Some of these investments can generate returns of over 6% per year.

Shares are the most popular form of investing and have returned 5.5% annually over the last century and 6.7% over the last decade.

Shares carry a risk of price swings, which may make owning shares quite stressful. Shares are inappropriate investments for individuals with an aversion to risk, or who have only a short period to invest.

However, such swings are only temporary. Over any period of 25 years, a basket of UK shares has always been worth more at the end compared to the beginning.

A saver who can invest £250 per month for 30 years, will likely earn £100,000+ more if they invest it in the stock market rather than a savings account. A life-changing amount of money is at stake.

Therefore as part of a balanced portfolio, it will be hugely beneficial to your retirement date and quality of life, if you can invest rather than save in a bank account.

Learning Assessment

Take Action

  • Use this savings calculator to quantify the upside of switching from a 1.5% savings account to a 6% investment portfolio over your savings period.
  • Visualise the impact that additional wealth would have on your quality of life. This could be the beginning of an exciting journey!

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Before you move on, please leave a comment below to share your thoughts. What rate of interest do you earn on your savings account? Do you feel it's a fair reward?


This article is part of the Foundation Investing Course created by Financial Expert


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