What's the Difference Between Saving, Investing, and Gambling?

Recognizing the differences between saving, investing, and gambling will help you compartmentalize each, and avoid common mistakes. It’s an easy mistake because not enough people think it through, and the terms are used interchangeably in our culture.

What’s the Difference Between Saving, Investing, and Gambling?

Keeping saving, investing, and gambling three separate activities in your mind and in your account structure will help you be more successful at managing your money and growing your wealth.

What is Saving?

Saving is the act of preserving income for a future use; or an amount of income that is not currently consumed. Very simply saving is income that is not spent or put at risk.

In other words, saving involves money put aside for the future with capital preservation the primary goal. It’s possible to save toward investing activities. For example, you may want to transfer money from savings to investing when your emergency and short term goals become fully funded.

Examples of Saving would be: Bank Savings Account, Money Market Mutual Fund, CDs, U.S. Treasury Bills or Savings Bonds.

Items you might be saving for: An emergency fund, a car, or an event such as a vacation or wedding.

What is Investing?

The act of placing money in risk assets expected to grow from producing a product or service of benefit to others. Investing generally involves putting the original investment at risk with the hope of higher returns than savings.

Investing is having a claim on an entity that produces a product or service with the goal of profit and the risk of loss. Investing is different from saving because your investment is at risk. While there are many different levels of risk an investor may be willing to take; the primary goal of investing is not preservation of capital but long term wealth building. The best investments have growing cash flow and divide an expanding “pie” among the stakeholders.

Examples of Investing: Individual stocks, bonds, most mutual funds, most ETFs, etc. Real Estate used as rental property or for production of goods and services. Buildings such as factories, office space, retail space, etc.

Investing involves the possibility of profits and losses based on performance of the asset.

Example of Difference Between Saving and Investing

Here is an example where the same asset can be saving or investing depending on where it’s placed. A money market fund can be saving in your emergency fund account, but it also can be investing if located in your investment portfolio account.

A money market fund within your investment portfolio should be treated differently than a money market fund for short term savings. The money market in your investment account serves the purpose of lowering portfolio asset correlation and can be used to buy risk assets when opportunities arise. A money market in your emergency fund is for capital preservation and should not be touched unless you have an emergency.

What is Gambling?

Gambling is accepting risk based on chance. Almost all gambling involves risk that exceeds the expected reward. In other words, gambling usually involves dividing up a fixed pie among winners and losers based on chance. In most gambling there is an additional factor such as costs, fees, or odds that results in dividing a shrinking pie.