What Are Savings?

Savings refers to the money that a person has left over after they subtract out their consumer spending from their disposable income over a given time period. Savings, therefore, represents a net surplus of funds for an individual or household after all expenses and obligations have been paid.

Savings are kept in the form of cash or cash equivalents (e.g. as bank deposits), which are exposed to no risk of loss but also come with correspondingly minimal returns. Savings can be grown through investing, which requires that the money be put at risk, however.

Key Takeaways

  • Savings is the amount of money left over after spending and other obligations are deducted from earnings.
  • Savings represent money that is otherwise idle and not being put at risk with investments or spent on consumption.
  • Savings accounts are very safe but tend to offer very low rates of return as a result.
  • Saving can be contrasted with investing, in that the latter involves seeking to grow wealth by putting money at risk.
  • Negative savings is indicative of household debt or negative net worth.

Understanding Savings

Savings comprise the amount of money left over after spending. People may save for various life goals or aspirations such as retirement, a child's college education, the down payment for a home or car, a vacation, or several other examples.

Savings may commonly be earmarked for emergencies. For example, Sasha’s monthly paycheck is $5,000. Expenses include a $1,300 rent payment, a $450 car payment, a $500 student loan payment, a $300 credit card payment, $250 for groceries, $75 for utilities, $75 for cellphone service, and $100 for gas. Since Sasha's monthly income is $5,000 and monthly expenses are $3,050, there is $1,950 left over as savings. If Sasha saves maintains this excess as savings and later faces an emergency, there will be some money to live on while resolving the issue.

If one is unable to maintain savings, they may be said to be living paycheck to paycheck. If such a person experiences an emergency, there is often not enough money saved up to live on and they may risk falling into debt or bankruptcy.

The Federal Reserve defines disposable income as all sources of income minus the tax you pay on that income.

Types of Savings Accounts

There are different types of savings accounts offered by banks that come with different features or limitations. Note that all bank savings vehicles come with federal deposit insurance (FDIC) of up to $250,000 per depositor per institution.

Savings Accounts

A savings account pays interest on cash not needed for daily expenses but available for an emergency. Deposits and withdrawals are made online, by phone, mail, or at a physical bank branch or ATM. Interest rates on savings accounts tend to be low but are often higher than on checking accounts. The best savings accounts can usually be found online because they'll pay a higher interest rate. Online-only accounts may be examples of high-yield savings accounts, which can offer as much as 20-25x higher interest on deposits than the national average.

Checking Accounts

A checking account offers the ability to write checks or use debit cards that draw from your account. A checking account pays lower interest rates than other bank accounts, and many of them credit no interest at all to checking customers. In return, however, account holders get highly liquid and accessible funds often with low or no monthly fees.

Money Market Accounts

A money market account (MMA) is an interest-bearing account at a bank or credit union (not to be confused with a money market mutual fund). MMAs often pay a higher interest rate than regular passbook savings accounts and also include check writing and debit card privileges. These also can come with restrictions that make them less flexible than a regular checking account. 

Certificates of Deposit (CDs)

A certificate of deposit (CD) limits access to cash for a certain period in exchange for a higher interest rate. Deposit terms range from three months to five years; the longer the term, the higher the interest rate. CDs have early withdrawal penalties that can erase interest earned, so it is best to keep the money in the CD for the entire term. Shopping around for the best CD rate is critical if you want to maximize your investment.

How to Calculate Your Savings Rate

One's savings rate is the percentage of disposable personal income that is kept rather than spend on consumption or obligations.  

Say that your net income is $25,000 a year after taxes (i.e., your disposable income) and over the course of the year you also spend $24,000 in consumption, bills, and other expenditures. Your total savings are $1,000. Dividing savings by disposable income yields a savings rate of 4% = ($1,000 / $25,000 x 100).

14.9%

The current average personal savings rate in the U.S. (as of April 2021).

Savings vs. Investing

People sometimes use the words savings and investing interchangeable, for instance saving for retirement in a 401(k) plan, but this usage is technically incorrect. Retirement "saving" is more accurately investing, since money put away in these accounts is used to purchase securities such as stocks, bonds, and mutual funds. When money is invested, it is at risk of loss—but that risk is offset by positive expected returns over time. Savings, in contrast, are by definition "safe" from any potential loss.

Additionally, savings are highly liquid and available for immediate use (e.g. using a debit card to make a purchase). Investments, on the other hand, must first be sold into usable cash. This can take some time and you may incur transaction costs. Investments, by definition, entail some sort of long-term time horizon to allow the money to grow and appreciate.

Savings FAQs

What Is the Meaning of Savings?

Savings simply refers to the money you've earned that is left over after all of your spending and other expenses have been completed.

What Are the Types of Savings?

Savings is essentially cash, so there is only one type of savings in that respect. However, you can choose to keep your cash savings in various places, such as under the mattress or in a bank account. Bank accounts offer several types of savings products from standard deposit accounts to checking and money market accounts or CDs.

How Much Will $1,000 in Savings Grow in a Year?

It depends where you keep the savings. If it is literally under the mattress, you'll have exactly $1,000 a year from now (and it may be worth "less" due to inflation). If you put your money into a high-yield savings account (currently paying around 0.50% annually as of April 2021, you'd earn $5 after 12 months. A one-year CD may pay slightly more, say 0.70%, but your money will also be locked up for the entire 12 months, after which time you'd earn $7.

How Can I Save $1,000 Fast?

The best way to increase savings is to cut down on costs. Keeping a budget and not spending loosely can help. If you spend $6 on a fancy coffee every morning before work, for example, you can buy a cheaper $1 cup of Joe instead. Say you work 200 days out of the year—you've just saved $1,000.