Want a great retirement?
Saving alone can't get you there. Investing can.
The game-changer is compound interest, which helps you build wealth when you invest.
Staying in cash will not help you keep pace with inflation. The money you can amass through the stock market makes the difference between a Warren Buffett and an average person who has good savings habits but shies away from investing.
"Understanding history is important here," said Monica Sipes, a certified financial planner and senior wealth advisor at Exencial Wealth Advisors in Frisco, Texas.
The 2008-09 recession is still on the minds o many novice and risk-averse investors, who have a lot of fear around what-ifs. "No one knows when the next market correction or recession will be, and we are in a correction now," Sipes said, given the market ups and downs that started in late February.
Instead of giving into the anxiety, though, people need to look at the patterns of the stock market over many decades. "That's super important," Sipes said. "Long-term investing will win over time, and investment returns are fairly predictable over the long term."
In fact, Sipes says, capital markets are one of the greatest wealth creation engines of all time, and they are very accessible these days.
By contrast, even high-yield savings will not keep pace with inflation.
Capital One offers a high-yield savings account with a 1.70% annual percentage yield. BrioDirect's high-yield savings is 1.85%. Neither one matches the historic returns of the stock market, says Sipes.
Between 1998 and 2018, a person with $10,000 to invest would have gotten the highest rate of return (5.6%) by staying invested the entire time. That means that, even with all the ups and downs of the recession years that started in 2008, the market eventually came back. That 5.6% is more than double the current high-yield savings accounts.
Keeping your money in cash, especially when you don't need it for at least five years, means you reduce your purchasing power, Sipes says.
Another reason to invest: "Small pieces grow and, with the magic of compounding, they make a huge difference," said Tracey Gordon, a communications strategist in New York and founder of TargetPositioning, a financial services consulting firm. Even when you're starting out with a lower salary, $20 or $50 a month can bulk up through compounding.
People who are uncommitted find it easy to make rash decisions. That's how you destroy your capital, Sipes says.
"If you buy a share of Apple without a goal or any intention, you're probably not going to have a good experience," Sipes said.
Investors need to gain understanding and insight. A better way would be to say, "I'm investing in X for this reason, and I'm willing to stomach the volatility and the risk associated with investing. I know these returns are predictable, based on history."
When people take a stab at investing based on a friend's enthusiastic recommendation, they are more likely to have no plan for putting more money in or how they'll respond when the stock price drops.
Through her years of working in financial services companies, Gordon learned the way to grow wealth is by investing. "But you have to view it as a long-term plan and recognize markets go up, down and sideways," Gordon said.
Shoveling your money into the stock market may seem difficult when you're just starting out. That's because the amounts are smaller. "Investing becomes easier the longer you've been doing it, for the very reason you're able to earn money on the returns," Sipes said.
The bigger your balance grows, the easier it becomes psychologically to keep investing. In a sense, you're playing with the house's money — not the actual cash you worked to earn.
You will reach a point when you don't have to give up a portion of your paycheck. Simply having larger investment dollars will give you a return on those dollars in exchange for your patience and for accepting some risk, Sipes says.
There are more opportunities than ever to put those small amounts to work. You don't have to wait for a company 401(k) to start investing for your retirement. Open an individual retirement account through a major provider such as Fidelity, Schwab or Vanguard.
If you want to try investing on your own, you can use a robo-advisor. Some, like Acorns or Betterment, let you invest in fractional shares. If you don't have the funds to buy an entire share — keep in mind, some stocks such as Alphabet cost as much as $1,325 per share — you can invest as little as $5 or $10 at a time.
Sipes suggests consulting with a planner or advisor. "There are more resources available than ever," she said. "All the discount brokerage firms are at zero commission.
"People buy 10, 20 stocks and pay no commission," she added. "Investing is as inexpensive as it's ever been."
Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.