Cash versus equities performance

However, the returns on equity-based investments are not guaranteed and the value of your money will rise and fall in line with the performance of the companies you're invested in.

If you only invest for a short period of time, it is entirely possible that you will lose money, but over longer periods history has repeatedly shown that equities grow faster than cash. If you were to plot your returns over 10 years on a graph you would see peaks – where the value of your investments is rising – and troughs, where it is falling. But over time it is likely that there will be more ups than downs and at the end of that decade you will have both more than you originally invested and more than you would have had if you had left your money in a savings account.

Barclays has conducted extensive research comparing real returns on cash – that is, with inflation taken into account – and equities stretching from the end of 1899 to the end of 2012.

The findings illustrate both the likelihood of equities beating cash and the benefits of holding investments for the long term. Over two years – the shortest period analysed – Barclays said there is a 67% chance that equities will outperform cash. With a 33% probability that cash will fare better, this still could be a sizeable risk for more cautious investors,

But as the holding period grows, so do the chances of equities beating cash. Over five years there is a 75% probability that equities will outperform cash, to 90% over 10 years. If you can invest for 18 years there is a 99% chance equities will beat cash.

How likely is it that equities will overperform cash?

  2 3 4 5 10 18
Outperform cash 75 77 79 81 94 95
Underperform cash 37 34 31 28 10 1
Total number of years 112 111 110 109 104 96
Probability of equity outperformance 67% 69% 72% 74% 90% 99%

Source: Barclays Research. Based on annualised real returns since 1899

To put these figures into context, if you invested £100 a month into a typical savings account you would have £12,305.79 after 10 years and £26,670.92 after 20 years, according to Morningstar. Whichever way you look at it, this is a tidy little nest egg, but it would be a lot more impressive if it had been invested in equities – that same £100 a month investment would be worth £19,594.66 after 10 years or £56,344.56 after 20.

In addition to the benefits of investing for the long term, these findings also demonstrate why it's important not to try and time the market. If you get too bogged down by the regular ups and downs, investing will invariably become a stressful experience and you run the risk of cashing your investment in just as the market picks up.

Accepting that there are periods when the value of your money will fall is part and parcel of becoming a calm, but successful investor.

With savings rates remaining at rock bottom and people more desperate than ever to generate a decent income, now could be the perfect time to look at the world of investing. Here’s our guide to all you need to know to check if you’re ready to invest in the stockmarket.