As interest rates languish at the lowest level in living memory, there is little hope for savers looking on in disappointment at their bank statements. The average savings account now pays a dismal 0.61%, according to Moneyfacts.co.uk, and the firm recorded just 12 rate rises in February - and 235 cuts.
For the many people trying to build on their deposits, there are other options available - some of which are potentially more rewarding alternatives, but carry with them risks alongside the possibility of better returns than the banks.Bonds
Traditionally, bonds have been the next step up from cash, although 10-year UK government bonds now yield a miserly 1.41%. You can get a higher return from corporate bonds, which essentially are IOUs issued by companies to raise funds. Most investors will buy a fund of corporate bonds in order to spread the risk in case one company goes bust.
Darius McDermott, managing director of Chelsea Financial Services, says fixed interest is attractive when inflation is low. "Falling interest rates have driven a 30-year bond bubble, but that could burst if inflation returns," he says. Performance has been poor lately, with the average fund down 1.5% over the past year.Stocks and shares
While cash is safe and dull, stocks and shares are risky and more rewarding.
The benchmark FTSE 100 index hit an all-time high of 7,122 in April 2015, but is down almost 15% since.
Patrick Connolly, certified financial planner at Chase de Vere, says shares are only for long-term savings. "Never invest money you need in the next five or 10 years."
Most people reduce the risk by investing in a fund, but these can still be volatile.Peer-to-peer lending
Peer-to-peer (P2P) platforms offer a tempting alternative to cash, with pioneers Zopa and Ratesetter paying between 3.5% and 6.5% a year. The platforms take money from savers and loan it to individuals and small businesses, cutting out the banks to give both sides a better rate.
Laith Khalaf, senior analyst at advisers Hargreaves Lansdown, says P2P is riskier than cash as you are lending money rather than saving it. "Given the higher rates, many consider the risks worthwhile."
Your money is not protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, which guarantees the first £75,000 of bank savings.
Platforms carefully vet loan applicants and spread each loan across many borrowers, while some run contingency funds in order to cover losses. Since last week, you can take your returns free of tax, via the new Innovative Isa.Crowdfunding
Equity crowdfunding websites allow ordinary people to invest in start-up businesses in return for a share in future profits. The companies looking for funding can range from pop-up restaurants hoping to expand, to electronics companies launching new products or even funding schemes for films.
Given the failure rate - half of start-ups don't survive for five years - this is a high-risk area.
Andrew Hagger, personal finance expert at Moneycomms.co.uk, says: "You could make a handsome profit, but also risk losing all your capital."Premium bonds
More than 20 million Britons hold around £50bn in premium bonds, making them the UK's favourite flutter. Many are lured by the prospect of winning the monthly £1m jackpot, but David Black, banking specialist at DJB Research, says more than 98% of prizes are worth just £25. "You may get lucky, but how many people do you know who have won a large prize?"
Each bond costs £1 and the chances of winning a prize are 26,000-1. This worsens to 30,000-1 in June when the average prize rate is being cut from 1.35% to just 1.25%.
Premium bonds are run by National Savings amp; Investments and backed by HM Treasury so your money is absolutely safe, but Black says they are unsuitable if you want a regular income or guaranteed returns.Gold
Gold is supposed to be the ultimate safe haven, but it can be highly risky. The gold price spiked to $1,900 an ounce in August 2011 during the eurozone crisis, but today trades at $1,240, punishing investors who bought at the top of the market.
Guy Foster, head of research at Brewin Dolphin, says gold is a curious asset: "It is supposed to be a store of value, but by conventional investment metrics it is almost valueless."
You can invest in exchange traded funds such as the SPDR Gold Trust, which tracks the spot price of gold; a gold miner such as Randgold Resources; or buy bullion or coins. Foster says: "If you buy physical gold, you have to factor in the cost of storing it."
Adrian Ash at Bullion Vault, an internet exchange, says gold does well when inflation is high, investors are nervous, and other assets are falling. "This makes it a useful tool for diversifying from your other investments."Buy-to-let
Buy-to-let has been one of the most successful investments of the past 20 years, but has also been blamed for squeezing first-time buyers off the property ladder.
The average landlord in England and Wales earned rental income of £8,394 and capital growth of £13,594 in the year to January, giving a total return of £21,988, according to estate agents Your Move and Reeds Rains.
The glory days may be over, however, as chancellor George Osborne launches a tax crackdown on amateur landlords. From this month, new investors must pay a 3% stamp duty surcharge, which will drive up the charge on a £300,000 property from £5,000 to £14,000.
Osborne will phase out higher rate tax relief on mortgage interest payments from April 2017, and cut wear and tear allowances, while the Bank of England may stiffen borrowing rules.Green funds
You can save money and the planet by investing in environmental funds, but going green could also land you in the red. This sector was expected to shine until a £910m tax raid by Osborne turned down the heat.
Mick Gilligan, head of fund research at Killik amp; Co, says there are still some tempting funds. "Bluefield Solar Income invests in 59 solar energy sites across the UK and currently yields 7.3%." He also rates Greencoat UK Wind. "It has a well-diversified portfolio of UK wind farms and yields 6.2%."
Numerous P2P crowdfunding sites invest in renewables, notably Abundance Generation, says Andrew Hagger. "You can invest in a solar farm run by Swindon borough council at a fixed return of 6% a year over 20 years."Alternative investments
Savings don't have to be in bank accounts or on a share certificate. They can be hung on your wall or put in a glass cabinet - or even be small enough to fit in your pocket.
? Rare coins Investors in rare coins have been in the money lately, with prices rising 6.2% last year, according to the Stanley Gibbons Coin Index.
Keith Heddle, managing director of Stanley Gibbons Investments, says: "Luxury and collectible coins are much more enjoyable to own than a share certificate or a unit in some fund."
Numismatics is the official term for coin collecting, and Lawrence Chard, director of Blackpool-based dealer Chards, recommends buying coins in the highest grades or best condition you can afford. "Look for unusual mintmarks, striking errors, flaws and low mintage figures. Justbecause a coin is old, it doesn't make it valuable."
? Art and antiques Investing in art and antiques might sound daunting, but Colin Sheaf, chairman of Bonhams UK and Asai, says things have changed. "Auction houses have taken enormous strides to make it accessible for everybody."
You can view upcoming sales online and visit the auction house to talk to experts, Sheaf says. "You could invest in Georgian furniture from around £500, or early 18th-century English porcelain from £1,000."
Buying a painting or installation is an art in itself, so master your technique before risking serious money. "Buy what you love, there is no guarantee you will make money from it," warns Sheaf.