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Justin Urquhart-Stewart begins a series on financial planning through the various stages of life. This week: the problems facing those who are just starting out on their careers
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The Independent Online
We all recall those nerve wracking moments in our lives when the ropes of security were cast off and we were suddenly alone. It may have been your first day at school or the first day at college or university. Or it may have been your first day at work.

Leaving university or college can be one of those worrying times and that's assuming that you have been lucky enough to find the job that you really wanted.

Having finished your exams (although some bright spark will inevitably present you with some more), the last thing you want to worry about now is money. But with lots of unknowns just around the corner you do have to consider your financial position now.

Oh for a clean slate! But it is never to be. There will be a very good chance that you will have finished university with some unwanted baggage. In these days of minimal grants, you may well have acquired some student loans and possibly a warmish credit card. Students leaving university this year are expected to have an average debt of pounds 2,293.

So put a cold towel on your head and do some evaluation. All you need is a pencil and clean sheet of paper with 2 columns, the first for income and second for outgoings.

First check your income. Don't be fooled by your gross salary, you need to know what monthly net pay is actually going to reach your pocket. If you are unsure how to calculate your net pay do get some advice before you make any financial commitments.

As a guide it's not unusual for net pay to be 60 per cent of gross, depending not just on the tax you pay, but also the different amounts that different employers deduct for things like National Insurance, sports and social club, pensions and so on.

Now for the outgoings

Although this can be a distressing moment, it is essential to exorcise any festering debts that need to be included. They will only come back to haunt you later.

Government loans can reach a significant capital sum by the time you leave college. Remember the banks also offer an alternative source of funding especially designed for graduates which have easy repayment structure.

The Banks want your custom for the future and, after all, as a graduate with a foot on the "professional ladder", you are also very desirable.

If you feel you have a problem, go and see the bank sooner rather than later. A further benefit is that you actually get to meet your bank manager. Try and build some rapport with him or her. The more they know about you, the greater your flexibility will be.

The cost of a flat and living expenses all need to be budgeted. Remember food and clothing - and don't forget the utilities - whose bills were so often the cause of arguments at university.

If you are disorganised, try and make the money for bills come out of your main account on a monthly basis.

The next thing to consider is savings. Unfortunately, we only learn when it is too late. Putting even a modest amount away each month is the only way to start some form of savings.

First it is a rainy day fund. The law of Sod dictates that things go wrong when you can least afford them. So take a modest amount of between pounds 10 and pounds 30 per month and put it in a deposit account. Don't lock it away for months, but don't make it too easy to get at either.

Once you have sorted that out you need to consider laying some foundations.

There is never a panacea for all financial evils, but a bit of common sense can help. Starting your career gives you hope to fulfil your aspirations, but it does not give you the gift of foresight. What you can do is to lay some foundations for those things you may need or want to do in the future. The basic tenet is the earlier you start - the more you will have.

The aim is to build up a sum over the years which you can then use for some of the likelihoods in life. These would include buying a flat or house, getting married and having a family.

My preferred route is a monthly savings plan into a Unit or Investment Trust. These are low cost with a wide choice from the obvious to the obscure - all with varying degrees of risk. They can grow into a useful lump sum and you can avoid paying tax on your savings by sheltering them in a Personal Equity Plan (PEP).

Always check carefully what the different providers charge for any Unit, Investment Trust or PEP - and ensure that you have the option to take money out or close it. You have lots of choice, so shop around carefully before choosing.

As for your pension, there are always people happy to tell you of their experience. The rule is start early but modestly.

If your employer has a scheme then have a close look because very often they make contributions on your behalf. Otherwise shop around and ask for proposals from various providers.

Don't get caught up with life assurance policies yet. Insurance is excellent to help protect your dependents - but only when you have them!

And finally, get a life. It is essential that you have enough money left over for some fun and frolics.

Don't tie yourself down with too many commitments now. You'll have more than enough time to collect those later! There is nothing worse than being young at heart and empty of wallet.

The author is Director of Business Planning at Barclays Stockbrokers.

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