Wealth Check: 'I love to shop and party - but I also need to start saving'

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The Independent Online

Jane Wheeler is facing a financial dilemma. On the one hand, she wants to be more responsible about her finances, saving more each month and contributing to a pension - possibly even buying a property. On the other, she admits to a love of shopping and going out, which is why she ends up overdrawn every month.

In the long term, Jane would like to give up work at 50, but so far she has not saved a penny for retirement. She has begun paying £100 a month into a Halifax savings account.

We asked three independent financial advisers for their help: Anna Bowes, of AWD Chase de Vere; Ben Yearsley, of Hargreaves Lansdown; and Patrick Connolly, of JS&P Towry Law.

Case notes

Jane Wheeler, 24, London

Personal: Jane is single and works as an account manager in a customer services centre.

Income: £33,000 a year.

Property: Shares a rented house in north London.

Debt: Has an £1,500 overdraft facility that she dips into most months.

Savings: Pays £100 a month into a savings account.

Pension: No.

Monthly expenditure: Rent £550; living expenses £700.

BUDGETING

Patrick Connolly says that while Jane says she hates getting into debt, her admission that she spends £600 a month on clothes and going out is revealing. The key to putting her finances in order is to be sure she does not spend more each month than she earns.

Anna Bowes also thinks the first step is to start spending wisely. If Jane draws up a sensible budget - and sticks to it - there's no reason why she can't save more and still spend money on clothes and nights out.

One thing that would help, Bowes suggests, is to move her current account to Alliance & Leicester, which pays good interest on credit balances and offers interest-free overdrafts for the first 12 months after customers sign up.

Ben Yearsley suggests Jane cuts up her credit card - while she claims to use it rarely, having it in her purse is a dangerous temptation.

SAVINGS

Yearsley wants Jane to put together a rainy day savings fund for emergencies - he recommends she builds up a fund with six months of salary in it, held with a tax-efficient cash individual savings account. As part of the process, Jane should transfer the funds she has saved with Halifax into the bank's cash ISA, which pays an attractive rate of 5.25 per cent. She will need access to her cash if she does decide to buy a property, so savings should not be tied up in long-term investments.

PENSION

Yearsley says Jane may have to accept that retiring at 50 is not realistic. But she must start saving soon if she is to have any hope of achieving that target - a rule of thumb, he says, is that people need to make pension contributions of half their age as a percentage of their salaries. That's 12 per cent for Jane.

On this basis, Yearsley reckons Jane could save around £260,000 by the time she hits 50 - it sounds a large sum, but it would be enough to buy a pension income of only £5,000 a year.

This figure also assumes her money is invested well - Yearsley suggests Jane joins her company pension scheme, for which she will soon qualify, or that she opens a self-invested personal pension (Sipp).

Connolly says that if Jane's company will top up the contributions she makes to its plan, this is definitely the right way to save. But either way, he thinks she will need to make additional savings, either in an additional pension plan, or a tax-efficient shelter such as a stocks and shares ISA.

Bowes says Jane's pension contributions should have at least some exposure to the stock market, as over the longer term, this is the asset class that is likely to produce the highest returns. She says that while pension saving doesn't seem necessary at age 24, it is worth taking advantage of the tax relief as soon as possible. It will cost Jane just £78 to make a contribution worth £100.

For a free financial check up, write to Wealth Check, The Independent, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS or e-mail cash@independent.co.uk

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