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Mouthy Money Your Questions Answered panelist, Laura Suter, answers a reader’s question about how to save and invest money on a starting salary.
Question: I’m a young, recent graduate from university and just started my first job where I earn £20,000. I’d like to put away some of my salary each month into investing, but I don’t know where to start or how it works to invest nowadays. Do you have any tips?
Answer: Regular investing – so putting aside money each month – is an ideal route for first time investors like yourself, because it means you can invest a small amount each month into the market and get used to investing.
You can easily set up a direct debit that will automatically transfer the money into your investment account each month (maybe on payday) and then set up regular investing on your platform, which will automatically buy the funds or shares you’ve chosen.
Many investment platforms will allow you to start from as little as £25 or £50 a month, which you can then build up as you get more confidence and more spare cash.
And even if you’re putting away small sums your savings can quickly add up. If you put away £50 a month over 10 years, assuming investment returns of 5% a year after fees, you’d build up a pot of £6,910, while over 20 years you’d end up with £19,175.
A big advantage is that that you don’t have to remember to save and invest your cash each month. Another benefit is that you don’t try to time the market and pick the best point in the month to invest, which is notoriously tricky to do accurately and is an easy trap for first-time investors to fall into.
Drip-feeding your investments each month also provides an in-built protection mechanism during periods of volatility. This is something called ‘pound cost averaging’ and means you should suffer fewer extreme lows in your portfolios if markets fall.
However, charges are one area you need to watch out for. If you’re only investing £25 a month you need to make sure you’re not investing in lots of different funds, as it will cost you a dealing fee each time. You will save money in fees with lots of investment platforms if you opt for regular investing, as many offer a discount to usual dealing fees for signing up to the service.
On AJ Bell Youinvest, for example, you would usually pay £9.95 when you buy or sell shares, but this is reduced to £1.50 if you’re doing so through regular investing.
In order to set up regular investing you’ll need to think about what you want to invest in. It can feel daunting for first-time investors to know what to put their money into or how to navigate markets, but loads of tools, information and guidance have been developed in recent years to make it easier to get going. From curated lists of ‘favourite’ funds to one-stop-shop funds that invest in lots of different assets, there’s lots of options for newcomers.
If you don’t feel confident picking which countries or sectors to invest in you can defer asset allocation decisions to a professional. You can buy so-called ‘all in one’ funds that spread your money between different country’s stock markets and across various asset classes, with an option of having more or less in stock markets versus bonds, gold and cash, depending on your risk appetite.
The Vanguard LifeStrategy funds are one option and investment platforms often offer their own versions too.
Alternatively, first-timers could buy a cheap ‘tracker’ fund, which mimics the performance of a broad global index, such as the MSCI World. Fidelity World Index is one option for this, which has a low annual cost of 0.12%.
If you decide to go down the route of picking your own investments, you need to make sure you understand what you’re buying, and why you think it will make money – whether it’s a fund or a share.
All too often investors are lured in by the promise of high returns or invest because a friend has recommended it, but you need to make sure you understand how the investment works and all the risks before you commit your money.
Once you have set up your investments you want to make sure you’re not checking your account every day, as doing so can mean you end up trading too much. You should be buying investments for the next five or 10 years, not five or 10 days, so you don’t want to be chopping and changing too much.
Apart from anything else the cost of trading will eat into your returns. But becoming too obsessed with the ups and downs in your investments can also mean you panic if they fall one day, meaning you sell and lock in losses.
Laura Suter, head of personal finance at AJ Bell
The opinions expressed in this article should not be construed as financial advice. All investments carry risk, and you can get back less than you invested.
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Laura Suter is head of personal finance at AJ Bell. She is a multi-award winning former financial journalist, having specialised in investments. Laura joined AJ Bell from the Daily Telegraph, where she was investment editor.