You’ve just landed your first ‘proper’ job and can see the world of exams and late-night revision gradually disappearing into the rear-view mirror. You might be feeling anticipation for all the exciting opportunities opening up, but at the same time, just a little bit of apprehension.

You’re no longer a penniless student and might be relishing the experience of having disposable income to spend, a new place to live, and an exciting new job. And with so many banks throwing you offers for loans and credit cards, your financial options may look pretty rosy.

On the other hand, some things will be new and unfamiliar, both at work and at home. The decisions facing you are probably coming thick and fast, and it can feel overwhelming. Plus, after so many years in the financial wilderness, there may be the temptation to loosen the purse strings and spend, spend, spend.

But be careful. The financial decisions you make now could have a major effect on your future – especially when it comes to tackling and managing debt.

Be mindful about the small amounts you’re spending, because lots of those little things can add up to a lot

Here we take a look at some of the most common money mistakes young professionals make when they’re starting out – and the steps you can take to avoid them.

1. Frivolous spending

It’s all too easy to squander your money away on the small things and not even notice. It may not seem like a lot at the time, but a flat white or bacon bap on the way to the office every day could be costing you nearly £1,000 every year. And just £30 on a weekly meal out or takeaway adds up to more than £1,500 per year.

We’re not saying don’t go out and treat yourself – we all need to do that. But try to remain mindful about the small amounts you’re spending, because lots of those little things can add up to a lot.

The best way to keep tabs on your day-to-day spending is to set a weekly budget. Work out how much of your income is left after you’ve paid for essentials like rent, food, bills, commuting and any existing debt payments.

Think carefully about what you truly want to do with this remaining ‘disposable income’. The likelihood is you won’t be able to do everything you want – but at least you’ll be a bit more focused on whether a daily flat white is money well spent.

2. Impulse spending on depreciating assets

You’re working alongside new colleagues and hearing about their exciting lifestyles – and you may want to enjoy a little of what they’ve got for yourself. It’s all too tempting to splash out on a new car, an updated wardrobe and exotic holidays, but paying for it with overdrafts, loans or credit cards is just storing up problems for the future.

While you may be able to afford the monthly instalments now, the expensive watch, entertainment system and designer clothes will soon lose their initial appeal. The holiday to Dubai will become a distant memory – but you’ll still be paying for it, months, or even years later.

If you borrow money to buy a car, you will be paying interest on a depreciating asset (something which loses its financial value over time). This only amplifies the difference between the value of the car and the amount you’re paying for it.

That’s not to say you should never treat yourself or buy luxuries from time to time. But stay realistic, be thoughtful about what you purchase and try to avoid buying on a whim.

Building up a three-month buffer could one day make the difference between keeping or losing a roof over your head

3. Never-ending payments

Some things require regular monthly payments, month after month. Gym memberships, streaming services, mobile phones and private members clubs can add up to lots of money every month.

It’s very easy to unwittingly overcommit to services that you very rarely use. Every now and then, go through the services and memberships you’ve subscribed to and cancel any you’re not using.

4. Not building a buffer

A professional financial planner will advise you to build up an emergency fund of three months’ worth of income. This financial safety net is designed to allow you to carry on paying the bills, your rent or mortgage if you were to lose your job or have a period of ill health.

If, like many people, you find yourself spending everything you earn by the end of every month and then relying on a credit card or overdraft to see you through, a sudden and unexpected expense could leave you short.

While it will take some effort to achieve, finding the discipline to build up a three-month buffer could one day be the difference between keeping or losing a roof over your head.

5. Not investing in your future

While it might be a few years away, you’ll probably have one eye on buying a property at some point in the future. But without a sound savings and investment strategy, it’s a dream that you may struggle to turn into a reality.

According to data from Barclays, most people start saving for their first property at the age of 24, while the average deposit paid by a sole first-time buyer in 2021 was £61,100. Unless you can rely on a family member to help you with your deposit, you’ll have to start saving up for it yourself.

You should also start thinking about your long-term investments, the most important of these being a pension. Retirement may be hard to imagine right now, but if you start to save a small amount early on, you’ll benefit from the magical effect of compounding. This essentially means your money will earn tax-free “interest on the interest” – it’s a bit like a snowball getting bigger and bigger as it rolls down a hill. The more you invest in those early days, the more it will ‘snowball’ in the years ahead.

Take control of your money now to avoid struggling in the future

Entering the workplace and managing your monthly income can be challenging. But it’s important to balance what you want to do against what you can realistically afford. It might be dull, but if you let your spending get out of control now, you’ll have to deal with the fall-out later. Be intentional when you spend, keep your debts to a minimum, and consider the longer-term – your future self will thank you for it!

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