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Personal finance schemes can be a good alternative to the banks' advice services, reports Stephen Swain

Chancellor Gordon Brown will have no shortage of advice when he presents his first Budget on July 2. But to whom can the hard-pressed teacher turn for guidance on finance?

The immediate answer might be banks or building societies, which is fine if you are content with a limited range of products of unknown competitiveness.

Another option would be to use an independendent financial adviser (IFA), who could discuss your personal goals in relation to your income, and devise a strategy for achieving them.

IFAs are regulated by the Personal Investment Authority, and - in the wake of the pensions misselling scandal of the mid-1980s - are duty-bound to provide "best advice". They are not tied to any particular financial institution.

Their advice comes at a price. This could be in the form of commission on pension and insurance products - although the adviser now has an obligation to explain exactly how such charges are structured - or it might be a straight fee.

Maggie Catterall, a former teacher, is business development manager of Financial Concepts, an IFA based in Cambridge. "What we call a high net worth individual - someone earning Pounds 50,000 a year or more - might be charged Pounds 600 to Pounds 1,200 a year for advice, depending on the complexity of their financial situation," she explains.

Financial Concepts is a member of the Berkeley Independent Advisers Network, established in 1991, which has been voted the top network in the UK for the past three years in the Centaur survey, conducted by the research arm of Money Management magazine.

As with other IFAs, it offers a free initial consultation, which includes a thorough review of income and spending. After this, a strategy is designed to help the individual achieve their financial goals, ranging from early retirement to paying school fees. The plan is reviewed regularly.

"Some of us may not like to be told we're not handling our money to best advantage, but by accepting changes to our spending patterns we may improve our financial position and hence reduce stress levels," says Mrs Catterall, who left teaching in 1983 after becoming disillusioned with the politics and stress of the profession.

After a spell in hotel management, she moved to Financial Concepts two years ago, and says she sees it as an extension of the caring aspect of teaching. Indeed, part of her brief is to organise seminars and workshops - two Cambridgeshire village colleges, Impington and Bottisham, will be offering evening classes in money management from September.

At least one young teacher has reason to be grateful for visiting the Cambridge IFA: he took out permanent health insurance, guaranteeing an income, shortly before finding he had developed a heart condition which left him unable to work.

"The financial assurances cannot lessen the suffering, but without them life would be infinitely worse for many people," says Mrs Catterall.

Financial Concepts, 54 Cherry Hinton Road, Cambridge CB1 4AA. Tel 01223 242777


* Addictions Cigarettes, at 20 a day, will cost Pounds 1,000 a year; alcohol, at 20 units a week, will cost Pounds 600 to Pounds 800. Anything more serious and you may not be reading this in a staffroom.

* Entertainment Books, CDs, films, videos, TV licence, newspapers and magazines.

* Haircuts For women, this can be up to Pounds 80 a time. For men, Pounds 10, or consider clippers from Argos for Pounds 20.

* Painting Houses, that is. Pounds 500 every five years.

* Pets Pounds 200 a year for a cat, still more for a dog.

* Snacks A billion-pound industry. You contribute.

* Presents Be grateful for small families.

* Transport A modest car can cost Pounds 2,500 per year including depreciation;bicycles wear out tyres at Pounds 10 each; and even shoes need repairs.

* Greetings cards Add the postage, too.

* Contraception We all pay for sex, one way or another.

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