Painting a rosy picture of your personal finances

Liam Croke


Liam Croke

Painting a rosy picture of your personal finances

Paul McGinley told his Ryder Cup charges not to drop their heads in adversity and you must keep your cool when financial challenges come along too

My wife Roseann, likes to paint and is great at it. So, whenever re-runs of TG4’s Irish Paint Magic are on the television, we always watch it together. The artist in the programme, David Willis is very engaging whilst he paints, and is incredibly talented.

He mixes some colours together, puts them on the canvas and at first glance, you can see the outline of something but nothing spectacular. But with a few sweeps of his brush, suddenly an incredible cloud appears, or a fantastic looking cliff or mountain materialises and we both look at each other in amazement and marvel at his talent. We just didn't see it coming, but the end result, is a beautiful picture.

But he doesn't start off this way. The picture takes a while before it comes together and begins to take shape.

And people’s finance’s often start out like a David Willis painting. Not great to begin with (lots of debt, poor monthly management of cash) but if you work at it, and pay attention to what you are doing, the picture will eventually become clearer and will come together. But you have to know what you are painting i.e. you have, to know what you would like to achieve financially.

Unlike a David Willis painting which might take 30 mins to complete for a TV programme, crafting a financial plan will take a lot longer and will take time before you begin to see your progress and, until the picture begins to take form.

Do you know what your picture looks like? If you don't, I suspect whatever you draw wouldn't be focused very well, it might be hard to make out exactly what it is, so if you don't know what you want to achieve, your financial picture will reflect just that - very little colour, very little identifiable forms and if someone was to look at it they might ask, what the hell have you drawn.

Back in 1959, a question was asked about what the point was in searching for extra-terrestrial intelligence, and authors of a paper supporting the argument said, "the probability of success is difficult to estimate; but if we never search the chance of success is zero."

The same argument applies to your financial affairs and what you want to achieve. Will you be able to succeed with all of them? Hard to know, but if you don't even try, your chances are zero.

And as you work at your finances, not only might you be reducing debt, increasing savings etc. In the process, you are developing new habits, you are learning new disciplines, you are learning great lessons and when all of this happens your picture will become clearer, it really will.

The changes may not seem evident right away but as your habits change and you become more focused and more knowledgeable, your financial situation will improve no end. The amount you owe will begin to go down, and the amount in your savings and investment accounts will go up. And when you see that beginning to happen, you will be surprised, but it's a good surprise. And then you will be motivated to make your situation even better.

Things will start off slow, but that's okay, expect it.

You think you are making no progress and might ask what's the point. You will have bad months, but they won't last long.

Paul McGinley told his players when he captained the Ryder Cup winning team in 2014 to expect a time over the three days of competition when things won't be going well for them. He told them, the Americans will be up in more matches than they will, but each player was to be a rock when it happened. He even had a picture in the team room which reminded them of this, he didn't choose to ignore it. He had enough experience and intelligence to speak to them about it. He was preparing them so when it happened they knew how to react. They weren't fearful of it, they were expecting it, and they knew what they must do when it did.

The same thing will happen to your finances, it's a certainty. So be prepared when it does and rather than it getting you down, you rise above it and stick with what you are doing because the storm won't last long.

Think of the bigger picture when it happens, and remind yourself of why you are putting in the hard work, this will help you.

The problem with people's finances is that they want to paint a masterpiece in a very short period of time, and want it to look incredible with very little hard work and with very little training. Even the very talented need help. Why do you think Roger Federer has a coach? What could anyone tell him that he doesn't know already? Not a lot I'd imagine but because he has the humility to know he still can improve aspects of his game, he asks for help from others - you should do the same.

So, think of your finances as if you were drawing a picture and as each year goes by, it becomes better looking. You begin to make progress and at times it might look like a mess but if you stick at it, correcting it when it needs correcting, then who knows when you are finished it might look good enough to put a frame around it and hang it on your wall.

And finally, if you're wondering by any chance what picture I'm trying to draw?

It's of a lemon tree.

It, sort of looks like one but I still have plenty of work to do before I'm happy with it.

Liam Croke is MD of Harmonics Financial Ltd,

based in Plassey. He can be contacted at or