I’ve been studying the martial art, Aikido, for a little over a decade now. Occasionally, after class, my Sensei will tell us “What you learned tonight is just a tiny drop in the bucket. In the grand scheme of this art tonight wasn’t much. But one day you’ll look at your bucket and see it’s filled up. What you are learning will start to accumulate and you’ll need a new, bigger bucket.” When I started taking classes I felt like I would never “get” this art. But with persistence and patience it all started to take hold. I’m no longer the green student I was on that first day over a decade ago. Now I’m a black belt. My first bucket filled up but I have a new, bigger one to fill up now.
Great story, right? “What’s that have to do with personal finance” you may ask. Saving is the same way. When you have no savings it can seem almost impossible to imagine having a lot saved up. I’ve been there. I remember the days when I’d have $10 left over in my checking account after bills and being real happy (it meant I managed to keep myself from digging further into credit card debt). But it is possible to save great amounts, even if you just start small. Let me give you an example:
At the end of the day I empty my change into a small mason jar in the cupboard. It’s never much. Fifty cents here. Twenty two cents there. When I make that first drop into the big jar it’s hard to imagine how much it would take to fill it up. Those first coins look like nothing in the vast emptiness of the jar. But I keep at it. To fill the jar up takes about a year. My wife and I look at that jar, salivating at the prospect of how much has accumulated. We cash it in just before our yearly vacation so we have some extra money for food and such. The last time we cashed in our jar at the bank it yielded around $150. It always makes for a most enjoyable meal! There’s something in the fact that we saved up for so long that makes the meal so good I think.
You see that? Emptying the change in my pocket yielded $150 in a year. Those pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters finally added up to something more substantial.
The idea here is simple but the effects can be huge. Forget change in a mason jar. This can just as easily be money in your 401(k) at work, or contributions to a 529 plan for your children, or an automatic savings plan in your online savings account. Little amounts of savings add up to big amounts over time!
This is something anyone can do! Take a look around you and ask yourself what little things you can do to save money.
This article was originally in a similar form as a guest article at Being Frugal on 9-17-08.