It’s A Drop In The Bucket

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.

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Published or updated January 3, 2015.


  1. I always put my spare change in my old piggy bank from college and I just love cashing those coins in. Another thing I used to do is also cram in spare paper dollars and such throughout the year and that was my Christmas spending.

    I even take joy in taking back my returnable bottles to the store. When I hand over that little receipt from the bottle return, I just love that I feel like I am getting something for free. Well, let me rephrase it. I don’t love actually taking the bottles back, that job is just disgusting. But I love getting that receipt out of the machine…

  2. Aikdo is so cool! I studied Krav Maga for about a year, but it got really aggressive and I work in an office lol.

    It is hard to start ANYTHING from scratch but the ends usually justify the struggle – especially when it comes to saving

    • I’ve had my days of bruises at work!

      Most things worth accomplishing are hard work.

    • Why did working in an office stop you? Krav Maga your way up the corporate ladder!

      • I can tell you the moment I decided to think about stopping…I was in a 2nd level class, and I was getting married in about month. I am 5’8 on a good day, and I was sparring hard with a dude that was like 6’4…it was supposed to be just punches and front kicks. The dude rocks out a spinning round house to my chest, I went down. Instead of the teacher going “hey buddy we weren’t doing those kinds of kicks” or “Come on Dude, Evan is on the ground weezing” he said something along of the lines of GREAT KICK and GET UP EVAN.

        I was doing it for fun and it got real. So after I maned up ad decided to go back after the wedding (I didn’t want bruises for the wedding) I got serious about getting rid of debt and the cost of class was $150/month.

        If I could find a martial art that was sub-$100 I’d probably sign up again.

  3. MoneyObedience says:

    I have a penny tray which I empty whenever it is overflowing. Pennies don’t amount to quite as much as bigger coins do, but I empty that tray two or three times a year when I count about $25. That is not bad for pennies only, right? Somehow it makes me feel good to have collected some money without even making any effort at all.

  4. Great analogy!!!

    I had a friend that studied Aikido and he loved it. The only exposure I’ve had to martial arts was Tae Kwon Do. When I was younger I went to a few tournaments, and even participated in a few.

    Oddly, I found that I like watching the katas the most, especially the ones with weapons. Very graceful and pretty!

    • Weapons work is very graceful. You have to be extra careful and alert. It opens up your technique in ways open hand doesn’t.

  5. Even if its not much, what’s great about the coin jar is this – its symbolic of your retirement savings/investments.

    It’s so hard to “see” the benefits of socking away however much a month because the “bucket” is so big. With a small jar and pocket change, you can see the accumulation very easily.

    • Yes, and you also build up the habit of adding to it continually and you start to forget about what’s in there until its full.

  6. We save in the big scale (401k, pension, Roth IRA, individual stocks, etc) and we have a giant plastic beer bottle that my husband puts change in. He empties it out every couple of years…it usually comes to $200-300 and that’s only halfway filled, lol. The really funny thing is that we don’t even like beer…it was the only huge piggy bank we could find for less than $10. It’s about 2 1/2 feet tall and has a 9-10 inch diameter. Sometimes my husband just pours it out to count it and then puts it all back in…and he thinks I’m wierd, lol.

    • I’d love to have a bank like that, then drag it out to the coin machine to cash out! I can imagine the looks of a giant beer bottle pouring into the machine.

      • LOL…that would be a sight to see, but I’d never be able to suggest to hubby to use a coin machine. He’d say “why do they get 8% of my money…nope I’ll just count it myself.” He even buys coin wrappers in bulk to save that money too (and uses them all up every few years). He might not be as money-hoarding as me, but in this, he takes the cake!

        • Don’t know if you have them by you but TD Bank (formally Commerce) has free coin machines, at least when I was last there.

  7. Paul Friar says:

    In other words, you never stop learning. No matter how good you get at something, there is always more to learn and experience.
    And when it comes to saving, in the words of tesco, every little helps.
    Love the story beginning this article, I must remember it.

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