The Big Rocks of Life

Sometimes, it’s easy to focus too much on money and forget why money is important. To me, the most important reason to have money is so that my family and I can survive — e.g., to pay for food, shelter, clothes, medicine, health care, etc. — the basic living needs. Once these basic needs are satisfied, money is important so that I can improve the quality of life for my family. Lastly, money is important because I want to be able to secure our financial future — e.g., our retirement, our children’s education, etc.

Unfortunately, too many people mistaken money itself as something important.

Big Rocks

Photo from ImageAfter

I would like to share a story that I really like with you. There are many variations of this story floating around, and I got this one from Piffe the Puffin:

The Big Rocks of Life!

One day a wise teacher was speaking to a group of his students. He pulled out a one-gallon, wide-mouthed mason jar and set it on a table in front of him. Then he produced about a dozen fist-sized rocks and carefully placed them, one at a time, into the jar.

When the jar was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, he asked, “Is this jar full?”

Everyone in the class said, “Yes.”

“Really?” he asked. “Let’s see.” He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then he dumped some gravel in and shook the jar, causing pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the spaces between the big rocks. Looking carefully from face to face, he smiled benevolently and asked again, “Is the jar full?”

His class was catching on quickly. “Probably not,” one of them answered.

“Very good!” he replied. He then reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in and it went into all the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel. When he was finished he once again asked, “Is this jar full?”

“No!” the class shouted.

“Excellent!” he replied. Then he grabbed a pitcher of water and poured it in until the jar was filled to the brim. Once again looking intently into the eyes of each student, he asked, “What is the point of this illustration?”

One eager beaver raised his hand and said, “The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard, you can always fit some more things into it!”

“Aha, that’s very good!” the teacher replied, “But let us look a bit deeper. This illustration also teaches us a higher truth: If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you will never get them in at all!

So what are your big rocks in life? Is it money, your career, or prestige? — perhaps, those are just gravel or sand that you’ve mistaken for big rocks. Personally, my big rocks are my family and friends; particularly the happiness, security, and financial future of my family. This philosophy is why I don’t spend money on frivolous stuff like big screen plasma TV, luxury car, and Rolex watch.

I hope you enjoyed the story. Have a good weekend. And we’ll pick it up again next Monday.

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About the Author

By , on Feb 1, 2008
Pinyo is the owner of Moolanomy Personal Finance. He is a licensed Realtor specializing in residential homes in the Northern Virginia area. Over the past 20 years, Pinyo has enjoyed a diverse career as an investor, entrepreneur, business executive, educator, and financial literacy author.

Leave Your Comment (10 Comments)

  1. Pinyo says:

    Thank you everyone. I am glad you like this story. I love it myself.

    @m – That’s a very thoughtful comment. Thank you.

    @DrObviousSo – Good luck on your first job. I think you have a great perspective on things.

    @Money Blue Book — I love that cartoon!

    @Lauren – Exactly, money is not the ultimate goal; it’s just an enabler.

    @AJ – I agree. People tends to grow their expenses as their wealth grow. We all have to watch out for this.

  2. AJ Cartwood says:

    Big Rocks take Big Money. For example, here’s a post on why most people UNDER-ESTIMATE how much they really need to fund their Rocks, Gravel, Sand, and Water:

  3. RacerX says:

    I am a big believer in the big rock theory. You are better getting one important piece finished, rather than doing 50 at 2%!

  4. Guy says:

    Excellent story. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Lauren says:

    I had heard that story before, but love it. It’s so true. Very inspiring and often too easy to forget.

    I really liked what you said about people focusing on money and forgeting *why* money is important. My dad always had a saying when I was growing up that “Money is a Tool” and tried to teach us that it was just there to get what we wanted and to make sure to spend it on what we really wanted instead of wasting our tool. Your commentary at the top reminded me of that 🙂

  6. Raymond says:

    Well, Accumulating money for the sake of money would be like Scroogle McDuck swimming around in his money bin. It should be a means to an end not the end result in of itself.

  7. DrObviousSo says:

    I also love that story. To me, my big rock is a comfortable lifestyle. I don’t mean enough money to have the finer things, I mean actual comfort. Sitting on a really comfy couch with my wife watching a show we both like. Having a meaningful conversation with a friend. Eating a delicious meal. Falling asleep with my cat on my belly.

    To that end, financial security is important because if I’m stressed out about finances, I won’t have enough time to cook dinner, or BS with a friend. I also want to retire early-ish, so starting a retirement fund now is crucial toward that end. I’m 27, and going to be starting my first job next month (grad student currently). So I make choices that support that. We purchased a car in 2003 with 800 miles on it for 12K, and will run it into the ground before we replace it. We got a smaller apartment with a nice kitchen and a souther exposer that overlooks a state park, instead of a bigger one that would have still been in our budget. Now that that’s all taken care of, we have a budget that lets us ‘splurge’ on food (extra $20 a month for groceries), but we’ll be keeping the TV and computers we already have.

    At least, that’s the current plan. We’ll see what happens to it once it meets enemy action.

  8. m says:

    Totally agree. Money for money’s sake means nothing to me. Money for improving myself, for maintaining my health, helping others, spending tie with loved ones, and doing the things I love that make life special to me are what my money is for.

    I’m doing a series on Buddhism and money and Buddha’s views were very similar to what you wrote, money is meant to be used to give us a good life, it is not to be hoarded for its own sake, or amassed out of greed.

    I wrote a similar thought in a post I put up today that while I value saving for the future, I also value very much spending according to my priorities in the present in order to take care of myself and live a happy and productive life. I care about having my finances in order but I won’t live a life of complete deprivation in order to attain that state.

    For some money is the driving force, for me it is the other priorities similar to those you mentioned. I make sure to have those “big rocks” in my life as much as I can and fit in the money issue second, rather than get the money in order first before letting myself spend on the “big rocks.” (You can check out my post from today also for more detail if you’d like). Anyhow, great post, I appreciated the story too.

  9. Mrs. Micah says:

    Thanks for reminding me of the story. Very inspiring.

  10. Jonathan says:

    Hi Pinyo, loved the story. I think that money is an excellent commodity, but let’s remember that’s all it is. We all need money to exist and like you point out, to feed our families, but we can’t get love or long term satisfaction from money itself. Money doesn’t have feelings, it doesn’t smile at you when you do something right or console you when you are feeling low it’s just a thing. Family, Friends and loved ones and in my case God are all much mre important. I doubt that there is a person alive on this planet who just before they die will say “I wish I’d earnt more money”. We can’t take it with us and yet I acknowledge that we all need it in some form to exist. keep those posts coming Pinyo…….

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