Your Priorities in Budgeting: “The Big Rocks Must Go in First”

Perhaps you’ve never thought about it before, but you have a list of priorities ranging from most important to least important — or as the image here shows, very important to not at all important.

You determine your priorities in life.They are reflected in your budgeting and spending habits.

If you flip through your receipts, your checkbook, your financial software or any other record of your spending, you’ll see each priority in full and glorious detail.

All of us have them, including us.

The image shown here has a rating scale of 1-to-5 stars.

Many companies, including, use such a scale for customers to rate the quality of the products.

The College Professor Uses Object Lesson to Teach About Priorities

There is a story about a college professor who returned to students in one of his classes a specific test on which many of them had not scored well.

He decided — rather than express his profound disappointment over their scores in general — to teach them about priorities by using an object lesson.

That day, instead of putting the notes that he normally taught from on the lab bench, he pulled out from under the bench a large glass jar and set it on top.

He paused a moment and looked at his students who watched intently.

It was unlike him to do this, so they waited with great curiosity.

Big rocksThe professor pulled out a container with big rocks.

He placed as many of them as he could into the jar, up to the top.

He looked up at his students and asked, “Is the jar full?”

Many of the students confidently replied, “Yes!”

Small rocksThe professor pulled out a container with smaller rocks and poured them into the jar.

He tipped the jar this way and that so that the smaller rocks worked their way past the big rocks into the spaces.

When no more would fit in, the professor again asked, “Is the jar full?”

Some students replied, “Yes.”

Next, he pulled out some gravel and began to fill the empty places between the big rocks and small rocks.

When no more would fit, he again looked up. “Is the jar full?”

Fewer students replied, “Yes,” but others weren’t sure.

SandThe professor pulled out a container of sand and worked it down into the still empty spaces in the jar.

“Is the jar full?” he asked.

Just a couple of students responded, “Yes.”

Pouring water.Then the professor produced a watering can and began to fill the jar with water.

The liquid worked its way past the big rocks, the small rocks, the gravel and the sand.

He filled the jar to the brim.

“Is the jar full?” he asked.

Even though there was no more room in the jar, this time, none of the students answered.

The professor replied to his own question: “The jar is full.”

Then surprisingly, he

  • pulled his notes out from under the bench,
  • turned to the board and
  • began to teach that day’s lesson as if the full jar on the lab bench didn’t even exist.

What’s Does It Mean?

What does it mean?The students looked at each other with furrowed brows and many questions running through their minds.

The professor got 5 minutes into his lesson and turned to the class to ask if they had questions about the material being taught.

The students’ curiosity had been piqued by the jar demonstration, but the professor had not explained!

One student — the one who had answered “Yes” after the big rocks, small rocks, gravel and sand had been added to the jar — raised his hand and asked,

“Sir, what does the full jar mean?”

The professor had wondered how long it would take for someone to ask.

He was relieved that the question had been asked.

He pulled out

  • another empty jar (identical to the first),
  • more big rocks,
  • more small rocks,
  • more gravel,
  • more sand and
  • more water.

In reverse order — starting with the water — he asked if he filled the jar with those things, would there be room for any of the other things?

All of the students said, “No.”

He got to the big rocks and exclaimed, “The big rocks must go in first.”

The Big Rocks Mean What?

This jar symbolizes your life. With what priorities will you fill it?The students realized that this meant something, but what?

The professor had the students right where he wanted them.

“This jar is symbolic of your life,” he said.

“Each of these additives represents a priority in your life.

“The big rocks represent the highest priorities in your life, your list of essential non-negotiables.

“The other additives represent smaller and less important priorities in your life.

“If you spend all of your life chasing trivial things that don’t matter, you will never achieve your highest priorities.”

He looked at the students’ faces and proceeded.

“Everyone’s list of priorities may be slightly different,” he explained.

“Whatever your highest priorities are, make sure that you make adequate time and space in your life to accomplish them.”

He turned back to the board as if to pick up on teaching the lesson.

There was tension in the air, as if a lesson was being taught but the “punch line” had not yet been delivered.

The students understood the lesson in as far as it had been given, but what did it have to do with the class and what they were learning?

Sensing that the time was right, the professor turned back again to face the students.

“This class should not be a big rock in your jar of life, but it should be among the small rocks. Treat it accordingly.”

For the remaining weeks in the course, all of the professor’s students in that class adjusted their priorities and did well on their tests.

Lesson learned!

truck drivers money saving tip iconMoney saving tip: If you have never done so before, we encourage you to make a list of your priorities in life.

In fact, you may use our “My Priorities in Life” list (available through our Free Downloads page) as a starting point.

When you know what is most important to you, that will assist you in preparing your budget (which is really a spending guide).

Hopefully, you will recognize which areas of your life represent (as the story above would describe them) big rocks, small rocks, gravel, sand and water.

We encourage you to revise your list of priorities at least annually, perhaps along with making a list of your goals for the year (to-do lists).

Any time you have a change in family status (birth, death, marriage, etc.), it would be a good time to re-evaluate your priorities.

Don’t be short-sighted on your priorities either.

If you think that you might not be in trucking for the rest of your life, prepare now for what you think you’ll be doing in the future.

If you need to take classes toward a certificate or degree, consider the time and money that will be involved in that.

Remember, your own personal ranking of priorities may not match anybody else’s. What is important to you might not be to someone else.

There is an old story about two men, one of whom built a house on a rock and the other who built his on sand.

When a horrific storm came, the house built on the sand collapsed but the one built on the rock stood fast.(*)

We encourage you to invest in things that will last.

Return from Your Priorities in Budgeting: “The Big Rocks Must Go in First” to our Budgeting page or our Truck Drivers Money Saving Tips home page.


* Matthew 7:24-27