Perhaps you’ve heard the adage “How do you eat an elephant?”. There was video of an elephant in Thailand that recently went viral. If you haven’t seen any of it, he is apparently tired of cars driving through his neighborhood and so reacts by climbing on top of the cars. As you watch the video, the size and strength of the beast point to the immensity of eating an entire elephant.
And yet, according to the adage, the way to eat an elephant is so simple – “One bite at a time.”
While I think it might be kind of cool to see, we don’t have any elephants running wild here in South Dakota. Could you imagine this same elephant going head to head with the giant jack-a-lope that they have at Wall Drug? Now that is something I might pay to see.
In reality, there are elephants all over South Dakota and really anywhere humans exist. Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting we all actually consume elephant meat. The elephants I’m referring to aren’t the big gray animals with long trunks and big, floppy ears. I am talking about the proverbial ‘elephant in the room’. We all have something (more likely some things) that are trying to get a leg up on us and weigh us down; things we are overwhelmed by at the thought of conquering.
What’s your elephant? What do you need to overcome? What do you need to accomplish?
Don’t worry, I’m not going to make you email me your list of elephants, but we do need to be intentionally aware of those challenges in front of us. If we don’t truly know what they are, we cannot be intentional about overcoming them. ‘Eating the elephant’, as it were.
Even having those challenges identified, it can still be a very daunting task to get where we need to be. It can seem even more imposing than the actual elephant in the video above. So we come back to the simple answer. We simply conquer those challenges and goals ‘one bite at a time’.
Focus for a moment on a particularly large goal you may have. Picture it in your mind and walk around it. Visualize it from all angles just as if you were walking around the latest sports car sitting on the showroom floor. Just like we can break the car into its parts (body, doors, windows, mirrors, tires, wheels, seats, etc.), we can break our goals down into smaller, easier to manage parts. I certainly can’t carry away that whole car, but pull the tires off and I can roll them along at a running pace, one in each hand.
When we at the Center for Financial Resources are teaching classes, we share the fact that most ‘experts’ agree that you should have 3 months worth of expenses in your emergency savings. As I have researched the numbers, the number of Americans with NO emergency savings seems to hover right around 25%. That’s one in four Americans that have absolutely no funds available beyond what they need to survive for any given month. Given those statistics, having 3 months of expenses in savings will be a very daunting task for a large number of Americans.
Is that a big enough elephant for you? Well, let’s break it down. Three months’ worth of expenses is our goal. That’s where we want to end up, even if we can’t be there tomorrow. For a nice round number to work with, let’s say our example family (living on a bit of a budget) has monthly expenses of $2,400. So our final goal for emergency savings is $7,200. Does that look like the big, gray butt of an elephant about to sit on you? Remember, one bite at a time.
Let’s make this a three year goal. Now, this year we only need one month’s worth of savings set aside – $2,400. Still a large amount of money. Breaking it down even farther, that’s only $200 per month. Getting better? Let’s keep this going. $200 per month means only $50 per week. If my calculator did its math correct, that is right at $7.14 per day.
Compared to taking an elephant-sized bite of saving $7,200, how does setting aside $7.14 sound? It may take a while, but you now only need to focus on $7.14 at a time to reach your goal of 3 months’ worth of expenses.
Think back through this week. How many times have you spent $7.14 without even thinking twice about it? I’m not saying you shouldn’t enjoy life and have fun and all that. I am saying you need to be intentional about identifying and working towards your priorities.
Are you ready? Now I’m going somewhere that might make most of us a little uncomfortable. I want you to get rid of the word ‘can’t’ from your vocabulary. There have been more than a few motivational speakers who have encouraged the very same thing, but I want to apply it to our savings goals from above.
While most of us claim that we aren’t financially able (can’t) to set money aside in emergency savings, the reality is that we just WON’T. Most of us have more than $7.14 that we make a decision about each day. Anyone who eats out for lunch probably spends more than that, easily. Buy a loaf of bread, some deli meat, a package of carrot sticks, some brown paper bags and you have more than a week’s worth of lunches for close to what you spend on a single day of going out to eat.
When you have the money but choose to spend it elsewhere, it’s not that you can’t save, but that you won’t save. You choose to put wants ahead of something as crucial as emergency savings.
Before you get defensive and blame me for being all self-righteous, I’ll admit that I can’t be. I’ve made the same mistakes we have all made. But just the same as it is for all of us, that is in the past. Each of us has the ability to make our decisions and set our priorities for the future.
Which elephant do you want to eat next? Remember though, that you aren’t going to eat the whole elephant right now. So which part of your elephant do you want to start with first? A smaller amount of daily or weekly savings? Writing your resume as working towards a better job? Filling out the FAFSA in preparation for getting a degree? What is going to be your first bite?
If you need help breaking your elephant down or are still choking on the big pieces of your past, you aren’t alone. Our counselors can help you evaluate your elephant and plan your attack so that you can celebrate every little bite of progress that you make. And there is your first bite towards eating your elephant – just give us a call and schedule an appointment.
We are here to help you…. one bite at a time.
written by Breck Miller
images courtesy freedigitalphotos.net