From Small Beginnings
From Small Beginnings come great things, so they say. I began working on the trading floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange in 1988. This was a job unlike anything you could imagine. Men and women wearing colorful jackets yelling at each other in trading pits created a constant low roar that filled the air. All the while hundreds of other young men and women dressed in yellow jackets, “runners”, swarmed around the trading floor distributing buy and sell orders to brokers. They resembled worker bees delivering honey to the comb. I was among those worker bees as a runner, and I loved it.
A money-saving habit
The pay to be a runner was quite minimal. Because of this I was in the habit of bringing a brown bag lunch to work each day in an effort to save the five or six dollars that it would cost if I went out to eat.
Three years after beginning my stint as a runner, I realized my goal of becoming one of those crazed people yelling away in the trading pits. I finally became a trader.
As a trader, my income had substantially increased. But I kept that habit of bringing a brown bag lunch to work each day. While my fellow traders were eating their carryout steak sandwiches or sushi in the Member’s Break Room, I pulled out my brown bag from the refrigerator. What did I bring? The good old peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And I have a confession to make. I even saved the brown bag and reused it over and over again until it just couldn’t do the job anymore.
Saving cash … with cards
The daily savings of brown bagging my lunch was about $5 dollars per day. That’s $5 dollars times 21 working days per month, or about $105 dollars savings per month. $105 dollars savings per month is good in and of itself. But if I were not intentional about it, the $105 dollars that I saved would just get lost in the shuffle and spent in some other way. That’s when I developed the Index Card System.
The Index Card System ensures that the money we intentionally save by means of brown- bagging our lunch, or any method of cost saving, gets redirected purposefully. Here is how it worked for me. I took ordinary index cards and wrote “$105” and the months “January” thru “December” on them and put them in with the rest of my bills. Each month that my mortgage was due, I treated the index card as a bill and used it to pay an additional principle payment on my mortgage. I simply wrote “principle payment only” in the memo, and the bank applied that money against my mortgage balance. None of that money went towards interest. The full amount went directly to reduce my mortgage balance.
As a result of sticking to the Index Card System, I knocked seven years off the life of my mortgage and saved almost $14,000 dollars in interest.
Think about that. By simply applying the money saved from brown-bagging a lunch it is possible to knock many years off the life of your mortgage and save potentially tens of thousands of dollars in interest. Anybody have a taste for peanut butter and jelly?
That is a small beginning producing a great ending.
From small beginnings …
The Index Card System can be used to knock out any sort of debt. All you have to do is find those Brown Bag Opportunities to save money and then be intentional about redirecting that saved money towards existing debt. Consistency is the key to seeing the Index Card System erase debt.
But overwhelming debt, especially credit card debt, can cause any of us to be discouraged. The hill looks too high to climb. The finish line seems too far off to even matter. The book of Zechariah tells us that this is exactly how some of God’s people felt as they went about a task that seemed too big and too difficult to accomplish.
Zechariah, a prophet of God, was with his fellow Israelites back in Jerusalem after the temple that Solomon had build was destroyed. The Israelites had already rebuilt the walls around the city but the rebuilding of the temple was still incomplete even after many years of fits and starts.
Inner discouragement hindered their ability to consistently follow through with a slow-and-steady building plan. They wanted their efforts to produce more immediate “bigger” results. Does this sound familiar?
In the midst of these events, God asks a question full of insight: “Does anyone dare despise this day of small beginnings?” (Zechariah 4:10 MSG). The very question reveals the cause of the Israelites’ discouragement: impatience and shortsightedness.
Reflecting back on my 20 years as a trader, I recall far more slow days than busy days, despite what is shown on television news clips. The perception that trading is a non-stop fast paced game where you make or lose fortunes in an instant is partly true at best. Probably over 80% of the time was spent in slow markets where I had to “grind it out” as we would say. It was on those days that I would chip away at the market and try to take consistent bite-sized profits.
For many years I stood next to a trader named Joe. Joe had a great saying: “Small chips make big piles.” While no one in their right mind would ever consider Joe a prophet of God, that little phrase of his speaks to the life principle contained in the question God asks all of us in Zechariah 4:10: “Does anyone dare despise this day of small beginnings?”
Small chips make big piles. Over time, if we do not despise small beginnings and stay at the task, those Small Beginnings will produce Great Endings.
Take up a brown bag and some index cards. Find areas of small savings and become intentional about applying those savings towards debt using the Index Card System. Most importantly, hold on to God’s Word when you feel like what you are doing is not making any difference. You too will see your Small Beginning produce a Great Ending.
I wrote this article to demonstrate the power of saving small amounts of money over time. But as a trader, you can see the shared experience that those trying to overcome debt have with new traders: impatience and shortsightedness.
For the one trying to overcome debt, impatience born from the feeling that the progress is too slow could very well cause them to give up on the process. The result is a life lived in a perpetual state of struggle and disconnect from God’s plan.
For the trader who yearns for more immediate “bigger” results, the dangers are exponential. The one who struggles to overcome debt and succumbs to impatience will wallow in that same debt. But for the trader, this same impatience can devastate his trading account as it has the great potential to spur risky trading behavior.
Simply desiring “bigger” trading results is not wrong. In fact, it is extremely healthy. It drives us to constantly better ourselves. But left unchecked, especially in the life of a new trader, unbridled ambition can have devastating consequences.
Remember this formula:
(Discipline + Consistency) x (Time) = A Great Ending!