The Mayonnaise Jar

by J. Money - Published November 15, 2013[Edit]

coffee silhouette

When things in your life seem almost too much to handle, when 24 hours in a day is not enough, remember the mayonnaise jar and its two cups of coffee:

“The Mayonnaise Jar”

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him.

When the class began, wordlessly, he picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and fills it with golf balls.

He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured it into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls.

He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else.

He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous “YES.”

The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

“Now,” said the professor, as the laughter subsided, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things – God, family, children, health, friends, and favorite passions. Things, that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the things that matter like your job, house, and car. The sand is everything else — the small stuff.” he said.

“If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued, “There is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you…” he told them.

“So… pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Worship with your family. Play with your children. Take your partner out to dinner. Spend time with good friends. There will always be time to clean the house and fix the dripping tap. Take care of the golf balls first — the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.”

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the coffee represented.

The professor smiled and said, “I’m glad you asked. It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend.”

Have a blessed weekend, everyone :)

Photo cred: Moyan_Brenn

Jay loves talking about money, experimenting, blasting hip-hop, and hanging out with his two beautiful boys. You can check out all of his online projects at Thanks for reading the blog!

{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

1 jestjack November 15, 2013 at 6:10 am

Excellent….What a pleasure it must have been to sit in that class…


2 J. Money November 15, 2013 at 11:20 am

I wonder if it ever was a *real* presentation? It’s one of those things that have been passed around for years but I imagine it had to start somewhere :) And I’d like to believe it did occur anyways – a great reminder that teachers are important in this world!


3 whiskeytrail November 15, 2013 at 6:53 am

I usually see stuff like this in my email and pass on by. LOL.
Good read though.


4 J. Money November 15, 2013 at 11:21 am

Haha… So in a way I tricked you to reading your email spam today then, eh? ;)


5 Kevin November 15, 2013 at 7:07 am

Keeps it all in perspective!


6 The Warrior November 15, 2013 at 8:20 am

That was awesome. Loved that professors approach.

I try to stress this to Mrs. Warrior. She often worries about the sand and the coffee just as much as the golf balls. She’s getting better about it.

This reminds me of Mr Money Mustache’s article a few weeks back regarding circle of control and circle of concern. I’ve been making a conscious effort to focus on the circle of control and it has definitely relieved stress.

Thanks for sharing this story!

The Warrior


7 J. Money November 15, 2013 at 11:22 am

Ooooh I haven’t read that one yet. Will make a note to do so – that sounds intriguing (as does all of his articles, for that matter).

This was one of my faves I came across lately – a nice summary of pretty much how to retire early with links to the more in-depth details:


8 Brian@ Debt Discipline November 15, 2013 at 8:39 am

I have read this before. But a great reminder!


9 MonicaOnMoney November 15, 2013 at 9:09 am

I love this! Thanks for such an inspiring read on a friday morning :)

I somethimes forget to focus on the “big stuff” first so this is a great reminder for me.


10 John S @ Frugal Rules November 15, 2013 at 9:26 am

I’ve read this before somewhere, but thanks for the awesome inspiration J! Great for a Friday morning. :)


11 J. Money November 15, 2013 at 11:25 am

Yup! That’s why I posted it up :) That, and I got lazy and didn’t want to warm up my brain cells, haha… But it feels like one of those “thinky” days, so hopefully people get a lot out of it.


12 Kali @CommonSenseMillennial November 15, 2013 at 10:00 am

I have this pinned to a Pinterest board somewhere, but it’s always nice to reread it. Great reminder about what’s important in life – and how those things are really all we need :)


13 Christine @ ThePursuitofGreen November 15, 2013 at 11:38 am

Glad I checked your blog before I went to work. Very nice way to start the morning! It’s pretty cloudy right now so I needed that pick me up! Better than caffeine.


14 J. Money November 15, 2013 at 1:22 pm

Awwww, yay!


15 Kyle | November 15, 2013 at 12:03 pm

J$, I really needed this today. Thanks for posting it brotha


16 J. Money November 15, 2013 at 1:21 pm

Great! When you’re happy, I’m happy :)


17 Joel November 15, 2013 at 12:19 pm

Ah… gotta love some sexy Friday reading, thanks for sharing! I hope you and the fam have a blessed weekend sir!


18 Kevin H November 15, 2013 at 12:49 pm

Oh yeah, I remember reading a version of this before. Though I recall it being beer instead of coffee. ;)


19 J. Money November 15, 2013 at 1:21 pm

Are you sure YOU weren’t drinking beer when you were reading? ;)


20 Michelle November 15, 2013 at 1:27 pm

Wow I love this! What a great reminder :)


21 Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life November 15, 2013 at 1:54 pm

I haven’t heard this one, thank you for sharing it. There’s a parable about a carrot, egg, and coffee that has been resonating with me recently. Each one placed in the same boiling water has a different reaction. Reminds me that what’s most important isn’t what happens to me but how I chose to respond.


22 Ben @ The Wealth Gospel November 15, 2013 at 2:40 pm

That’s a good one!


23 J. Money November 15, 2013 at 2:52 pm

Ack – you didn’t finish it so lame-os like me can understand it! Haha…


24 Alicia @ Financial Diffraction November 15, 2013 at 6:54 pm
25 J. Money November 19, 2013 at 4:40 pm

Awwww, I liked that one… Thanks for fishing it out for us :)


26 Ben @ The Wealth Gospel November 15, 2013 at 1:56 pm

I’ve had this object lesson in youth Sunday School classes way more times than I can count (although for us Mormons it was water instead of coffee :)), but it’s always a good reminder! I especially needed it today.


27 J. Money November 15, 2013 at 2:51 pm

Hahaha… water works too :) And certainly better than beer like whats-his-nugget up there said, haha…


28 Kurt @ Money Counselor November 15, 2013 at 4:29 pm

My challenge is keeping sand out of my coffee. :)


29 J. Money November 19, 2013 at 4:40 pm

Why, cuz you’re at the beach again all nice and retired?? Bastard ;)


30 Micro November 15, 2013 at 6:46 pm

Reminds me of something I read about why someone doesn’t clean often. All systems proceed towards equilibrium. A clean house will gradually get messy. After a certain point though, no matter how much more stuff becomes displaced, the house can’t get any messier. Cleanliness and the mess are in equilibrium with each other. I tried explaining this to my girlfriend one time but she didn’t approve of the idea. :)


31 J. Money November 19, 2013 at 4:41 pm

HAH! I wonder why?


32 Kate November 15, 2013 at 8:41 pm

I love this! Such a good reminder of what’s really important.


33 zolar November 16, 2013 at 11:18 am

great story.. there’s many thing we need to learn and learn process won’t end.


34 MakintheBacon November 17, 2013 at 4:58 pm

This is a classic, but still meaningful story. I tend to sweat the small stuff constantly. I ‘m a natural born worrier. I’m pretty sure I get it from my mom. Spending quality time with friends, my partner and my family is something I am working towards getting better at.


35 J. Money November 19, 2013 at 4:42 pm

You know what also helps with that? Long walks :) The best stress reliever I have found to date. And it’s free!


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