, , , , , , , , ,

I recently saw a TV news anchor interviewing some financial expert about how young adults can start saving for retirement. When the anchor suggested that there are young people out there who want to save money, but can’t imagine where it would come from, the expert said, “Downloads!” You see, she explained, young people today are so used to simply clicking an icon and receiving instant electronic gratification that they don’t even think about what it costs. If only they cut back on the songs, games, and programs they were downloading, they could save enough to retire!

While I marvel at the hard drive capacity and obsessiveness of anyone who buys enough FarmVille credits to wreck his 401(k), I was more struck the idea that anyone would actually download anything without thinking, “Hey, this costs money.” Perhaps this is just my first objective evidence that I am no longer a “young adult,” but I would have thought that such a lapse would be impossible.

But then I realized that this is really just an update of the daily Starbucks meme that was popular a few years ago. You know: imagine how much money you could save if you skipped that latte you pick up on your way into work each morning. A lot of financial counselors, both savvy and trite, encourage this kind of re-examination of what their clients have come to accept as ordinary expenses. Eating out five nights a week? Buying bottled water? Once you realize that these expenses you’ve come to accept as “ordinary” are, in fact, optional, you discover previously unseen opportunities for frugality.

The same kind of attitude shift can help us uncover other resources, as well – including resources that can help improve the quality of our work and our work experience. Need more time? Ask yourself what ordinary activities you can afford to cut back on or discontinue, like the morning crossword, or checking your e-mail every 20 minutes. Need better focus? Look around your workspace – have you come to accept as ordinary distracting clutter that doesn’t need to be there? Perhaps you have settled into a daily routine that forces constant shifts of attention – from writing to meetings to research to phone calls – when a little forethought might allow you to schedule larger uninterrupted blocks of time.

Never confuse “customary” with “necessary”. That does not mean you should abandon everything habitual in your life, but it can open your eyes to additional possibilities in your efforts to figure out fulfillment.