I’ve always tried to be frugal, and over the years I’d developed into a cloth-diapering, scratch-cooking, thrift-store-shopping mama. I’d even given up regular shampoo in favor of ultracheap baking soda and vinegar. But there were some things that I wasn’t being frugal about, things that I sort of thought about now and then but that I knew would make my life inconvenient, things that I kept reserved in a special category of “dire.” These were things that I could cut if, say, my husband died, or we were facing out-of-pocket payments for cancer treatments or something.
But in the meantime, it was just easier not to think about changing them. If I was out with hungry children, it was convenient to be able to head to a drive-through. It was convenient to be using all of the gas and electricity we were because we had a big family with lots of laundry to wash and dry. And I like really long, hot showers, so it was convenient for the water heater to be turned up nice and high. And I don’t like to be cold, so obviously, I preferred keeping our furnace up (high enough for my clothes to stay light and nonbulky). We were also using all these disposable things like baby wipes and too much paper towel, just because they were there and reusable rags always seemed like a project for another day. It would be inconvenient to try to save more on gas for the van because I already tried to keep all appointments and errands within a very tight radius of our house and to consolidate errands in the same direction on the same days. The only thing left would be to stop going places as often, and wouldn’t that be dull and cabin fever-inducing? And we couldn’t lower our grocery bill because I was already meal planning and eschewing convenience food (OK, except for occasional pizzas on sale and brownie and cake mixes for emergency desserts for guests because I have a genetic disease that makes me unable to entertain without serving dessert, and Marie Calendar’s chicken pot pies because they are awesome and my favorite), so there was nothing more that could be done without cutting back on treats, and everyone needs a little treat now and then, especially the treats involving chocolate and ice cream and chips and store-brand cherry cola.
Then I got motivated.
One day, my husband and I were talking about some major purchases we wanted to save up for, like for example, the 8.3 million dollars in gas money (slightly exaggerated) that it takes to get our giant RV across the country and back so we can see my parents once a year. (Whenever I bring this up, someone superclever mentions that we could just buy my parents plane tickets for way cheaper, but for several reasons, they need us to be the ones who actually do the traveling, and besides, my parents live in a vacation paradise, and we live in the Midwest. So, if we visit them, there is hiking and rock climbing and kayaking and knock-you-off-your-feet mountain views. And if they come here, there is corn.)
Suddenly, as I compared stuff I really wanted to do with stuff that just seemed kinda convenient, I realized that my “whatever, I have the money so I’ll spend it” attitude was costing me in big ways I’d never thought about. I realized that while I was buying baby wipes and chips, I could have been saving. A lot. And years and years of it could have really added up. I resolved to accept small inconveniences for big benefits and used my second trimester energy spurt to enter the world of wearing a fleece around the house, hanging my reusable rag towels on the clothes line, and mixing my own wipe solution to pour over washcloths. I said goodbye to Chicken McNuggets and my pregnancy tradition of sundaes at bedtime and researched inexpensive vegetarian meals to intersperse with the meaty ones. And I started only leaving the house one or two days a week.
And sometimes it’s been a little inconvenient, kinda like I thought, although, it’s been surprisingly less inconvenient than I was worried it might be. And the money’s been adding up, too, just like I thought it would. But something else has happened that I never expected. Every single one of these changes had benefits, most of them beyond just the money I was saving. In a culture that almost worships convenience, where faster and easier are always better, the hidden blessings of inconvenient things sometimes get forgotten, lost in the hurried shuffle.
Yes, it’s much more convenient to throw a load of laundry in the dryer and have it warm and dry an hour or two later, but I never even knew that the sunshine brightens whites and fades stains, or that clothes hung outside smell like heaven and that if I dry my big duvet on the line, my whole bedroom will smell of fresh air for days. Plus, I have the built-in excuse to go outside.
Yes, it’s easy (and addictive!) to grab some cheap restaurant food, but this is the first time EVER that I have made it to twenty weeks pregnant, and only gained twelve pounds. That just doesn’t happen when Big Macs are a dietary staple.
Yes, it’s really fun to get out and go places and more convenient to run every errand the day I think of it, but the days when I stay home are so much less hectic. School gets done easily, the kids can play outside in the long late afternoon hours, and I have plenty time to make dinner.
Yes, it’s true that disposable wipes save me five or ten minutes here and there, but wash cloths with homemade wipe solution actually work a lot better. I can usually do a whole toddler bum with just one.
Yes, it’s luxurious to be toasty warm with a million lights on, but a cooler, darker house in the evenings helps everyone feel like going to bed sooner and sleep better (ALWAYS a bonus!), and while colder showers are NOT fun, at least they keep me from dawdling.
Those cheaper “inconvenient” things tend to be greener, better for our health, and surprisingly enriching. I’m not saying that any of these things are necessary to salvation, the only path of virtue and light, or even that my cost-benefit analysis will never shift back in the direction of “normal” American convenience. But I am saying that quality of life is rarely as black and white as we might think it is. When we give one thing up, we often gain another, sometimes something that we didn’t even expect. And if a big change ever makes sense for some reason, it may not necessarily be something to be afraid of. It’s possible there might be some hidden blessings there, too.