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The Hidden Blessings of the Inconvenient

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.

13 comments to The Hidden Blessings of the Inconvenient

  • blessedmum

    thanks for the encouragement. I needed it! we are in a state in our household where all of the unexpected expenses popped up at once – we had an emergency fund but all of the out of pocket med bills, and stuff from accidents and bills that we could not anticipate have drained us dry. I feel so convicted of all of these “extra” things I did not even think about (like stopping for a special treat)…I could have been saving these pennies and dollars for times like these (and for the times like you are looking at, vacation). It is amazing how going from being “comfortable” and “free” in our money situation to a little uncertain and tight has taught me so much more, taught me how to be more aware and careful (not like I wasnt before, but I felt secure in being able to “treat” ourselves to this or that without needing to count the cost). I am doing what I did when we first got married – I bring a calculator to the grocery store, so I know my total before I go and checkout, and if it is above my budget…it goes back and if it is below I have a party in isle 10 :). It is a good adventure. We are still abundantly blessed and I can praise God during this squeeze.

  • Allie

    Love it! Totally agree. Glad you’re enjoying some extra simple pleasures like that outdoor clothing smell :)

  • Whenever I read Americans speak about “cutting down”, I get this self-satisfied smirk (and you know how much I love reading your blog, so I trust you won’t hate me for saying this :o)), thinking to myself, “oh wow, we’re so frugal! Dryer? Don’t have it. Drive-through? Never heard of it. Errands? I carpool”. But… I will always, always be saved from arrogance when I remember the large sum of money we lost, yes, just LOST, after all our frugality and saving, and there was nothing we could do about it. So… it’s always from Him. It’s all from Him. Being good stewards is wonderful, but we must always remember where our resources really come from.

  • I think you’re right on. There are blessings and benefits to each inconvenience, whether it’s from necessity or intentional sacrifice. There are “conveniences” that I’m terribly grateful for and just say “Thank you, Lord, that I can afford these,” but there are others that I did without because I couldn’t afford easier solutions, and then some I did (like never buying canned baby food) simply because I thought it would be better for the baby and saving money was a happy by product but not the point. There are some things that I did so long our of necessity that they became a part of who I am, and I still find the value in being frugal (as a steward of our great God) even though I could spend more. “Mommu” (one of my spiritual moms) was a millionaire, but she saved bread crumbs from the bottom of her loaves for the bird feeder. I helped her many a time and thought to myself, “I want to remember to be frugal even when I’m 80!” Hope I am!

  • Wow! You never cease to amaze me. I would think that you are already so frugal! But it seems like it gives you great joy and energy to take this path, and God blesses it, doesn’t he? Every so often I get out the Tightwad Gazette and go “Oh yeah.. I used to do that. What happened?” Thanks for giving us reminders. Go girl! We are on the road so much with this stage of life. One thing that I have done to avoid the drivethru is always carry the protein bars with us. Even though they are about $1.00 a piece, it saves us $ in the long run by avoiding a meal out.

  • What formula do you use to pour on your diaper wipes? I make wipes out of paper towels, but I am interested in going all cloth! Thanks!!

  • Lauren

    Wow. Wonderful post. And wonderful comments. I needed this kind of encouragement as I struggle with wanting to give in to what is convenient. I was all for a lot of the do-it-yourself stuff with just one kid. Now with two, it’s been a battle even to keep up with cloth diapering. Thanks for the encouragement to save where I can and stick with what I choose to do because it does pay off.

    And thank you, ladies, for your thoughtful comments. I found them very encouraging as well.

  • Candyce,

    I whisk together about two tablespoons of olive oil and about one tablespoon of all natural baby wash, and then whisk in about two cups of water. I pour this over my folded washcloths in a clear plastic storage container, and then check to see if the wipes on the bottom are wet. They usually aren’t, so I continue adding water until the whole stack is moistened (maybe as much as another whole cup). I figure that the extra water I add is washing the oil and soap down as it goes through the stack, so I don’t worry that it didn’t get premixed with the first batch of water.

  • Miriam

    I found you via Mrs Anna T. and I really did enjoy your post. And I laughed aloud a whole minute when I read: if they come here, there is corn. Hilarious!

  • Thanks this is similar to the recipe I use for paper towel wipes. What cloths do you find works best? Would flannel work?

  • Candyce,

    I expect that any kind of fabric would work, although the nubbiness of terry cloth sure is nice for scrubbing messy bottoms. I just bought the cheapest washcloths I could find.

  • Thanks, I didn’t think of washcloths!!! DUH?!?

  • Sarah

    You are amazing! AMAZING!

    It is good to have a goal and I hope that trip to the west will materialize for next year!

    But I hope that you will give yourself a treat every now and again, just to ENJOY! You deserve it. (And a pregnant mother needs to be spoiled a little bit, especially if her mother lives far away!)

    A friend of mine always says: “if you put your feet ouside the door, it costs money”. And she is right, of course, providing it is not your back yard.

    And, God DOES provide!

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