Money Secrets of the Amish by Lorilee Craker

August 13, 2011 by  
Filed under Blog, Books, Economy, Front Page, Slideshow, Sustainability, Tips, U.S.

Money Secrets of the Amish by Lorilee Craker. Photo: Courtesy Thomas Nelson Publishing Co.

Money Secrets of the Amish by Lorilee Craker. Photo: Courtesy Thomas Nelson Publishing Co.

Who couldn’t use a little financial wisdom right about now, with the stock market swinging up and down like a bungee jumper hanging from a bridge, homes in foreclosure around the nation, and unemployment putting an alarming crimp in so many family budgets?

It’s tough to make a buck today, let alone keep it. Yet, for the Amish, a humble people who value frugality and self reliance, hanging onto their money is a given, as author Lorilee Craker tells us in Money Secrets of the Amish: Finding True Abundance in Simplicity, Sharing, and Saving.

Craker set off on a quest to learn how the Amish (split from the Mennonites in 1693) were prospering even while the Englishers were enduring the most challenging financial crisis in decades.

Although her family heritage is Mennonite, she writes, “I didn’t look the part, with my sleeveless, above-the-knee sundress, bright coral nails, jewelry, and makeup. I looked about as Amish as a contestant from Dancing with the Stars.

As Craker points out, the Amish call themselves the Plain people. The rest of us—no matter where in the world we come from—are the Englishers.

Amish Wisdom

Craker has collected bits of Amish wisdom in an easy-to-read, 202-page book. Many of her tips could easily be called “commonsense,” if only we had the sense to follow them. Here’s just a sampling, pulled from various chapters (along with my commentary):

Lorilee Craker, author of Money Secrets of the Amish. Photo: Courtesy Thomas Nelson Publishing Company

Lorilee Craker, author of Money Secrets of the Amish. Photo: Courtesy Thomas Nelson Publishing Company

  • “It’s a natural thing for children to want…. We try to teach them to be content with what they have.” (You’ll note, of course, that Amish children do not watch television, where the constant bombardment of ads can turn even the most contented child into a greedy monster in 30 seconds or less.)
  • “We use things until they wear out…. It’s that simple.” (Amish clothing has not changed for, oh, a couple of hundred years or thereabouts. So Amish parents might find it a bit easier to convince their kids of this principle than you or I would. But it’s absolutely an environmentally friendly way to live as well as a way to keep more of your paycheck in your own pocket.)
  • “Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without….” (Tore a hole in your shirt? Mend it. Broke your garden trowel? Fix it. Emptied that ice cream bucket? Use it for something else. Nothing goes to waste in an Amish household. Dad’s worn-out shirts and get cut down to make tiny shirts for his son. Or, for some of us Englishers, turn those old clothes into quilts, scrape clean the inside of the mustard jar, eat the crumbs in the cereal box, and so on. I have several friends who are nearly as frugal as the Amish, though they might not wear those umpteen-times-mended pants out in public.)
  • “You don’t have to buy something new to buy something good.” (The popularity of thrift stores and resale shops is plenty of evidence that we Englishers are catching onto this tip. I’d modify this to “You don’t have to pay for something to get something good”: Think Freecycle!)
  • “It’s foolish to buy something you can’t afford, and you end up paying more for whatever you buy; it’s like paying for a dead horse.” (Have you looked at the interest on your credit card lately? Or your homeowner’s loan? Or that car you bought? This is a tough one for most of us, as it’s pretty hard to plunk down cash for a car or a house. But cutting back on what we put on our charge cards and paying the card off each month—those are quick wins.)
  • “Anyone should shoot for 10 to 20 percent [of their income] in savings…. Pay yourself by saving.” (One of my kids says I’m constantly reminding him to put money in a 401k—now, while he’s young. Apparently I got the savings gene. Now, if only I could pass it on to the next generation. I’m open to suggestion…)

Even Englishers Can Do It

In addition to the Amish wisdom she shares, Craker polls her friends and draws from her own experience to add money-saving tips adapted to a more “modern” lifestyle. For example:

  • “One of the best antidotes to toy overload is ‘experiential’ gift giving. That is, instead of wrapping up a thirty-dollar, battery-powered stuffed animal that makes noises, only to have the thing break within a week (true story), you give the gift of a single experience, shared or not, of know-how, skill, and most of all, a memory.”
  • “I turn legs of jeans into grocery bag holders with one hem and some elastic. And I’ve covered a bulletin board with the fabric from an old skirt of mine.”
  • “Pay debts off smallest to largest…. Make minimum payments on all but the smallest amount, and throw everything you can at that one.”
  • “Because it’s good for the soul, institute a ‘one in, one out policy.’ Every time you bring home something new, get rid of something old.”

Quality of Life

Money Secrets of the Amish is an easy read, with a breezy style that makes for light reading. Rather than pore through it in one sitting, I tended to drop in and out, picking up tips in the odd minutes between appointments or while riding in the backseat of my carpool on the way to work.

The book is filled with bits of wisdom worth noting. I’d particularly recommend it to young adults just starting a household or raising young families. Having run a relatively frugal household for more than a couple of decades (don’t even ask how many more), I can’t say I picked up a whole lot of new tips. Yet the book was an especially good reminder of the values behind frugality that don’t necessarily have to do with whether your family’s paycheck is large enough to cover your expenses.

Craker frequently illustrates the money-saving lessons she’s learned from the Amish with dollars-and-cents calculations. But quite possibly the most satisfying lesson she writes about is what she calls “the Amish way of wealth: they share what they have with neighbors, Plain and Fancy both, which has a wonderful full-circle effect.” She quotes an Amish man who has taught her a lot about his culture:

“Sharing with others is the brotherly love way of looking at a dollar,” says Bishop Jake. “We loan our binder or machinery to someone else who doesn’t have one, or our horses. We visit the sick, and we help bring in the harvest for those who can’t. If you didn’t help your neighbor, there would be something wrong.”

The Plain folk have something on us when it comes to the quality of life. They care more about relationships than they do about stuff. And that’s a lesson we Englishers would do well to heed.

The Fine Print

Blue Planet Green Living received a free copy of the book reviewed in this post. No other compensation or incentive was provided.

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Julia Wasson


Blue Planet Green Living