People ask me all the time how I came up with the idea for my book “Money Secrets of the Amish,” my most successful solo book to date and a 2012 Audie Awards nominee for Best Audio Book in the Personal Development category.
Here’s the scoop: An agent friend of mine, Tim Beals, approached me because he knew I was Mennonite. “Publishers are looking for a book about Amish financial principles,” he said. I didn’t really think this would be for me–moi, write a book about money???
I was bad at money–a spender, not a saver. How could I impart Amish money secrets? My friend Alison sealed the deal: “That’s IT,” she said, “you’re bad with money…you can learn right alongside the Amish. That can be your schtick!”
Eureka! The rest is history, and thus launched my very unlikely Amish money makeover! I had a ball tromping around Amish barns in my rubber boots, and sitting in the kitchens of Sadies and Naomi’s and Esther’s, inhaling the good smells of Snitz pies baking in the ovens. The book still sells, and I still get interview requests for it from places like The Wall Street Journal and The Economist. Amazing! So I thought I would put together a list of Amish money secrets, highlighting those that have really worked for me over the last five years:
1. Most of the time, buy what you need, and then only when you have the money for it.
Put so starkly, most of us could agree that this sounds like a grand idea. If only we had the self-control to do it.
As I researched my book, Money Secrets of the Amish: Finding True Abundance in Simplicity, Sharing and Saving, I saw with my own two eyes that the Amish were generally unfazed by the turmoil of the economic crises.
Their money values were “upside down,” put next to ours. Counter-intuitive. Counter-cultural.
2. The Amish “UWMD” (Use it up, Wear it Out, Make Do, Do Without), without fail, going to great lengths to mend and repair everything from their buggies to their bonnets, only buying a replacement when an item has been worn down to its last bit of usefulness.
We tend to rush out and buy a gleaming new replacement, at the first sign of wear and tear.
3. The Amish don’t fritter like we do. They laser focus on their financial goals, employing a tremendous knack for delayed gratification that prevents them from frittering away their hard-earned money on non-essentials.
We (okay, me) fritter. Madly. Our impulsive culture caves in at the sight of glossy magazines, frapps, cute shoes, the latest electronics, and so much more.
4. My Plain friends think much differently about gift giving occasions, especially Christmas. Their gifts are usually small and need-based, and then their recipients (even their children) only get a gift or two, max.
On the other hand, Englishers (you and me and every non-Amish soul out there) think nothing of blowing a huge wad of cash on tons of gifts, gifts that may be tossed aside or broken quickly, while our little beneficiaries play in the box.
The Amish pay their bills on time, every time.
5. Save (usually about 20% of their income)!
6. Shop thrift stores and garage sales, and find a second and a third use for everything.
7. Their children are loved, but not adored and spoiled. Even little Amos and Sadie know the value of hard work and a dollar.
8. They steer clear of debt like the plague.
While our country’s well being buckles under the debt ceiling, the hopelessly old-fashioned Amish look horrified at the mention of credit cards. Wide-eyed with wariness, they repeatedly quoted P.T. Barnum, the circus maven, on his view of debt, written a hundred years ago.
“Debt is like buying a dead horse,” they’d tell me, startled that I would even ask if they used credit.
What they mean by this is that by the time you finish paying for a horse on credit, he might be dead, and how foolish is that? Admittedly, I have paid for dead horses before, or rather, clothes that don’t fit or go out of style.
9. They control their impulses. On a spiritual level, it all comes down to self-control, or lack of it. Just like any other fruit of the spirit, it’s important to work on cultivating self control for many reasons, and spiritual growth is at the top of the list.
Like our country in general, I have a ways to go as I try and follow the model set by the Amish, one of America’s most fascinating and admirable subcultures. It’s a mindset shift, of thinking differently about spending values and habits, and focusing not on what we lost but what we have.
I may not be willing to wear a bonnet on the outside, but hopefully I can become a little more Amish, even if it’s just on the inside.
Note: This blog was originally written a while back for Suzanne Woods Fisher’s blog–a site to connect with all things Amish and to learn about the newest books from my pal, the great storyteller Suzanne! (I met this woman in Lancaster County, at Amish Trivial Pursuit Night, one of the most fascinating and memorable nights of my whole life. Read about it in Money Secrets of the Amish! 🙂
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