In late 2008, the toppling of the financial firm Lehman Brothers seemed to shake every financial institution in America. While Americans across the nation floundered to meet their payments and banks begged for government help, NPR reported that the financial system in Lancaster County, PA was unfazed. One Lancaster bank celebrate 2008 as its best year yet.
That broadcast intrigued author Lori Craker.
“Call me ferhoodled (rough Amish equivalent for “loopy”), but those bonneted, buttonless People were onto something money-wise,” Craker writes in her bookMoney Secrets of the Amish.
Eager to apply these principles to her own life, Craker investigated the Amish’s money-savvy practices. She shares her findings in Money Secrets of the Amish, which I received as a review copy from the publisher Thomas Nelson.
I found Craker’s snappy writing style well-suited for a 3-page magazine article but a little wearisome in a 300-page book. Even so, her book contains many helpful tips and is worth reading.
Many of her tips are rooted in simple common sense: don’t buy things you can’t afford, make your payments on time, and buy less.
One of my favorite chapters addressed Christmas and birthdays gifts. She recommends buying fewer gifts but to make those presents more memorable, either a homemade gift or an experience (like tickets to a play). I love this idea. Experience gifts and handmade items both offer sometime more valuable than expensive, battery-operated ones — time with the giver. My extended family is paring down the number of presents we give and receive during holidays and my husband and I currently have a one gift per person limit. Next year, I hope that the gifts we give will either be homemade items or experiences.
The True Financial Secret
As I read Craker’s advice, I realized that the true secret to the Amish’s wealth was a simple, unpopular virtue: contentment.
We “fancy folk” typically purchase our belongings new, use them for a year or two, and then toss it simply because the model is outdated, even if it still functions.
Amish families don’t mind shopping at secondhand stores, where the clothes might be slightly out of fashion, because most of their clothing went out of style 400 years ago. (Although, as Craker points out, you can find stylish clothes at consignment shops. It just takes more effort than browsing Anthropologie.)
Amish use most of their belongings until its unusable and even then they might re-purpose it. For example, they will patched torn clothing until its irreparable, and even then they might braid the scraps into a rug.
My husband has recently challenged me to enact this principle. The soles peeled off my sports sandals, but rather than purchasing new ones, he suggested that I buy a tube of shoe glue for a few dollars. With a little goop, the sandals will last this season and possible even next.
Craker encourages Americans to rethink special gifts. When I asked my husband what he considered a special treat, he first said chocolate and then a Broadway show. I dreamed of a fine dinner, new clothes, or a hair cut. The Amish Craker interviewed would agree more with my spouse’s first instinct.
One Amish man said ice cream would be his treat.
Since most of the other Amish people she interviewed had cited ice cream as their delicacy, Craker dug a little deeper, “Besides ice cream?”
After a few minutes of consideration, he came up with salad dressing.
Another Amish woman dreamed of Ritz crackers.
Oh to be satisfied with a bottle of raspberry vinaigrette and some buttery crackers! That contentment would certainly spare lots of money spent on more expensive frivolities.