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Monday, April 11, 2022

Success of the Amish

This weekend I  watched a bunch of videos about Amish communities. I sometimes find a topic that really intrigues me and I hyper-focus on it for a weekend. Do you do that, too?

My real-life experience with Amish communities has been the sum total of a one-day visit to a Pennsylvania Amish farm when I was in high school. In middle school we read about the Amish and Mennonite people in two paragraphs in our text book. So, not much. Some of you have Amish or Mennonite communities nearby. So your experiences may be much richer than mine. These videos and interviews were fascinating and opened my eyes to ways modern society misses the mark when it comes to personal finance. 

If one is simply looking at the outward appearance of the Amish, one might assume that many of these families were struggling financially. When in fact, many are quite prosperous. There are many financial lessons to be learned from their lifestyle and attitudes.

rejection of most of modern technology and other material goods 

While adoption of technology varies from one community to the next, for the most part, most Amish don't fill their houses and pockets with televisions, computers, game consoles and handhelds, all of the "I" gadgets (iPods, iPads, iPhones). As we know all too well, all of these electronic gadgets become outdated very quickly, leaving its owner wanting the latest and greatest upgrade on the market. How often do you replace your smartphone or laptop? I am on my second personal laptop. My first one lasted 6 years. In a lifetime (if I hadn't been born so long ago), I might own a dozen or so laptops. Some don't use phones at all. Many don't use electricity, central heating, or municipal water/sewer.

simplified clothing, hairstyles and home-furnishings

Their personal appearance is tidy, but not at all tied to current fashion. Their homes are furnished with high-quality, long-lasting but not overly ornate pieces. Quality and durability appear to be key qualities when choosing home and personal goods. There's a clothing concept that I think would almost align with the simple Amish clothing style, that's the capsule wardrobe. Capsule wardrobes feature a handful of pieces that can all be mixed and matched. I've worked out (on paper) my own capsule wardrobe for this current age of mine. I really do think it's more about the tidiness of appearance (whether home or person) that makes an impact as opposed to having designer labels or ornate embellishments.

use of free or almost free entertainment

Without televisions/DVD players/streaming services, computers, or game consoles, most of these families seem to rely of free or low-cost entertainment options, such as board games, reading, singing, group ball sports, conversation, or participating in hobbies. How much money would we save if we cut all of the cords -- the television, streaming services, computers, electronic games, etc. Better yet, how much money would we have saved if we had never brought any of these devices to begin with? Entertainment centers on the family or their church.

mend and recycle

With everything they own, they repair, mend, remake and reuse as much as possible. Commercial food jars become storage containers or plant cloches. Worn adult clothing may be remade into a child's size. Once even that is too worn for wear, strips of the cloth will be made into quilts or rugs. Machinery is repaired rather than replaced. As many of us here do, I continue to find ways to mend and reuse our belongings. I'm sure I could take this to a higher level.

close-knit community that supports each member

When one member of the community suffers some sort of set-back, health, accident, etc, the rest of the community steps up to do the work needed. It isn't just barns that are quickly raised with the hands of many members in the community. When a school needs to replace their classroom building, it's the members of the district who come together as the construction team. When a farmer suffers an illness or accident right at planting or harvest time, neighbors generously give their time to do the ailing farmer's work. When an illness racks up an astronomical medical bill, the community chips in as much as needed to make that gigantic payment. There seems to be more of a servant attitude amongst their people than we see in our general society. Imagine how reassuring that would be to know that you are never going to face a financial catastrophe on your own. My daughter and I were talking about community and how to build one within our own church. What I've always believed is that the best way to build this sort of community is to offer yourself to others. We can't sit back and wait for others to "take care" of us. Instead, a loving and giving community begins with someone first giving.

strong work ethic 

Work has value. They take pride in doing a good job and having a good relationship with their chosen work. In addition, many of their hobbies are profitable hobbies, such as quilting, baking, gardening, wood-working. Compare this to a modern western interpretation of hobbies, where a lot of folks spend a lot of money maintaining a hobby that doesn't provide any material benefit to daily life. This work ethic begins in childhood. All members of the family contribute to the family's well-being. Children have chores that help the family succeed as well as the adults. A lack of modern convenience and entertainments likely helps this work ethic. Imagine how much more any one of us could get done in a day if the internet and television didn't exist. 

They begin working at a young age.

Official schooling often ends with the 8th grade. As early as age 16, Amish young men and women may be working or apprenticing in their careers. The average age of the teachers in one school district was 18 years old. That was the average, indicating that some young men and women were teaching at even younger ages. Many careers are along the lines of skilled trades, such as furniture-making, construction, hat-making, metal work. Embarking on a trade at an earlier age often results in bringing in a living wage much younger than an outsider who graduates from high school at age 18 and university at age 22 (or later). Building a small business has built-in marketing advantage for the Amish. With their strong work ethic and integrity rooted in their faith, most Amish goods are associated with high quality. Even in an economic downturn, Amish goods are still sought after for their lasting value. Obviously, at my age, I can't  really get an early start on a career. But there's no time like the present. I can always begin something new, at any age.

The skills the Amish develop are practical ones. 

They not only earn a living with these skills, but these are the very skills that are useful in one's home and family. Sewing, baking/cooking, construction, repair, furniture-making, hat-making, farming and gardening -- they've developed the abilities they need so they don't have to outsource a lot of work. I know my husband and I could work at a couple of additional practical hobbies. We do outsource some of our needed repairs. And aside from assembling kit furniture and making simple shelving units, we've never built anything significant. What we have done, though, is refinish garage sale and free pile furniture.

avoidance of debt

When faced with a financial need, most Amish families look for a solution other than debt, such as taking on additional work. The interest rates on any kind of bank-financed debt add substantially to the cost of an item. I've often thought about what my family could do to bring in extra money should the need arise. Renting out a room to a church friend is always a possibility and is less risky than renting to a random stranger.

This is not to say that all Amish enjoy financial prosperity or all Amish people are alike in all of their values. But on average, Amish have a higher personal savings rate than the rest of the American public, and a higher savings rate is regarded as an indicator of financial security.

This is not an extensive list. I'm sure I missed many lessons from the success of the Amish. But I did find myself rethinking some of my own attitudes, which could result not only in greater financial prosperity but also in a shift in how I see my place in my own community. 

What can you add to my thoughts above?

8 comments:

  1. To your first question, I hyperfocus on a topic quite often. Recently, because of the Ukraine war I'm drawn to learning about the Russian people. I think they have a beautiful rich culture, in general I'm drawn to learning more about other lifestyles. Youtube is a great way to get upclose and personal with daily living in another country.

    I only have a general idea of the Amish community. Thank you for sharing your analysis of the economic benefits, never thought of it from that light. I am reminded of homestead living that is similar in many ways. The drawback I see is the antimodernistic attitude, that while healthier in some respects it would hamper discovery of new ideas and technology. I silently curse technology at times because our values have not evolved with technology. As a closed group, they may be happier, but I think it wouldn't be responsible as a society to advocate this. No doubt though, there are lessons to be learned from the Amish.

    I think the model in our capitalistic economy is competition of the best products at the best prices, which does not foster shared responsibility and collective security. It does raise our standard of living, but at a cost to our health. I dont think we're all cut out to be winners in this competition, nor do some want to participate. Fortunately, we can pick and choose parts that we like and design our lifestyle accordingly. As much as I wish we didn't live in a market economy, I do like the microwave oven. (This is what I told myself in the 90s, I've been bothered about this for a long time.)

    I agree that living like the Amish makes financial sense. I chuckled about your "higher level comment", because I take the 3Rs very seriously too. In a sense I take it to a lower level because I am not picky about standards, unless it makes sense to me.

    Have a good Tuesday,
    Laura

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    1. Hi Laura,
      thank you for your thoughts. I wonder, too, what life with less technology could miss out on. There are drawbacks to technology, but also a lot of benefits, such as keeping in touch with our loved ones. I enjoy reading about or watching videos about other cultures. I find many lessons that I can apply to my own life.
      Wishing you a good day, Laura!

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  2. The Amish and Mennonite cultures are indeed interesting. There are many things to admire--I appreciate their sense of community most of all. Especially with the Amish, I have noticed some inconsistencies in their daily practices (using someone else's phones, vehicles, etc., but not owning any of their own) and I'm not sure what I think about that. We occasionally treat Amish people at the hospital and I love seeing how their extended community surrounds them with support .... but they still need the medical and technical advances that we use to treat them. Like many things, I think there are takeaway lessons, but the lifestyle would be too restrictive for me to fully take up.

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    1. Hi Kris,
      I think that the Amish people struggle with making choices just as the rest of us do, whether that's about parenting, technology, medical treatment or whatever. I couldn't imagine not having some of the luxuries we enjoy today. But I admire and respect their lifestyle and the beliefs that support it.

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  3. When my husband was 19, he lived in Pennsylvania for two years. He and his companion would go and buy bread from the Amish community every week. He also came home with a few memorabilia items - books, art, etc. from them. He loved that experience. They do have values that deserve to be respected.

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    1. Hi Ruthie,
      And I bet that bread tasted so amazing to a couple of young men away from home. That's neat he brought home some memorabilia from his time there. Thanks for sharing, Ruthie.

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  4. We have a large Mennonite population where I live, most live like I do and they identify being Mennonite as mainly a religious choice with some aspect of food and culture but other than by their last names you would see anything different about them. There are old order mennonites whose ancestors had moved sometime in the last 100 years to colonies in South America. Paraguay, Uruguay, Bolivia etcetera. They are immigrating back to Canada. It is interesting because they definitely have come back with large families and a distinct language and community different from their modern Mennonite counterparts. We also have Hutterites, who in some ways are like old order Mennonites. They live in colonies here, all their meals are made and eaten communally in a kitchen/ eating hall. People live in there own homes on the colony but the colony has its own means of support. Farming, woodworking are two of the major forms of employment.The men, woman and children have a distinctive dress and language( low German) but all speak English. They are educated by “ Englisher” who are any people living out of the colony. Some go to university to,become teachers. When the colony gets too big they split off and go to another area to purchase large amounts of land to start another colony. They do not use horse and buggy, usually 9:seater Suburbans and vans.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Teresa,
      Your info is very interesting. I've heard of Hutterites, but don't know much about their group at all. One interview I watched about an Amish family said they call outsiders the English. And this couple said they only spoke English when they were with outsiders. The most modernized Amish family that was interviewed (they had cars and used non-smart phones) said that others might think they were more aligned with Mennonites, even though they considered themselves Amish. From this I gathered Mennonites adopted more of the lifestyle of the west than Amish. Thank you for all of this information and perspective.

      Delete

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