I've always been fascinated with the Amish. Part of that is admittedly hair follicle envy: I idolize guys who can effortlessly grow robust quantities of facial hair, as compared to my mangy past attempts to grow even the smallest goatee.
But having grown up near an Amish community in the Midwest, most of all I'm always struck by how little their lives have changed over those 50+ years or over the past 150+ years, for that matter while my life, like most Americans, keeps changing at warp speed. We now have so much more stuff, and so many more demands on our time, and so much more stress in our lives. And while our carbon footprints just keep getting bigger, the environmental impact of the Amish lifestyle seems to have barely budged since the Lincoln administration.
That's not to say that the Amish way of life has remained totally unchanged. Many Amish now work in factories or for other non-Amish-owned business, rather than working the land or starting a small business of their own, which was the norm for earlier generations. And like most everyone else, they've lost jobs and value in their investments as a result of the recent recession.
However the important thing is that the Amish unlike most of us continually consider what impact change (including new technology) will have on their lives. Sometimes they, as a community, decide to allow change into their lives, but often they decide to turn it away.
As Luke Yoder, on Amish man told me in an interview for my most recent book, The Cheapskate Next Door, "Change isn't always progress, and even progress isn't always a good thing in the end." Combine a simple but profound philosophy of life like that with a Santa-worthy beard, and Luke just about convinced me to convert.
In her interesting new book Money Secrets of the Amish: Finding True Abundance in Simplicity, Sharing, and Saving, best-selling author Lorilee Craker distills the essential strategies and attitudes about money that allow the Amish to survive and even thrive with a whole lot less than most of us. No, she's not proposing that everyone abandon their zippers, don their gingham, and become Amish. Rather she attempts to extract from Amish lifestyle the practical money and resource-saving tips that everyone can use.
Much of the financial advice in the book isn't earthshaking. For the most part it's just common sense pay your bills on time, avoid borrowing, pay your savings account first, shop at thrift stores, etc. But arguably, the current financial woes of many Americans are a direct result of forgetting these old-school rules in favor of supposedly painless get-rich-quick-schemes (Remember: "Everyone gets rich from real estate," and the other great financial myths of a few years ago?). In that sense, a reminder of the basics is always important.
The best thing about Money Secrets of the Amish are the dozens of anecdotes the authors weaves in throughout the book based on the year she spent hanging out with and interviewing a wide range of Amish folks and their families. The real "secrets" of the Amish's success with money is found in these enlightening, often entertaining, vignettes about everyday life in an Amish community. That's because the key is coming to realize that less can often be more.
Or as Socrates put it: "He is richest who is content with the least, for content is the wealth of nature." (Of course Socrates had a heck of a beard, too coincidence?)
Jeff Yeager is the author of:
* The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches: A Practical (and Fun) Guide to Enjoying Life More by Spending Less, and
* The Cheapskate Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of Americans Living Happily Below Their Means
* Find more of Jeff at www.UltimateCheapskate.com, Twitter and Facebook
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