There is a truth in life that I thought I could get past: when you make more money, you spend more money.
I first heard this bit of wisdom when I was a teenager and shrugged it off as a problem for people who are not good stewards of their resources, who want too much out of life, and who consistently overextend themselves. None of this described me—a 14 or 15 year old girl who made $98 a week mucking horse stalls for two years to save for a study abroad trip to Spain—and I was not going to become like them. What I didn’t know at that tender age is that a person is not in control of their lives all of the time, that in order to pursue some of a person’s dreams (travel, college, creating a home and life with someone else) money will need to be spent, or that at some point, a person may want more comforts than their 14-year old farm girl self could understand.
But this life truth seems to have caught up with me.
I have felt over the last year or so that there is some needless spending going on in our household (and not just by my husband!). It’s hard for me to talk about this with people because the reaction I usually get is “you guys have the money, why not spend it”, a sentiment that is blasphemous to my financial philosophies. I have never understood why my money views are so different from many other people around me, or why in my teenage years I was focused on saving and investing towards my future when so many others wanted to spend.
Even though I have always felt strong in my financial convictions, sometimes I have also felt like a foreigner. That is, until recently when I picked up the book Money Secrets of the Amish (Lorilee Craker). It turns out that my way of thinking is from my Lancaster County, PA farming roots where rural agrarian conservatism keeps Amish and Englishers alike planted firmly on the ground.
My family lived mostly off of the land as farmers (my parents always held side jobs to make ends meet such as bus driving for the local school district, nursing at the local hospital, and opening a farm stand). Money was tight—I picked up on this at a very young—but something I didn’t realize until later was that we were also always at risk of having a ‘bad year’. As we are seeing with the current drought situation in the Midwest, farming is not all about what the advertisements would make you think: families eating corn at a picnic table at the end of a long, hard day (there are plenty of those to go around—hard days, that is), and self-employment among rolling hills and endless horizons.
Farming can be downright risky.
Even though there is the Farmer’s Almanac and lots of meteorologists working on weather predictions, the fact remains that you can spend all of the profit you made in a good year purchasing seed and equipment for next year’s crop and come up with a field full of Johnson grass. While the majority of the time you know that your crops will grow (though the market price will fluctuate), one lean year can cause your farm and finances to collapse if you have nothing in the bank.
This is exactly what happened to my family in the drought of 1999.
It is why saving resources during the good times is crucial in sustaining a farming lifestyle. And as we’ve seen in the financial meltdown and recession over the past several years where some lost their job for a sustained period of time, credit dried up and banks failed, this is vital advice for everyone.
The Amish came out of the Recession nearly unscathed, and many even prospered. So what are some of their other secrets that drive their rural agrarian conservatism?
- “Ya gotta make up what you don’t have; don’t borrow it.” – Bishop Eli King
- While discussing spending money on retail, Daniel Miller passed along his father’s advice: “It’s either my money or it’s theirs. I prefer it to be mine.”
- “[A] dollar saved is better than a dollar earned because you are not taxed on the dollar saved.” – Elmer
- Bishop Jake said, “Making interest payments is like paying for a dead horse.”
- Bishop Ephraim stated, “Most of the Amish do not live on the edge.” (Wow is that the understatement of the century. I have been an Amish taxi driver in the past and had the pleasure of driving a group of young married couples up for a night at their cabin. One of the guys put a cassette tape in the car radio upon entering the vehicle and they all mischievously belted out the lyrics “If I said you had a beautiful body would you hold it against me? If I said you were an angel would you treat me like the devil tonight?” This was about the most edge I have seen. Of course the Bishop was mainly talking about the financial edge, of which the Amish also do not typically inhabit).
Craker’s book of Amish interviews and frugal advice has really struck a chord with me. Not only does it give great insight into how the Amish are able to save up vast amounts of money while raising a lot of children, but it also just feels like coming home to me. These are my principles, these are my feelings, and while I never recognized before how my family and our Amish neighbors were bred and rooted from the same soil, I am completely convinced of it now.
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