Challenging economic times inspire people to make sound financial decisions. Whether it’s choosing to repair a vehicle instead of buying a new one, or investing in simple pleasures in exchange for lavish outings, such behavior is growing. One culture that has always lived strictly but at the same time meaningfully is the Amish. Increasingly, people are intrigued by their lifestyle; and I wonder which aspects of my life I could comfortably imitate.
Lorily Cracker is the author of the new book The Amish Money Secrets – Finding True Abundance in Simplicity, Sharing and Saving. She explores their way of life, which is extravagant in peace, closeness to family and community. For them, frugality is a muscle that is exercised regularly.
Cracker interviewed Amish in Michigan and Pennsylvania, including an Amish banker whose clientele is 95 percent Amish. During the Great Recession in 2008, his bank had its best year ever. Amish and English experts (Amish references to anyone who is not Amish), the financial perspectives also highlight the book. Here are two of their habits for saving money, barter and rethinking gifts.
Barter. Swapping was a popular social behavior from the 1880s until the Great Depression. Today it is common again. The Amish, who have a long history of living outside the monetary economy, like to trade goods for goods, goods for services, or services for services. In terms of barter, ask yourself, “What are you good at and what can you negotiate for something worthwhile?”
Unfortunately, Americans may be too proud to trade, but this is popular in foreign countries. Barter and you will:
- Build relationships and community.
- Engage at a deeper level when you need to express your needs.
- Think about your assets first before your needs.
If you feel uncomfortable with barter, start with your friends and acquaintances; and seek opportunities for exchange. Post what you need on social media sites.
Rethink gift giving. The Amish give a child a gift for birthdays and Christmas. Gifts are often useful, needs-based and handmade, regardless of the age of the recipient. The first step in rethinking gift giving is to cut back. Consider giving gifts that are: a. experience or charity, or b. homegrown in some way.
Experienced gifts. Give a single experience, shared or not, of know-how, skills and most importantly, memorable. Examples include tickets for sporting events, museum membership or horseback riding lessons. Experience gifts can be expensive or cheap, as it is more about investing in the relationship.
- Gifts without packaging They can be fun, frugal, but at the same time meaningful. Give coupons for services, including babysitting, house cleaning, or yard work.
- Gift giving coupons. Consider donating time, allowing you to create memories that are priceless. Coupon gifts are also something you should plan to use.
- Make a donation on behalf of the recipient to a favorite charity.
Homegrown. Examples include painted pottery, made candles, garden stones and soap.
- Cook, can, bake. “Somehow there’s something in the kitchen gift that goes with much more than the price of the ingredients,” Cracker said.
Second hand. Aim for 20 percent of your gifts to come from stores for resale, consignment or savings, Cracker suggests:
- Resale of shops. May include jewelry for children.
- Consignment shops. Look for branded clothes, baby showers and gifts for newborns.
Shop for your own home for gifts. One person’s hack is another person’s pleasure:
- Re-gift. This practice gets bad rap, but if you have something in good condition that someone else would appreciate much more than you, why not give it to them?
- Practice re-donation beyond Christmas. Sometimes gifts have extra meaning for both the donor and the recipient. Parents can give special household items to their grown children. Such objects are valuable, the emotional connection points to their upbringing.
The secrets of Amish money illustrates that bartering and gift-giving can be both hip and practical. And you don’t have to put a lid or suspenders to prosper.