"When a fellow says it ain't about the money but the principle of the thing, it's the money." - Kin Hubbard

Amish Money: 10 Frugal Lessons from the Amish

By , June 12th, 2012 | 54 Comments »

Amish horse and buggy
Amish people and communities are unique in many ways. To most outsiders, they’re known mostly as soft-spoken people who live a simple life, don’t use electricity and don’t drive cars. They’ve also had just enough bad press to make some people wary. No matter what your opinion of their beliefs, the traditional Amish lifestyle offers some financial advantages that anyone might consider adopting. Obviously, some adjustments involve sacrifices and commitments that not everyone is going to want to make, but the principles can still help you find ways to save. Here are some lessons to be learned from these “plain people”:

Sometimes “Need” Really Means “Want”

Most people cultivate a sense of need for things they could live without. Since most aren’t driven by a culture that abhors amenities, it can take a financial crisis to help a person realize what he or she can give up. How many times have you said, or heard said something like, “A person has to have some comforts.” to justify that second television, or a luxury car, or something similar? If saving money is your goal, take a look around and figure out what the real necessities are.

Simple is Good

In many ways, the things we spend extra money on either complicate our lives or end up costing more in the long run. A self-propelled lawnmower doesn’t cut grass any better; it’s just easier and has more moving parts to replace. A brisk hike in the fresh air is just as effective as that 30 minute stroll on an expensive treadmill and you’ll enjoy it more. Manual hedge clippers are half as expensive as electric, less noisy and give your arms some exercise.

Grow Your Own

I know, not everyone can raise livestock or big crops, but most of us can grow a few vegetables or herbs, even if they’re of the miniature, indoor variety. You’ll save some money and get better tasting, healthier produce, too.

Many Hands Make Light Work – and Less Expense

When big projects arise in an Amish community, family and neighbors pitch in to get it done. Granted, if you live in the city, a barn raising is pretty much out of the question, but that doesn’t mean that family and friends can’t pitch in to mend that back fence or build a deck. Building codes in most cities will allow a homeowner to do their own home improvements and “employ” someone to help. You’ll need a permit for most work, and there will be inspections, but if you can’t afford a contractor, some free meals and maybe a case of beer might go a long way toward paying your friends.

Craftsmanship Isn’t About Expensive Tools

The reputation of Amish woodworkers is based on attention to detail, patience and secrets handed down through generations. Many of their tools are hand-made. You’re probably wondering what that has to do with saving money. It’s simple. Photographers can create awesome images without the top-of-the-line DSLR. Web developers can create great sites without owning the latest computer or software. Whatever you do, don’t get caught up in needing the biggest and best. Be the master of the tools you own and save some money.

Take Care of Your Tools

Keeping the tools of your trade longer doesn’t mean letting them fall apart. Any skilled craftsman knows that without proper maintenance, tools fail. Keeping your equipment in shape means it will perform better, longer. Having to replace them because of premature failure isn’t cost-effective.

Quality is Worth the Investment

One of the reasons Amish furniture is in such high demand is that it lasts. Because of the meticulous construction methods and hand-selected materials, many Amish pieces become heirlooms. Sometimes saving money means paying a little more for something that you’re not going to be throwing away soon. Naturally, this applies to much more than furniture.

Make the Most of Resources

To an Amish farmer, a cow is a source of dairy products and fertilizer. A grove of trees can provide building materials, but needs to be managed well, because it also produces game for the dinner table, as well as other natural foods. Crops are rotated carefully to optimize soil condition and help control crop disease. Careful resource management helps Amish communities sustain themselves with little help from the outside. We can all save money by learning to manage, recycle and repurpose what we have.

Get the Most Out of What You Have

Those horse-drawn prams the Amish are so well known for are also handed down, and repaired or reconditioned many times over. So it is with their other possessions. The basic principle is that if something serves its purpose, it doesn’t need to be replaced. Imagine how much money you can save by keeping your car a few years after it’s paid off. How about refinishing the dining table instead of replacing it? Make what you own last a little longer and you’ll save.

Gifts Don’t Have to Break the Bank

Traditional Amish gifts for birthdays, etc. are simple, practical items and usually singular. A tool or an item of clothing is typical. While there’s no need to adjust your gift giving quite that radically, it wouldn’t hurt to consider buying one very thoughtful gift instead of a dozen expensive ones.

When it comes to surviving hard times, the Amish have sustained their culture and communities in North America for centuries, while relying mostly on themselves. What better example for those of us trying to provide for ourselves and our families in today’s economy?

(Photo courtesy of puliarf)

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  • Thad P says:

    Crazy question, perhaps, but do the Amish use the banking system? Do they sell their goods to non-Amish?

    • Della Yoder says:

      They do use the banks. They sell their goods to non-amish as long as you where never amish.

    • cindy says:

      The Amish make things and then sell in a store for those that come to it, someone will actually man the store and then they have another on certain days that everyone comes to and has an auction on the produce etc. These are quite fun to watch and I have gone to one before and I loved it.

    • JayJay says:

      Yes. My husband works with them in a logging venture.
      He taxis them where they need to go–why not?? They bought him a 4 x 4 truck!!
      He called one day and was waiting at Farm Credit, so yes, they use banks. The log mill sells to many buyers.
      There is only one phone at the mill and the only one that sect uses.
      No cars, no electricity, no phones, no internet–no tech at all.

      They lead lives we can only dream about. The mill burned 3 years ago and the owner/operator had a $450,000 check in his hand the next day; building began the day of the check delivered!!
      They take care of their own.
      Yes, they are armed. I have a youth 20 gauge from one of them!

      • Raquel says:

        Awesome 🙂

      • Heather says:

        That is so hypocritical! They won’t drive a truck but will buy one for someone else then have that person taxi them around. They refuse electricity but will go the the supermarket to buy garbage ice cream, hot dogs and hamburger. The Amish are hypocrites!!!!

        • Dennis says:

          If you understood their beliefs and values, you would understand they are not hypocrites. They do not “refuse electricity.” Some groups use none, some use it only in their businesses, some use it only if they generate their own. The primary reason for not having electric in their homes is their understanding of not being “unequally yoked” with unbelievers, as the Bible dictates. As for motor vehicles, some groups do allow farm tractors. They do not own personal vehicles primarily because the ease of travel tends to break down the closeness of the community. Using public transportation or hiring a driver allows them to travel for necessary purposes, only. Buying a vehicle for their driver allows the driver to have a reliable vehicle large enough for them.

    • Phil says:

      live within and work with the Amish they do banking like we do and they have mercantile which they sell dry goods, bakery cands and horse tack plus they have a small multipurpose store .

      • Jennette Miller says:

        The Amish don’t take checks and don’t process credit/debit cards at their businesses. I don’t think they ever buy things on credit either.

        • Robin says:

          My favorite spice store in Amish area of Ohio takes checks but not credit. The bulk store I shop in will take either with no problem.

  • mom-from-missouri says:

    In most areas, the Amish do deal with selling goods and trading with the Amish. An Amish construction company built our barn. Around here they have bread and produce stands, sell quilts, make custom quilts, do custom sewing, construction, RV repair (most RV’s in the USA are Amish made in Indiana and Michigan), carpentry, custom cabinets, well digging, horse tack and wagon repair, horse shoeing, child care, lawn care, midwife, one guy comes and sets up your garden for you-then requires monthly to help you weed it, we have a German tutor and more…..
    Yes, they do use banks.
    Amish are the ones who do NOT drive cars. Similar dressed german Baptist and Mennonites drive cars. Many people get them confused.

    • monstermom says:

      Actually, while there are many Amish employed at the RV factories in northern Indiana and southern Michigan they can in no way be considered Amish made.The Amish generally only work at them during the winter season when they typically don’t have much to do at home.

      • hightechredneck says:

        Actually the RV factories in Michiana (combination of Indiana and Michigan) have probably 75% amish employees. And they are year round employees. When you work in one of those factories you will not get a job for just a couple months during the winter. That is actually the slow season for the Rv industry. And if it’s one of the good paying factories then it’s even harder to get a job there at all since everyone wants in them. I know this because I used to work in them and I lived there till I was 28.

    • JayJay says:

      Gene told me Amish he does business with only speak German at their homes and the children begin learning English around age 9.

  • Nimmi says:

    One more unrelated question…why do you guys refer to Amish as “Amish Community” and not as “Amish Tribals” the way anyone and everyone in Iran and Iraq and Afghanistan is referred to as a tribal ? When does a community become a tribal and when does it not ?

    • JerryM says:

      The Amish community is based on religious belief. Different communities can have slightly different beliefs about the rules of daily life (ordnung). The members of the community may be related but it isn’t essential. I don’t know about Afghanistan but Arab tribes are about family relationships the different tribes are not differentiated by religion. The Amish communities are usually led by bishops and being a bishop isn’t heredity. Arab tribal leadership is based on family relationship.

  • Lisa says:

    I listened to a fellow worker slam on the Amish one day. She felt that they don’t pay any taxes and it wasn’t fair. We both started listing pros and cons to the financial lifestyle. I commented on her pride and joy brand new Mustang car. I said she paid more than the amish would for 2 horses and their horses would produce a baby horse and hers would not. All laughed, including her. They have large gardens and can produce. She pays someone else to do that everytime she grocery shops. The closest she gets to a field is when her boyfriend plays baseball and she watches him in the outfield. The conversation went on humerously until we all went back to work.

    • Mike says:

      Thats not true about not paying taxes. They pay all the same taxes as we do. I live in an Amish/Mennonite community in Missouri, I have friends and neighbors that are Amish and Mennonite. They all pay taxes just like I do.

      • Cindy says:

        In ohio we have exempt Amish. They do not pay federal or state taxes. Because they are exempt, they cannot collect social security or Medicare benefits. They cannot sign up for healthcare benefits through their employers if available.

        • Lisa wilson says:

          Cindy~~I went to Amish/Mennonite church here in Ohio for 7 years. Are you sure you know ones who dont have to pay federal & state taxes? They dont pay into social security & thats why they cant receive it, but do pay federal & state taxes like we do.They could sign up for healthcare , but dont believe in it is why they do not. There employers often give them $2 an hour more , because they refuse healthcare. If you know specific group that doesnt pay the taxes , could you tellme what county they are in ? Thanks!

      • eatmorestingingnettles says:

        no they don’t ..Amish are a sovereign community they pay no taxes . Ive had Amish friends ..I know.

        • hightechredneck says:

          I’m sorry guys but since I grew up in the amish community and since my dad was amish I think I have a little inside info here. They DO pay federal and state taxes. Not social security taxes and some places they don’t have to pay road tax. The community that I grew up in had to pay the road taxes. There buggies had license plates. Now anyone can lie about how much they make and not pay taxes that way but that’s the only way that they can get out of it.

          • Rosetaz says:

            The Amish who live all around me do not have to buy license plates. Those are for motorized vehicles.

        • Jennifer says:

          What is a sovereign community?

      • JayJay says:

        Exactly, Mike.

    • Venera says:

      I have a business degree and have been an employer. I think that there is a misunderstanding as to what taxes Amish pay. They pay the normal income tax withholding taxes, the same as comes out of your paycheck. What they do *not* pay is SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) and Social Security retirement taxes. Their large families and/or communities make sure that the disabled are taken care of and that the elderly are taken care of.

    • Annie says:

      Having worked for the IRS processing tax returns, I can saw with certainty that the Amish do pay federal taxes.

    • Jennifer says:

      Its a myth that the Amish don’t pay taxes. They are required to pay income tax, sales tax, etc, etc. They do not pay into Social Security (exempted by law) and do not receive Social Security benefits.

  • Marcia says:

    The Amish around here do baking, sell baskets homemade items and fruits and vegetables and homemade wooden sheds and other items and yes they do sell to non Amish. (They also do services like housecleaning, carpentry, tilling gardens, etc.) And I would rather buy those things from them if possible even if they are more expensive (usually they are pretty reasonable however)than buy something that’s marked “Made in China”! I am not one hundred percent sure they pay taxes but I think I have heard that they do pay property taxes here. They’re a lot more self sufficient than the vast majority of Americans…even if I don’t agree one hundred percent with them we can learn from them I think.

  • Ellen says:

    The Amish do pay taxes. I don’t believe they pay into (or recieve) social security but all other taxes are the same.

  • Gail says:

    The Amish also do not use health insurance. For any needed medical care, they pay cash (or within a community barter for it), but when an expensive hospitalization comes up, they whole community pitches in and raises the cash for the person’s care. when I was still working we had a young Amish man come in paralyzed from the neck down. The community paid $50,000 upfront with more to be paid as needed. He went home needing items that would require electricity and for that the family was allowed to use a generator. When was the last time one of us had surgery or a hospitalization and the whole town pitched in to help with the cost? We have a lot of Amish in our area and they are a hard working lot, friendly if you talk to them, but generally keep to themselves.

    Don’t know why they would be called a tribe. These people show community at its best with forgiveness and caring towards others as part of their code of living. I don’t think some of those ‘tribes’ you mentioned could have that said about them.

    • Dana says:

      Thank you for adding some important points, Gail. Wouldn’t it be nice people in other communities were as eager to take care of each other? Barter is another important part of their lifestyle that we could all benefit from. I’ve always been willing to trade services with the people I deal with and it’s saved me lots of money over the years.

    • JayJay says:

      They do not pay health premiums of any type.
      That is gambling to them as they don’t have any insurance for that reason.
      They pay into a community fund and take care of their own.

    • kelley says:

      Show forgiveness – I guess you’ve never seen when a member is shunned by their community.
      They can be very brutal to their farm animals when one become’s unproductive they slaughter it they don’t have the caring normal folks do in this area nothing is put out to pasture I’ve seen many an animal worked to death.
      If an modern women cares for the Amish they should look and pay closer attention to how the Amish men treat Amish women.. Amish women are about one step ahead of their animals.They are Breed to death it not uncommon for a Amish Man to have two/three wifes in his life time (and not through divorce), they trade extra daughters to other Amish Communities for arranged marrage’s some times thousands of miles away. I’ve seen male children work 10-12 hours a day as young as 8or9 carrying buckets of cement to build the English’s (us) basements.
      In Twenty years I’ve yet to to sales tax from an amish Home vendor , So I know it’s not reported as income.
      the List goes on and on.. Oh and they get FREE PSY. health care here they are so interbred that the Health people know without looking what mental disorder they have just by their last name. Yes they have firearms for hunting but will not use they to protect themselves that’s why they are exempt from military service.

  • Valerie says:

    Yes, the Amish have many traditions that are great.

    One of their biggest sellers are dogs.

    They are livestock and the Amish make some pretty good cash off of their puppy breeding.

    Some have accused them of running puppy mills.

    • Dana says:

      Hi Valerie,

      The alleged puppy mills are the bad press I referred to in the article. I don’t condone any sort of animal cruelty. Unfortunately, inhumane treatment of animals is prevalent in many societies. However, this article is about lessons in frugality, not animal cruelty.

    • Rosetaz says:

      One Amish family was convicted of running a puppy mill and allowing transporting across state lines in a neglectful/abusive trailer. One of my dogs came from a shelter that many dogs owned by the Amish end up in once they are finished using them for breeding. I rescue dogs and this practice to me is not right. I do understand they to the Amish and many Christian believers also, that animals have no souls and therefore no crime in treating them as property, which in the law has been allowed, but abusing, neglecting etc has always been illegal.

  • Len says:

    I do wish you would drop the no electricity or cars line .Both are common and well used . Generators are the first to go on the buggy , the buggies have cell phones , stereo’s and even electric coolers. Simplicity does not mean silly .
    There are Amish companies using all of the latest computer tech tools as well.
    I have lived around Amish and Mennonite and Hutterite for 40 years.
    If they don’t use electricity and cars then I am seeing things. The old order even uses cell phones.

    • Heather says:

      The use of electricity and phones is different from community to community. Each community (ordnung) has the ability to decide for themselves what they will and will not allow inside their own community. Yes, several have seen the need for cell phones inside their buggy. (ever been 30 miles from home and broke down? It’s even worse when a horse comes up lame or some idiot in a fast car isn’t watching the road) I am NOT amish but trust me, I have a cell phone with me when driving my horse and cart.

      • camp says:

        When I was in Lancaster, I saw an Amish man with a cell phone and I asked him about it. He very graciously told me that many of the Amish cannot get farms now with the lack of farmland for sale in their areas so they went into business. The banks required them to be reachable and have a phone so he said they used a cell phone but couldn’t bring it into their homes. He told me they kept them in the barns or the buggies. Also he told me that some of the more conservative and strict ordnungs did not allow it still, and didn’t even have roads…you had to ride biggies overland to get to some of their homes. He explained that each community had it’s own rules and some of them were now much more “modern” than others. But they found ways to not allow these new things to damage their families and morals. I was impressed with what he said and how incredibly kind and friendly he was. I have never been afraid to speak to them when I have met them since. They have always been pleasant. A couple women even told me they would give me lessons in exchange for my helping them once. I have never seen them mistreat animals either, they are too respected and needed to harm. Growing and selling them as livestock maybe, but not in dirty abusive ways. I would venture to bet their barns are cleaner than many homes. They are not allowed to be dirty, or abusive. They just don’t look at pets the way we do, they look at them as another animal in need of caring for, no different than a horse or a cow. I don’t know that I can condemn them for that, even if I love my kitties and dogs.

        • Barb M. says:

          I do foster care for a dog rescue and they most certainly run puppy mills. I have witnessed first hand the damage done to these animals. Right now I have in my home a beautiful female that I have worked with for FOUR YEARS to get her over her fear of men. Just the sight of a man in the distance will send her into hiding where I will find her visibly shaking. Another foster has an Amish puppy mill survivor that is so mentally shut down she will more than likely never be able to be adopted into the life of a normal pet. Just talk to any rescuer that has worked with a survivor from one of these amish breeders.

    • Deb says:

      Where do you live? The Amish only use phones for business and not for frivlous item. No stereo either. Think you better try harder to remmeber what Amish do and don’t do.They don’t use computers and if so only for business I’m sure. Again where are you? Perhaps not of this land?

  • Janet says:

    I once read comments of a prisoner of war. He said a person can exist or subsist on surprisingly very little.
    But to live and enjoy life one might have to have a little more. America is a land built on the principle of being rewarded for your work and being a good steward. I think needs are things we have to have to survive, wants are things we acquire because we can and choose to. I don’t think having any material thing is bad as long as we don’t get stupid and try to live on borrowed money. We can all use money is wiser ways. A man is wise who lives within his income whatever it might be.

  • JAMES R. says:

    There is so much that us “English” can learn from the Amish…
    they have so much more than we English have.

    Yes we may have more material things, but they have more peace, harmony & tranquility than we do.
    Their simple lifestyle speaks volumes as to what the rest of us can achieve if we are willing to give up things we do not really need. I would love to live like them, but sadly, I have medical needs that prohibit me from living that lifestyle. It’s had to find a good doctor with a hitching post from my “Oatsmobile”…especially in the big city.

  • Paula V says:

    Amish produce many, many puppies that are grown in puppy mills. They are very often not compassionate toward their animals. I never buy Amish, because of the way they treat puppies are commodities instead of sentient beings.

    • Shadow says:

      So what if they raise dogs in a puppy mill? Dogs are as any animal is just an animal. And I’m sorry but if it means me going hungry or feeding one of my animals guess what one of my animals is dinner! All this PETA talk like animals aren’t here to serve us. Sure someday maybe apes will rule the earth but today man does not animals!

      • Horsesense says:

        Puppy mills contribute to overpopulation and death of dogs. Breeding pairs are not screened for genetic diseases at these places, the pups are raised in wire cages as well as the parents, who are neglected from social interaction and healthy lives, what dogs need. Their pups are sold on a wholesale level to pet stores. Imagine keeping a horse for breeding in an 8 x8 cage for its entire life, never to walk or run, or socialize with other horses. Puppy mill breeding dogs are atrophied and socially impared. I have seen this first hand and appalled the way they treat their dogs. I fault the USDA for allowing such deplorable conditions.

        Peta is against having any pets and actually do nothing to help them. You don’t know who they are, obviously.

  • Lena says:

    That is a nice horse in the photo. I respect that.

  • kaz says:

    Do the Amish drink alcohol

  • Ben says:

    Although my wife and I are not Amish, we very much enjoy shopping at an Amish store that is about 50 miles from our house. Amish people are very intelligent and creative, and is demonstrated in their workmanship. I think the Amish has the right ideal when it comes to living independently.

  • vicki says:

    I think the way they live is ridiculous. Everyone else is pretty materialistic and worldly, but they go to extremes with the rules about medical care and buggies or electricity.

    • Dennis says:

      Extremes with medical care? They take care of their own and never leave unpaid bills. Better system than any other. Extreme with no electricity? They don’t need electricity, they have nothing to plug in. Extreme with horse and buggy? Why? Everyone has to own a car? It works for them and keeps family and community ties close. Everyone lives and works in the community. Neighbors know and care for each other.


  • Money In the News: Saving Money and Being Frugal | The Money Drain says:

    […] Saving Advice posts about some frugal tips from the Amish. Most people cultivate a sense of need for things they could live without. Since most aren’t driven by a culture that abhors amenities, it can take a financial crisis to help a person realize what he or she can give up. How many times have you said, or heard said something like, “A person has to have some comforts.” to justify that second television, or a luxury car, or something similar? If saving money is your goal, take a look around and figure out what the real necessities are. […]

  • […] way.”  This was a common theme with the Puritans as well as guiding principles of the Amish. Lifestyles before the industrial revolution were very humble and simplistic.  People were able to […]

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