Perhaps surprisingly to some, Amish people are usually financially very well off despite their humble lifestyles. Some reports found many make six-figure salaries but spend a measly $6,000 to $8,000 to support their families. Say what?! Read on to find out how they do it and the guidelines women and men have to follow in their communities.
Who are the Amish? They’re an American Protestant group known for their rejection of modern lifestyle and dress. You’ll often see the Amish wearing clothing from styles of centuries past and traveling on horse and buggy. The BBC says their old-fashioned traditions are influenced by their religion — their faith and lifestyle are inseparable and interdependent. [caption id="attachment_43047" align="aligncenter" width="720"] Needpix[/caption] Some of the main pillars of Amish living are community, avoidance of individualism, separation from the world but not exclusion, independence, simplicity, harmony with nature, discipline, non-violence, and humility. They speak three languages — Pennsylvania Dutch, High German and English with outsiders. NEXT: People in this income bracket are rare except for in the Amish community.
“An Amish millionaire is not something unheard of”That’s what the founder of AmishAmerica.com, Erik Wesner, told Business Insider in April 2013. “Some Amish do quite well and have a lot of success in business,” Wesner said. You might not expect that considering their austere and traditional lifestyles based on religion and simplicity. Although some make a lot, they don’t spend a lot. [caption id="attachment_43048" align="aligncenter" width="720"] Alan Kotok via Flickr/CC BY 2.0[/caption] There are a lot of benefits to living in simplicity and even staving off of a lot of technology. However, the Amish’s rejection of modern electronics and technology isn’t the only way they’ve created successful businesses. Their business know-how and work ethic is something we could all learn from. NEXT: Like Millennials, the Amish value this over material items.
They value experiences more than material goodsRegular U.S. citizens are far more likely than the Amish to get influenced by product marketing and sales. They do buy things, Wesner told Business Insider, but when they do, it’s stuff that’s going to last. Quality over quantity! “They always have their eye on the big picture and the long-term,” Wesner said. [caption id="attachment_30139" align="aligncenter" width="638"] Cassandra Hannagan/GettyImages[/caption] That might sound boring if you love shopping, however, the Amish aren’t fun averse by any means. Wesner said that they do enjoy going on hunting trips rather than buying a bunch of retail items. Value-oriented purchases are what the Amish focus on. NEXT: The average American saves about 6 percent of their income. The Amish save more.
Amish people typically set aside 20 percent of their incomeDo you think you could put 20 percent of your income in your savings account? The Amish can easily while most Americans can only do six percent. This might be due to how far fewer expenses the Amish have compared to your average American. [caption id="attachment_30136" align="aligncenter" width="714"] Three Lions/GettyImages[/caption] Lorilee Craker, author of Money Secrets of the Amish, told Business Insider about an Amish father of 14 that had $400,000 saved in the bank. He planned to save for a farm down payment and a trampoline for his kids. NEXT: Your average American has plenty of debt. How much do you think an Amish American does?
They usually don’t have any debtCraker told Business Insider that although some Amish use credit cards for purchases, most are “absolutely phobic” of having any debt. Compare that with your average American who probably has several credit cards and $38,000 in personal debt, according to Northwestern Mutual. Twenty-five percent of their debt is from credit cards! [caption id="attachment_43096" align="aligncenter" width="720"] Pxhere[/caption] “They’re literally horrified by [debt],” Craker told Business Insider about Amish. “When you and I might be awake at night thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, I have so much debt,’ they sleep very peacefully.” We’re sure the majority of Americans wish they could do that. NEXT: Here’s what the Amish do when money is tight.
The Amish would rather get a second job instead of getting credit“Their default is not debt,” Craker told Business Insider of the Amish when money gets tight. “Their default is, ‘Make it work.'” Instead of relying on credit to make it through tough times, a lot of Amish families might get second jobs. Business Insider describes what some Amish might do to make it work: [caption id="attachment_30115" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Mark Wilson/GettyImages[/caption] “A construction worker who lost his job during the recession might have learned how to build gazebos instead,” writes Business Insider. “Or a woman might gather flowers from her garden and sell them at a farmer’s market to earn a few extra dollars.” NEXT: Bankers are more obliged to loaning to the Amish because of this.
They feel obligated to pay back loans in a timely mannerMost Amish don’t want to have to take out a loan. As we saw in the past slide, they would rather take up a second job than have any debt. If they do have to take out a loan, they feel morally obligated to pay it back in a timely manner, Craker told Business Insider. [caption id="attachment_30118" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Mark Wilson/GettyImages[/caption] The Amish feel so strong about paying back loans that they’d rather be “standing on their heads” than repaying a loan on time, Craker told Business Insider. NEXT: U.S. small businesses have a success rate of 20 percent says the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Amish have a much higher success rate…
Their small businesses have a 95 percent success rateCompare that with the 20 percent success rate of your average American small business! CNN Money said that a 2009 report from Professor Donald Kraybill of Elizabethtown College “found failure rates ranging from 2.6 percent and 4.2 percent” of Amish small businesses. Wesner found a 95 percent survival rate of Amish small businesses. [caption id="attachment_30121" align="aligncenter" width="600"] William Thomas Cain/GettyImages[/caption] “Interviews with loan officers, accountants and industry professionals in other Amish regions yielded additional anecdotal evidence of closure rates significantly south of 10 percent,” CNN Money writes. Some of their success stems from smaller-scale ethics and positive relationships. NEXT: There’s a lot of things Amish women CAN’T wear.
Women must follow these rules of dressThe Amish woman uniform is pretty plain (the Amish are sometimes called “Plain People”). A typical outfit consists of a homemade, monochrome dress sans pattern. Colors chosen are usually either black, blue, burgundy, brown, purple, or green, says TheAmishVillage.com. Their wardrobe is also pretty small, containing only four dresses. (My shoe collection alone would disqualify me from Amish life …) [caption id="attachment_43046" align="aligncenter" width="720"] Pasteur via Wikimedia Commons[/caption] Women typically go barefoot around the farm and home but wear plain, black shoes and stockings to go to church. They always have their heads covered — either a prayer cap or another sort of hat. TheAmishVillage.com writes “if they ever feel the need to pray, throughout the day, their heads are covered and sacred to the Lord.” NEXT: Here are the roles Amish women take on in their communities.
Amish women take on these roles in the communityAmish women take on these roles: mothers, homemakers, sources of household income, voting church members, business partners, role models, and disciplinarians, says Amish America. It might seem like Amish women are oppressed but Amish America says otherwise. “Amish women are esteemed in Amish society for the contribution they make to home and community,” writes Amish America. [caption id="attachment_43055" align="aligncenter" width="720"] TIM SLOAN/AFP via Getty Images[/caption] Their roles in Amish society have evolved, however. Women have moved from work in agriculture to work in entrepreneurship and day labor as well. The Amish woman might take on farm tasks typically perceived “male” by our hetereonormative societal constructs. And of course, women take care of their households cooking and cleaning and such. NEXT: Part of their success might be the trades the Amish choose to do business in.
These are the trades perfected by the Amish“Everything about the Amish says things like ‘rustic,’ ‘traditional,’ ‘handmade,’ so they tend to play to those strengths,” Wesner told CNN Money. You probably wouldn’t take your cell phone or computer to be fixed by an Amish person, right? Common products Amish businesses produce are furniture, homes, quilts, buggies and horse harnesses. They are also, unsurprisingly, drawn to farming. [caption id="attachment_30127" align="aligncenter" width="626"] Mark Wilson/GettyImages[/caption] You might find a lot of them making a profession out of auctioneering, accounting, bookkeeping, and making crafts and foods to sell at farmers markets, says AmishAmerica.com. Amish entrepreneurs and workers are unlikely to stray away from these professions. NEXT: Do people buy Amish-made goods outside of Amish communities?
Amish goods are in high demandWhether they’re in furniture building or farming, Amish folks sell their wares to both people within their communities and outsiders. Many outsiders, whom the Amish call “English,” love the high quality of Amish products. Tradesmen like the Amish are particularly hard to come by, therefore their skill level and goods are often in high demand. [caption id="attachment_30132" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Mario Tama/GettyImages[/caption] In addition, Amish businesses “benefit from an ‘in-born brand,’ since people appreciate the quality that comes with Amish products,” writes Business Insider. If a product is marketed as Amish-made, consumers might be more likely to buy it. These communities do good work! NEXT: You might have bought an Amish-made product and not even realized it.
Some outsiders have used the Amish name for marketingIf the word “Amish” is on any products you’ve bought, The Pittsburgh Gazette says there’s a good chance that’s probably not Amish-made. “Experts and Amish alike say that the name, used as a marketing tool, is almost exclusively the domain of the non-Amish,” reported the paper in July 2012. That’s awful! [caption id="attachment_30179" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Scott Olson/GettyImages[/caption] Interestingly, professor David Weaver-Zercher of Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania says this marketing might reflect a larger cultural movement: Some people might feel the Amish have the answers in tough economic times. NEXT: The Amish are able to keep these businesses afloat while the rest of the U.S. struggles with them.
Small commercial farms are mostly a relic, except for the Amish’s“Farm finance experts say net profits on Amish farms are unusually high,” the New York Times wrote in 1986. At the time, an Amish 80-acre farm with 40 cows, five acres of tobacco, vegetables, and fruit could earn six figures — $125,000. Those sorts of profits are unheard of in most farming communities! [caption id="attachment_30243" align="aligncenter" width="662"] Chris Hondros/GettyImages[/caption] The New York Times writes that this might be because the Amish’s expenses are a lot less than the typical American family. In 1986, the paper writes that an Amish family of six children could feed, clothe and house everyone for $6,000 to $8,000. NEXT: This farming community benefited from having an Amish presence.
The Amish provided an economic base to Lancaster county“The Amish are providing a stable economic base to a county with one of the nation’s most vibrant farm economies,” wrote the New York Times in 1986. “Land prices are climbing. Farm implement and supply stores are busy. Banks are open and pursuing new farm customers.” At the time, the value of farm output was a whopping $700 million. [caption id="attachment_43049" align="aligncenter" width="720"] Ernest Mettendorf via Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain[/caption] This is living proof that the typical American farming mindset of “get-big-or-get-out” isn’t always right, says the New York Times. There are a lot of reasons why Amish farms succeed over others but, partly, it is because they have diverse production systems (aka variety of crops and/or livestock), keeping them protected from boons and busts. NEXT: They save on farm labor because of this.
Amish save on farm labor because their children help out“From the time they are toddlers, Amish children are regarded as important additions to the farm system,” writes the New York Times in 1986. “Children are educated in one-room schoolhouses until the eighth grade, and then become full-time helpers.” It helps that most Amish families have a lot of kids — eight children isn’t uncommon. [caption id="attachment_30282" align="aligncenter" width="720"] Chris Hondros/GettyImages[/caption] Children are often taught that they are at the center of the Amish community. However, they learn quickly that they have to work for their own food, just like their parents did. Nothing wrong with teaching kids good work ethics! NEXT: What the Amish do with their worn out clothing is just one example of their resourcefulness.
Amish businesses have low overheadAs we mentioned before in slide number 12, the Amish have fewer expenses than the typical American. They run low-overhead businesses in general. “There is less of a cultural expectation to deck a business out in frills such as air conditioning and plush offices,” Wesner told Failure Mag in a 2010 interview. [caption id="attachment_30294" align="aligncenter" width="720"] Chris Hondros/GettyImages[/caption] They also save on rent — many of their businesses are operated out of their homes or a shed or old building. Unlike many Americans, the Amish are incredibly resourceful and averse to creating a ton of waste. NEXT: This Amish value is another aspect that has led to the success of their businesses.
Community support helps Amish businesses succeedSomething that your average American city doesn’t have are community networks and support. Community is one of the core pillars of Amish life. Although businesses will be owned and operated individually, cooperation within the community helps the business survive, Wesner told Failure Mag. Imagine if we were more willing to help each other like the Amish! [caption id="attachment_30454" align="aligncenter" width="716"] Three Lions/GettyImages[/caption] “Amish may cooperate on a number of levels, from sharing business to combining orders for bulk discounts,” Wesner told Failure Mag. “Knowledge is shared, and having a pre-existing relationship with many individuals in your community can streamline the hiring process.” NEXT: The Amish may share the expenses from these bills that often weigh down on families.
They share financial burdens from medical billsAmish communities come together when one of their own needs help. Wesner tells Failure Mag that it’s common for the Amish to care for their elders, infirm as a community and help each other out with medical bills. It’s amazing that community members do this because those bills can be so expensive. [caption id="attachment_30456" align="aligncenter" width="720"] Ivan McClellan/Wikimedia Commons[/caption] “Business owners are often the ones who are in the position to contribute most, and are expected to help out financially,” Wesner explained to Failure Mag. “Additionally, Amish pay cash for hospital bills.” Insurance might make more sense in paying for medical bills, though, as they’re large expenses. NEXT: These might aid non-Amish entrepreneurs but be an obstacle for the Amish.
There are some modern obstacles Amish entrepreneurs faceAmish entrepreneurs can make products that they won’t use themselves — aka products for outsiders like designer leather items and expensive toys. They have other exceptions but they won’t touch any business they deem as “morally questionable.” In other words, “Don’t hold your breath waiting for an Amish-owned casino, liquor store or debt collection service,” writes CNN Money. [caption id="attachment_30457" align="aligncenter" width="698"] William Thomas Cain/GettyImages[/caption] Those that work in carpentry might benefit from using power tools. Since that’s a modern technology, most will not buy those items but might use someone else’s. In our article “See how this ‘Vegan Hillbilly’ transformed a 200 year old shack into his dream home,” self-proclaimed vegan hillbilly Richard Aiken hired Amish workers to build his cabin and lent them power tools. NEXT: This is another loophole to accessing modern technology as an Amish entrepreneur.
Third parties market their businessesBusinesses in the modern age mostly market on the Internet and then TV and radio, secondly. But the Amish don’t use the Internet and TV — maybe not radio either. So how’s an Amish business supposed to get the word out about its brand? Depending on what the service is, they might need business from outsiders for longevity. [caption id="attachment_30477" align="aligncenter" width="720"] Scott Olson/GettyImages[/caption] Often they’ll hire outsiders for help with marketing to outsiders. “One Amish man pointed out to me that they don’t watch television, and don’t keep up with fads,” Wesner told Failure Mag. “So it can be a bit hard to know what would intuitively appeal to a non-Amish person.” NEXT: This habit not only helps the environment but also helps the Amish’s wallets.
Their reducing, reusing and recycling helps them saveYou probably heard these three r-words in school related to protecting the environment: reduce, reuse and recycle! Reduce your usage of single-use items, reuse products when available and recycle them if you can’t use them anymore. The Amish practice these three r’s more than the average American and they save lots of money in the long run. [caption id="attachment_43050" align="aligncenter" width="720"] Gadjoboy via Flickr[/caption] Some things the Amish might do include reusing worn out clothing for quilts or rag rugs. “(They think), how can I get a second or a third use out of something?” Craker told Business Insider. These habits are something you can add to your own life! NEXT: Many American already employ this Amish saving habit.
The Amish buy in bulkMany Americans invest in the Costco membership so they can stock up on items in bulk. It saves them multiple trips to the store and possibly more money. Your typical Amish family has six to eight kids, so buying in bulk is instinctive to them. On Wesner’s website, he wrote about an Amish bulk store. [caption id="attachment_30537" align="aligncenter" width="720"] Frank John Aleksandrowicz/Wikimedia Commons[/caption] It carried things like 50-pound bags of oats, 400-pound bags of flour and 200-pound bags of sugar. So the Amish clearly take bulk to the extreme — most American don’t have room in their houses or apartments for bags of food that big. NEXT: This is what they do instead of buying new things.
They take the message in the song “Thrift Shop” to heart“I’m gonna pop some tags/Only got twenty dollars in my pocket/I’m, I’m, I’m hunting, looking for a come up/This is f***ing awesome,” sings Macklemore in “Thrift Shop.” Well, the Amish probably don’t look to Macklemore for thrift store shopping inspiration but they do take the message that buying second-hand saves you money to heart. [caption id="attachment_43051" align="aligncenter" width="720"] daBinsi via Flickr/CC BY 2.0[/caption] You might find your typical Amish parent shopping for their children in a thrift store or garage sale. For gifts, Amish often give each other presents that are handmade, like baked goods. Thrift shopping is a widespread trend — Business Insider says thrift store customers have increased since the recession. NEXT: The Amish with wealth give back to their communities in this way.
The Amish often contribute to loan programsEvery young person needs a helpful start at life — even young Amish adults! Farming is often viewed as the best job in Amish communities but it’s difficult — especially nowadays. Families usually divide land among their kids but that means the acreage gets divvied up fast. Small-sized, intensive farming has now become more common. [caption id="attachment_30585" align="aligncenter" width="720"] Cassandra Hannagan/GettyImages[/caption] “Many Amish communities have low-interest loan programs to help young adults buy their own land and get their start in the business world,” writes Business Insider. Members with more money will contribute and don’t ask for high payoffs in return. NEXT: You don’t have to spend a lot to eat well.
The Amish eat well on a budgetIf you hear an Amish call another a “feinschmecker,” do not be alarmed. It might sound like a curse word but it actually translates to “Amish foodies.” Don’t let their humble lifestyle fool you — the Amish like to eat good! And they can do it much cheaper than you can as they make and grow their own food. [caption id="attachment_43052" align="aligncenter" width="720"] Lee Jay Stoltzfus via Flickr/CC BY 2.0[/caption] “Although many of us can’t set up a garden in the middle of our apartments, Craker recommends shopping for groceries at farmer’s markets and joining cow pools or community-supported agriculture shares,” writes Business Insider. NEXT: Some Amish accepted unemployment benefits during the recession — here’s why that’s a rare situation.
They don’t accept government helpOhio officials noticed that food stamp usage was down in certain counties in 2006, says Business Insider. Upon a closer look, they discovered that these were all counties with a high population of Amish people. These communities often reject government help. However, some did accept unemployment benefits during the recession but that’s a very rare occasion. [caption id="attachment_30630" align="aligncenter" width="720"] Captain Peter Shinn/185th Air Refueling Wing[/caption] In very conservative communities, some Amish families of eight kids make below the poverty line but still refuse government aid. Could this practice relate to their values of independence? This is quite different from a lot of low-income American families who rely on government aid. NEXT: This is what success means to the Amish.
The Amish idea of “success” might be different from your own“Amish are family-oriented, so for some, Amish success in business simply means running a firm that allows one to work with the family, and to pass on values and skills to children while earning enough to put food on the table,” Wesner told Failure Mag. For the regular American, we want the “American Dream.” [caption id="attachment_30653" align="aligncenter" width="720"] Mario Tama/GettyImages[/caption] We want the nice house with a white picket fence, we want the fancy SUV, we want the six-figure job, giant TV, etc. While that might mean success to us, that might not be easily achievable because those are all expensive. NEXT: Everyone could benefit from having this Amish quality in their personal and business lives.
They’re humble“If you ask an Amish entrepreneur why they’re successful, don’t expect a lot of soul-searching or reflection on what they do right,” writes CNN Money in 2010. “A group known for being unfailingly polite and modest, the Amish will likely pin the praise on anyone else but themselves.” This is vastly different from successful entrepreneur outsiders. [caption id="attachment_30696" align="aligncenter" width="720"] Mark Makela/GettyImages[/caption] Non-Amish CEOs might do things like buy themselves all new furniture, frame evidence of their achievements and give themselves the biggest office. Not the Amish — Wesner says they frequently express the idea that “I’d never ask an employee to do something that I wouldn’t be willing to do.” NEXT: Before you join the Amish way of life, read this.
Most Americans wouldn’t want to live like the AmishSome experts say that most Americans wouldn’t be able to do the Amish way of life. The New York Times says the Amish systems of farming wouldn’t work for modern farmers. “People just don’t want to work that hard anymore,” Jay W. Irwin, the Lancaster County farm agent, told the New York Times in 1986. [caption id="attachment_30738" align="aligncenter" width="720"] Three Lions/GettyImages[/caption] He’s got a point — no one wants to make their own clothes, their own food, or toss aside their power tools and make things by hand. All of that is way too hard and not always necessary if we have modern technology. NEXT: What can we learn from the Amish way of living?
These Amish values can help your businessNot everyone is meant for a life of working on the farm in a dress and bonnet. But that doesn’t mean you should disregard all of the values that the Amish hold so dear. Wesner suggested that Failure Mag readers try applying some of these Amish lessons to their lives: [caption id="attachment_30761" align="aligncenter" width="720"] Chris Hondros/GettyImages[/caption] 1) View your employees as family in that you take care of them, rather than seeing them as replaceable. 2) Be a humble leader. When your employees are down in the ditches, you are too. 3) Take the slow and steady approach to company growth. NEXT: There are a lot of misconceptions about Amish life.
There are a lot of misconceptions about Amish lifeThe first misconception we shattered was that the Amish’s humble lifestyles equal poverty. Quite the contrary — as we mentioned, some make six-figure salaries but choose to lead humble lifestyles. Despite knowing this, you’ll truly not know what Amish life is like until you speak to members of any Amish community yourself. [caption id="attachment_43053" align="aligncenter" width="720"] johnny_appleseed1774 via Flickr/CC BY 2.0[/caption] We learned a lot about Amish life in this article but we don’t know everything about them. Some non-Amish outsiders romanticize the lives of Amish people in movies, TV, and books. Notably, Buzzfeed did a mini-documentary about the popularity of Amish romance novels. The main consumers of those? You guessed it — non-Amish. Most Amish people don’t find those stories to be accurate.
- “Amish Clothing.” The Amish Village. 10 September 2015. https://www.amishvillage.com/blog/amish-clothing/. Accessed 17 December 2019.
- “Do Amish women have rights?” Amish America. https://amishamerica.com/do-amish-women-have-rights/. Accessed 17 December 2019.
- Durisin, Megan. “13 Money Secrets From The Amish.” Business Insider. 30 April 2013. https://www.businessinsider.com/money-secrets-of-the-amish-2013-4. Accessed April 2019.
- “Religions – Christianity: The Amish.” BBC. 23 June 2009. http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/subdivisions/amish_1.shtml. Accessed April 2019.
- Schneider, Keith. “WORKING 80 ACRES, AMISH PROSPER AMID CRISIS.” The New York Times. 28 August 1986. https://www.nytimes.com/1986/08/28/us/working-80-acres-amish-prosper-amid-crisis.html. Accessed April 2019.
- “What are typical Amish businesses?” Amish America. https://amishamerica.com/what-are-typical-amish-businesses/. Accessed April 2019.
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