07 Apr Amish View On Bankruptcy
Recently I had the pleasure of spending several weekends with an Elder of a Missouri Amish community. During these two weekends many hours were spent discussing the Amish way of life and various viewpoints including finances and debt. The Amish community believe in a simple way of life. Simple meaning a conservative or non-cluttered way of life. The manner of dress is plain and geared more towards a practical nature as opposed to impressing one another. Their homes are modest nature and only contain the necessities of living. Hard work, attention to detail and knowledge are encouraged. The experience had a profound effect on me and how I look at my own spending.
If you spend any time with the Amish you will quickly learn that their time on earth is spent in total devotion to God. They work for Him, they pray in honor of Him and every financial decision is based on the whether or not God would approve of the expenditure. “All money is God’s money and we must take care of it wisely.” The home that I visited displayed incredible craftsmanship throughout. Most of the furniture was handmade and had a specific purpose. There were no knick knacks or clutter to distract one from the task at hand. To purchase such items would be wasting God’s money. There was no electricity available unless it came from a water or battery source. Therefore the home was heated solely by wood but there was indoor plumbing. Indoor plumbing is not common to all communities though. The pantries were full but contained organic foods that were either grown personally or purchased from someone else in one of the communities.
Only the amount of food needed is kept on hand. The belief is wasting food is an offense to God and you should only make or take what you need. It was interesting to watch this philosophy in action on the trip to a different community where the store was located. Buying in bulk allows the Amish to receive a discount. The difference is that the community buys in bulk to feed the community as a whole. The average American buys in bulk at Sam’s or Costco to feed the individual family while many times letting food go to waste. The Amish community is only as strong as the weakest member and all members must be care for. One for all and all for one.
This thinking is the same when it comes to their finances. Not everyone has the same skill set and this is true even for mainstream America. As a result some businesses will make more money than the others. However, those who are fortunate to make more money or produce more crops will share those resources with the others. What about medical care? Will they go to a mainstream hospital? The answer was yes. Is there health insurance? The answer is no. So what happens if a medical catastrophe strikes? The community will come together as a whole and assist with paying the debts of the individuals.
Most of the homes are owned outright and the Amish try not to use credit. They can obtain lines of credit but generally to purchase a home or supplies at the beginning of planting season. If credit is incurred to purchase seed for crops the first thing paid at harvest is the line of credit. The average interest rate in the State of Missouri that they Amish are charged is 11%. Do the Amish file a tax return and pay taxes? The simple answer is yes. They are required to follow all local, state and federal laws. On the flip side of this the Amish are exempt from paying Social Security tax. So what happens when the Amish get too old to work? The community steps in again to care for all members of the community.
Are the Amish perfect or even perfectly content? The Elder was quick to tell me that Amish are human just like the English (an English is anyone who is not Amish). He went on to explain that there is good and bad in every human being and it is our decisions that guide which path we take. Hence the reason why Monroe Beachy who is Amish broke away from his traditional way of life and filed bankruptcy because he was $33 million dollars in debt instead of going to the community for help. There community frowns and downright forbids bankruptcy because the community as a whole works together to pay off the debt.
What lessons can mainstream America learn from the Amish way of life? Pigs get fat and hogs get slaughtered. Every movement, every decision and every purchase has a specific purpose for the Amish. By focusing on God and the community they avoid being prideful. Pride in the sense of wanting to be the first to have an Ipad, or the biggest television or the fastest car. Pride in keeping up with the neighbors or the lifestyle that the media portrays. This is the reason that the Amish do not want pictures of themselves and generally dress the same. They do not want to be tempted to compete with others within the community so that they may focus on the task at hand. This is the original reasoning behind the decision for schools, public and private to go to uniforms. However the school boards forget that if you allow individuals to adorn themselves with accessories it destroys the non-competition theory.
When you take competition or pride out of the equation it is easy to shop for bargains by purchasing used goods as opposed to new. We English can learn a thing or two about recycling from the Amish. If there is a way to save money by recycling used items instead of purchasing something new than this is the preferred option.
Have you driven by an Amish community and noticed a building that appeared to be covered in white plastic? The plastic is purchased from billboard companies who are disposing of expired ads. The Amish may purchase these at a discount as long as they do not sell them for a profit and place inside out so the advertising is facing inward. How genius is that? The Amish get a discount and the plastic does not get placed in the landfills.
In meeting members throughout several communities I noticed a common thread. The people appeared to be healthy at various stages of life. The words were kind and gentle. There was a calm nature that was infectious while at the same time inviting. It was almost as if time stood still during our visit. How can this be when they too are affected by the downturn in the economy?
The Amish focus on one day at a time and believing that they serve a greater purpose here on earth. This is why there is “No Sunday Business.” Sundays allow one to reflect on the greater purpose instead of living in the moment. How would your life change if you focused on the greater purpose of your existence as opposed to living in the moment worried about what others thought of you? The Amish way of life is a life of simplicity, discipline and extremely hard work. Although their way of life as a whole may not be your cup of tea there are certain aspects that can be beneficial in these hectic and stressful times.
Remember that knowledge is power and the more knowledge that you gain about the world around you the more power you will have in controlling your own destiny.