Guest Post by Erik Wesner
Despite some depictions of the Amish as isolated, outdated and old-fashioned, Amish are in fact “plugged-in” to the economy and business world in a number of ways. So let’s have a look at some common questions on the Amish and money-like: Where do Amish do their shopping? Do they barter? How do they buy homes and fund businesses? Are there Amish millionaires?
Contrary to what some might think, the Amish don’t do a lot of old-fashioned bartering and trading. They use dollars when buying things from one another, and from non-Amish sources alike. Amish have checking accounts and some even use credit cards. While some Amish might trade or barter on a limited scale, it’s not the way Amish generally conduct business. Amish adults and married couples typically have checking accounts and this form of payment is very common.
Amish buy things and do their shopping at a variety of sources, including local Amish shops which cater to a Plain clientele (eg, dry goods or variety stores carrying Amish-appealing home goods, bulk foods stores, or fabric shops selling materials for dresses and other clothing). They also buy things from non-Amish sources like grocery stores, convenience marts, and superstores like Wal-Mart and Costco. Large non-Amish retailers offer bulk sizes and attractive prices which are both a draw for large Amish families.
Loans and Borrowing
When buying a home or starting up a business, Amish people will make use of several sources of capital. Traditional bank loans are a common way that Amish people finance a home purchase or fund a new business. Amish clients are generally considered to be very attractive banking customers due to their reputation for hard work and dependability. However, the Amish also have other sources of funding. In some communities, Amish-run lending funds will provide capital to members of the community for a first home or a business at favorable rates. Also, traditionally a father will help sons in acquiring a farm. However in some communities – Lancaster County, PA is a good example – the price of land has become prohibitive, and young aspiring farmers may be forced to move to areas where land is cheaper.
While living at home, Amish youth will contribute their work earnings to the family budget. Parents will typically save a percentage of those funds, which the child will have access to after reaching age 21. Amish young people typically live at home until they marry and set up their own home, which allows them to accumulate funds for their first homes and make a strong financial start as a young family.
Some Amish people have become quite wealthy. Often this is due to successful businesses including woodworking and construction. It’s harder to tell who the Amish millionaires are, however, since status symbols are less visible (to the non-Amish eye, at least). Amish will invest their money in property, horses, business, or even mutual funds and stocks in the more progressive communities.
The Amish are not a communist society. Each Amish household is independent in a financial sense, and Amish people may compete with one another in business and other ways. However, there is a strong community ethic, and the church community helps provide and support those who have fallen into financial hardship (typically due to things such as large medical bills or disasters such as fires destroying homes, barns or businesses). Amish practice mutual aid motivated by a spirit of Christian love for one’s neighbor. Additionally, Amish often hold benefit auctions to fund community needs such as school benefits, or to help raise money for hospital bills larger than the community can reasonably handle.
Erik Wesner runs the amishamerica.com website and also the Amish America YouTube channel. His book Success Made Simple: An Inside Look at Why Amish Businesses Thrive is a behind-the-scenes look into the world of Amish business through the experiences of 60 Amish entrepreneurs.