Yesterday, a couple of readers pointed me to a CNN Money article about why Amish businesses don’t fail. Good timing, because today’s guest post is from the author profiled in that piece. This is a guest post from Erik Wesner, who researched the Amish for his new book Success Made Simple: An Inside Look at Why Amish Businesses Thrive. He blogs about Amish culture at Amish America.

Most people associate the Amish with certain things: simplicity, rumspringa, funny hats. I’ve been fortunate enough to spend a lot of time with Amish over the past few years. And I’ve found there’s both truth and myth behind many of the perceptions.

But one thing that is accurate is the idea that Amish use money and resources wisely. I’d like to share a few observations from my time in Amish America — simple ideas for amping up your savings accounts, cutting waste, and maximizing what you get out of what you already have.

Lower tech, lower costs
Contrary to common belief, the Amish do actually accept a good degree of technology. During a recent stay at my Amish friend Abe’s home, his three-year-old woke up one evening with a nasty bark. I first thought it to be whooping cough (sounds pretty Dickensian, I know) but turned out to be the “croup”, something less menacing.

The next morning, Abe asked me to pick up a medicinal vaporizer from Wal-Mart. The kind with a plug that goes in the wall. Abe’s home, of course, lacks the outlets needed for that type of thing.

You may be wondering how they expected to operate it. Well, the Amish do have a way of using plug-in devices. Diesel-powered generators coupled with an inverter (a device that creates 110-volt current) can produce enough juice to operate small appliances. It’s how they run their 1950s-era wringer-style washing machines and a variety of other implements.

Before you start to think that the Amish have sold out somewhere along the line: It’s inconvenient and loud having a diesel engine blasting in your backyard, so it’s not something you’re apt to overuse. And running one round-the-clock isn’t cheap.

And that’s the point: Amish allow certain technology, but the way they use it is costly and inconvenient, so they’re compelled to limit its usage.

Amish choose to restrict ownership of technology for a couple of reasons:

  • First, owning cars and having new gadgets around the house both invite the world in and take them far from home, potentially threatening their way of life, affecting family and community.
  • Secondly, accumulating all the latest gizmos (as many of us know firsthand) can get pretty expensive.

The takeaway? We’re not talking about trading in the Chevy sedan for a Yoder buggy. But it makes one wonder: How much cash does overuse of technology (or for some, an outright addiction to it) suck out of our pockets?

It could be anything from the new set of wheels every third year to the seemingly cheap iPhone apps to the value of the time burnt browsing the net for hours. Hang onto your laptop. But it’s worth thinking about how we use technology — not just in terms of the benefits it brings, but the costs it imposes.

Debt is a tool — and a bit of it is healthy
Along the same lines, some Amish do use credit cards. It’s nothing near a majority, but those who use credit do so for convenience’s sake. Habit and a mentality that says you always pay back your debts means that Amish rarely carry a balance. They use credit cards as one ought to — as a tool that makes life easier, not as a way to spend beyond one’s means.

Much more common among Amish would be taking advantage of bank credit for a home mortgage or to fund a business. Not only does this help one reach life and business goals, but when used properly, it can even be a motivator. Having something to pay back gets you out of bed and gets you moving, as an Amishman once explained to me. So the right type of debt, Amish realize, can be healthy.

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