Frugal living: I've decided to become Amish

I finally figured out how I can save a lot of money.

Become Amish.

Or at least start living like the Amish. Now, hear me out for a moment. I'm not thinking I would do this forever, maybe just a year. I could save a bundle on electricity, and there would be no Internet, telephone or cable charges to pay for. In one year, I will have saved up plenty of money, and I could use it to pay off debts and sock into savings. I don't see a problem with work. Sure, I need the Internet, but I could use my laptop and work from libraries, coffee houses and restaurants with free wi-fi service. Of course, my daughters and wife would probably stage a mutiny, and so I need to think about this.

In any case, in my humble opinion, people who are Amish are something of financial gurus, and they're worth emulating. I'm fortunate to have a window into the Amish culture because (here's my full disclosure alert) my younger brother, Kevin Williams, happens to be a nationally-known expert on the Amish. His business, Oasis Newsfeatures, syndicates a newspaper column called "The Amish Cook," which is written by an Amish woman who lives in Michigan.

So I figured I'd interview my brother and get his take on what the Amish do right, that the rest of us should probably be doing.

Buy only what you need; not what you want. "Sure, Eli Yoder might want the latest leather seats on his brand new buggy, but is that really what's needed?" asks Kevin. "No, so Eli purchases a buggy with comfortable cloth seats at a great savings. Time and time again, Americans fall prey to what they want, not what they need. The Amish avoid this trap and save a ton of money in the process."

Pay with a cash or check. The Amish simply don't do debt. "Even something like taking a few pieces of plywood from a friend is often viewed by the Amish as a 'debt' needed to be repaid," says Kevin.

Grow your own food. Sure, if you live in the city, this might be tricky, but as Kevin notes, "even city-dwellers can plant a few tomatoes in a window box."

Make your own things.
The Amish are experts at sewing their own clothes, making soap, building bookshelves and baking bread. That's a lot of money that they save.

Waste nothing. The Amish compost trash, says Kevin, they use every last ground of coffee in the can, and they always remember to turn off the kerosene lamp when it's not in use.

Of course, if we all followed this model, our entire economy would melt down. What would the makers of DVDs, automobiles, home electronics, fashion and home improvement products do it we all stopped using electricity , sewed our own clothing and built our own housing?

Of course, there would be a lot of poor saps like me, wandering around naked, in search of a sandwich shop, because I can't sew or grow corn to save my life. So maybe there will always be a market for these things. The old-fashioned ideas of the Amish might not work for us today, but you still have to admire them for being the experts at frugal, thrifty living.

Geoff Williams is a freelance business journalist, primarily for Entrepreneur magazine, as well as the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America.
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