The Amish use credit cards, too

The Amish use credit cards, just like the rest of us.

If you just know a little of the usual stuff about the Amish, that sounds so hard to believe at first. After all, the Amish are known for living a rather quaint 19th century lifestyle. They drive horses and buggies. They eschew electricity. They don't have telephones or television sets. Surely, they don't use plastic.

But some do. I knew a little about that when I first started working on an article about the Amish, which ran yesterday on, but until I started talking to some Amish businessmen, I hadn't given their use much thought. Nevertheless, they deal with high interest rates and occasional late fees like the rest of us. Still, their lifestyle does usually protect them from going into massive deep credit card debt, and it's worth thinking about.

  • As a general rule, the Amish never buy electronic equipment. They're not out there buying iPods and all of the songs that come with them. They don't have TVs, which means that they're never buying a DVD player or paying for TiVo. Netflix is a meaningless word to the Amish. If you bring up Wii to any Amish, without explaining what you're talking about, you're likely to have a confusing conversation.
  • They may find themselves short of money, but not in the way of many families. After all, their funds are never going to an electric bill or a telephone bill, although some I've heard of some Amish who actually have cell phones for reasons of both safety and, yes, convenience.
  • The Amish don't have to gas up their cars. High gas prices? Low gas prices? So what? They do, of course, have to be concerned about the cost of hay for their horses, which has been quite high this year.
  • The Amish don't have email, which means that they aren't paying for Internet service. They also aren't paying for a Blackberry and its monthly service. They aren't, as a rule, hanging out on the web, and so they aren't paying monthly fees to an online--anything. I mean, I'm a paying member of a couple organizations for journalists, and I impulsively bought a yearly membership with after writing about them for WalletPop (until a couple months later when they decided to showcase their comic strips for free).
The Amish primarily spend their credit card debt, from what I've learned, on food, basic necessities, emergencies and travel. In other words, they're just like everyone else, except that there are a lot of extras that aren't factoring into their monthly budgets.

Not that I'm suggesting anyone become Amish just to save some money, although I ruminated about the idea on WalletPop as one of my first posts back in February. I'm just saying that there are benefits to having a simpler life. In just the last decade alone, many families have added TiVo, Netflix, iPods, DVRs and HDTV, for instance, to their households. My wife wants one of those voice-activated navigation systems for Christmas, one of those GPS devices for cars, which sounds nice and all, but some of those come with monthly subscriptions, and so I'm a bit leery. The devices keep coming along, and so do the costs of keeping and maintaining them.

Really, people shouldn't bargain for cost-of-living raises. When the economy gets on better footing, we should start asking for cost-of-additional-monthly-fees-for-new-technology-into-our-lives raises.

There's something to be said about keeping one foot squarely in the 1800s, at least if it means that you're paying 19th century prices.

Geoff Williams is a freelance journalist and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).

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