Sunday, January 20, 2013

How do the Amish shop? Thrifty tips to stretch your dollars

Before I knew any Amish folks, I had an advantage to thrifty shopping, since my mom and dad were both first-generation Italian/Croatian, respectively. When you see through the eyes of a foreigner, so to speak, you see the materialism and entitlement mentality that many Americans have. As my Italian grandma used to say if I wanted something big, “Hey Kad, you think you something-a special, uh?”

When I had four kids under the age of seven living in rural Upstate New York, I met many Amish, and became close with Harry and Katie Hershberger. He had a variety store attached to his house, being wheelchair bound, and we shopped there regularly. What struck me right off the bat was there was no pressure whatsoever from Harry to buy something. This is so simple, but hard to live by. We’re always bombarded with advertisements, but the Amish pay in cash, and know a penny only goes so far.

 One day, after picking Katie’s brain for cost effective recipes, she mentioned their food co-op. It was an “Amish only” closed bulk store. Instead of showing a card to get in, I was to say, “Harry and Katie sent me.” I’ll never forget our first visit. I had all four kids in tow, and we walked into the store behind an Amish house, and all eyes landed on me, full of suspicion. “Harry and Katie sent me,” I quickly said, and with relaxed faces and smiles, they welcomed us in. You see, a co-op is a lot of work for a few people, to benefit the Amish community. I didn’t contribute to their communal way of living and was about to reap its benefits, but that’s how much a real friendship with an Amish family is valued. I learned later we were called “Trusted English Friends.”

Back to shopping. My jaw dropped when I saw all the prices in this co-op. C-H-E-A-P. The Amish don’t believe in price gouging, but helping each other save. The women in the store give out recipes: cost saving recipes. The Amish collect these recipes, and try other ways of making it better with less money, as if it were an art form. My favorite to this day is making granola. The Amish put in everything edible but the kitchen hand pump, mix in gooey brown sugar syrup, and consume it. “The kids don’t know there’s stale cereal in there,” they’d say. Well, I tried it, and it works. J

 So, the Amish work hard to help each other save money, and we can do the same. When I see an item majorly on sale, I text people in my “co-op” and ask if they need any. When I go up to Smicksburg to Lydia dry good store, I contact my “co-op” and buy for them. They do the same, when they see a sale.

 I can’t really write this little article if I didn’t bring in the Amish love of Wal-Mart. If you ever want to see Amish people, go to a rural Wal-Mart! It’s so fun to watch them. They don’t go often, maybe once a month, but do they ever stock-up. There’s a bus from Smicksburg, PA to Indiana, PA, fifteen miles away, just to take the Amish to Wal-Mart once a month. I was at Lydia’s after one of her Wal-Mart sprees, and she and her husband were lit up and very animated. “Do you know how cheap it is to get walnuts at Wal-Mart?” they asked with glee, skipping around the kitchen, putting their groceries away. I had to hold back the laughter. The Amish really think it’s fun to save money.

Fun to save? Why? Like I said, when you pay cash for everything, you know there’s a limit, right? So, it’s almost like a game to them as to how much they can get with their dollars. I think there’s a real joy in a goal that’s met, too.

One thing that may shock you is that the Amish also attend garage sales, flea markets, second-hand stores and auctions. I saw a group of Amish women at my local Salvation Army. Of course, they weren’t buying clothes, but books to devour or household items, such as dishes, pots and pans etc. Many people wouldn’t be caught dead in a Goodwill of Salvation Army, but not me. I learned early in life from my Italian grandma, “I’m not something-a too special.” And since we pay cash now, too, I get really excited to see how I can stretch a dollar.

 Inside Lydia's dry-goods store. Most Amish co-ops and/or dry-goods stores look similar. What they have in common are prices around 2/3rds cheaper than retail stores, and healthy organic items.

Monday, January 14, 2013

A letter to my children on living out Amish Simplicity

I was listening to Joyce Meyer the other day, and something stuck me deeply. She spoke about the lack of peace she used to have, white-knuckling every decisions every day. Big decisions bring stress, and if you make them daily, you will have no peace or simplicity of mind…Hmmm. She was talking about my husband and me!  And then I thought of Suzanne Woods Fishers’ book, Amish Peace. The lacks of choices, Suzanne says, make the Amish not deprived, but free to not have to make so many decisions.

To understand this, I’d like to share a letter to my four adult “kids” to help them recognize that they inherited a white-knuckle mind from their father and yours truly.

 Dear kids,

Dad and I have been talking lately about what we learned from and the Amish, Suzanne Woods Fishers book, Amish Peace, and Joyce Meyer. We both tend to make life changing decisions daily, and know that it’s brought stress into our lives, and for me, unsettling dreams. Just over the past week, we talked about the following:

Should we go on vacation this year or not?

Should we get a Lab, a poodle or a Labradoodle?

Should we keep savings in dollars or invest in assets?

Should we buy the little house for sale down the road (an asset) to rent out as an investment?

Should we start another business? We can buy Amish rockers off of Roman at wholesale and sale online? It would help Roman and is a tax right-off.

Should I go to Costa Rica with dad on business trips, and if so, should I go out into impoverished areas and blog about poverty? Should I blog for Compassion?

We’re both making this the “Year of Health and Fitness”. Should we buy a rowing machine? Join Weight Watchers online or go into town for meetings?

So many people are hurting and I can’t keep up with making prayer shawls. Should I start a knitting circle, since more hands make light work?

Should we join a small group Bible study in our church?

Should we start a small group Bible study in our house?

Should we build a little cabin in our woods in Smicksburg, or get a retro trailer off Craigslist? If we build a tiny house cabin on wheels we pay no taxes and give employment to Melvin and Levi, our Amish friends.

Should we go to visit family in Italy this year, and if so, should I write about my awesome Italian grandma as a memoir?

Should we get a goat this year or expand our herd of chickens? Or get a cow? If we get a cow, we’ll need a pole barn, and that means employment for Amish friends.

We got a letter asking if they could do fragging on our fifteen acres in Smicksburg, which is on the Marcellus Shale. I threw the letter in the garbage, since it would upset the Amish who border our property. No, it bothers me that they’d would go in and cut down virgin trees. Am I anti-fragging or not? Do I want this country energy sufficient? Am I helping the Saudi’s?   

These aren’t even all the things we discussed, as some are private.

So, over the past weekend, we went out for our 32nd wedding anniversary, and when we caught ourselves making “big decisions” we laughed and changed the subject. I cannot believe the peace this action produced. As you know, Dad and I love the Amish and are drawn to their culture, but is it the lack of decisions they have to make every day that we envy, in a good way? Time will tell, as we’ve decided to take time once a week or month to talk about big or troubling decisions. We suggest you all do the same... 

Love you more,


 Readers, I highly recommend Suzanne Woods Fishers book, Amish Peace, and Joyce Meyers’ Battlefield of the Mind to understand all I’m trying to say here. You can find them wherever books are sold. Oh, but they both have radio shows to listen to. Should you listen to their radio shows or buy their books? If you listen to the radio it’s free, leaving you money to invest, but not in dollars, as inflation is kicking in. LOL.

Please leave advice in the comments section if you’re looking to have more Amish simplicity of mind, and how you do it. For Tim and myself, we go often to Smicksburg, to detox from a busy world with too many choices. Lydia's living room, pictured below, according to blog stats, has had the most views than any other picture! Why do you think this picture draws so much attention world-wide?