Book Review
Title: "Money Secrets of the Amish: Finding True Abundance in Simplicity, Sharing and Saving"
Author: Lorilee Craker
Publisher: Thomas Nelson, 2011; 240 pages; $15.99

Elizabeth Warren, Harvard law professor and special adviser to the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, has used her sophisticated smarts and legal skill to argue for something very basic: financial simplicity.

Her position is that the recession might have been avoided had banks and consumers alike been committed to "plain vanilla" lending instruments, rather than mortgages with the resetting, adjusting, negatively amortizing, interest-only and other complicated features that were popular in the subprime era.

Not only were these features difficult for many consumers to understand, the tricky features made it possible for banks to argue and consumers to be complicit in creating mortgage obligations that, had they been structured more simply, would have been very obvious in their unsustainability.

Warren, a Sunday school teacher in her off time, apparently has divine inspiration for her value of financial simplicity — and fellowship, in the form of the Amish, whose simple values, also divinely inspired, empowered them to prosper throughout the recession.

The above-market-to-the-nth-power performance of Amish banks and communities during the hardest, longest recession America has ever seen inspired Lorilee Craker’s latest book: "Money Secrets of the Amish: Finding True Abundance in Simplicity, Sharing and Saving."

Craker, herself a Mennonite, interviewed Amish bankers, bishops and families to compile a comprehensive look at the financial values, practices and principles that have caused the Amish community to thrive for many generations.

These are the principles that most notably allowed one all-Amish bank to have its best year ever in 2008 — the same year in which we saw another banking industry record: the largest bank failure in American history (Washington Mutual). And, not surprisingly, there’s no tricky math or complicated investment schemes underlying the Amish way with money.

Instead, there are a handful of sweeping principles and rules of thumb on which money mavens from Elizabeth Warren to Amos Miller, one of Craker’s interviewees — a farmer in his 40s with 14 kids who has managed to sock away more than $400,000 in cash — all agree.

But these Amish money values don’t agree with the way the average American lives his or her financial life — in fact, Craker deems Amish money management to be essentially "upside down," the diametrical opposite of the way most Americans handle their money matters.

From having zero tolerance for waste and credit, to a high value on thrift, reuse and obtaining pleasure from time spent with their families rather than from things purchased, Craker found the Amish inclined to save lots of cash, while living very rich lives, without a thought or struggle around the matter.

"Money Secrets of the Amish" offers these simplistic principles in a fittingly simple manner. You won’t find any tricky charts or online calculators in here! What you will find are easy mnemonics like "UWMW" — Amish code (if such a thing exists) for use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without; and charming, relatable anecdotes of Craker’s own family’s recession-era financial frustration and the Amish-inspired solutions and savings she was able to achieve in the course of doing the groundwork for the book.

Craker makes a pointed effort to extrapolate from the extremely frugal ways of the Amish to concrete action steps and examples of ways everyday Americans can realistically live the same financial values, from repairing (rather than replacing) to rethinking the way they give gifts.

Craker has written extensively for parenting magazines, and it shows; parents trying to cut costs and uplevel their finances in order to allow one parent to stay at home, to pay for tuition or simply make ends meet, will find Craker’s personal experiments in implementing Amish financial values to be relatable and useful for their own families.

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