If you are like many of my visitors here, you are quite intrigued by the Plain folk (that is, the Amish, Mennonite, Quakers, and others like them.)
And for good reason – they look and behave so much different than the rest of society.
Have you ever wondered how Plain Mennonites save money? How do they manage it, stretching it as far as possible?
After all, with families of as many as twelve children, they have plenty of shoes and winter jackets to buy!
And we all know that farming (which is the occupation of the overwhelming majority of Plain Mennonites) does not pay very well.
The short answer is that they manage it well!
The truth is that they rely on some very old-fashioned skills and practices to make their money stretch.
And even better – these are skills and practices that are available to pretty much every one of us.
No Daycare Costs
With at least one adult at home all the time, Plain Mennonites do not, as far as I have seen, use daycare.
Although it certainly may happen, it seems very unusual for mothers to have outside work.
That does NOT mean that they never contribute financially. In fact, mothers who are caring for children are often a very important part of the family’s finances. In many cases, they open up shops inside their homes so that they can earn money while caring for the children.
There are certainly single parents among Plain Mennonites.
Divorce (but not remarriage) does happen, and of course death can leave both men and women as single parents (who usually, but not always, remarry).
Even then, the community pitches in so that the children are cared for until the eldest child is old enough to take over.
The same happens at the other end of life, with the elderly generally living with family until they pass.
A doddyhaus or “grandfather house”, is a small house attached to the main house, which gives elderly grandparents security and independence as long as possible.
Grandparents can be as young as my friend Leona, approaching fifty and raising elementary aged children but with married children who need the big house. At the other end of the spectrum, a widowed great-grandmother could be in a small doddyhaus, with grandparents in a house attached to that, and both of these within shouting distance of the big house.
The benefits of such an arrangement are felt on all sides!
Sewing At Home
Not every Plain Mennonite woman sews well.
Some of them, of course, can sew anything they put their mind, too, but not all can do that.
But they all, as I’ve been told by several of them, “at least sew enough to make their own dresses”. That, it seems, is the lowest bar they consider acceptable.
From early childhood, girls start learning how to sew doll clothes and work up to making quilts and simple dresses.
Recently, I picked up my new dresses from my friend Lydia. She is a fantastic seamstress (which I most certainly am not) while her sister, an excellent cook and baker, makes her own dresses but would never sell her services.
Dresses, men’s shirts, hemming, clothing repairs – all of these are done at home by whichever woman is most talented at it. Some, like my friend Leona, can make men’s pants and the family’s winter coats, too. That is a very handy skill for a woman with seven children.
While she does not sew for others, she saves the family a lot of money by making almost everything they wear.
Eating At Home
As mentioned before, many Plain Mennonites avoid restaurants and convenience foods. I wrote more about this in Why You Need to Eat at Home.
Girls are taught to cook at a young age and those older than ten are generally able to put together a simple meal for the family.
Basics like bread, muffins, cakes, pies, pickles and more are all made at home. A few years ago, shopping with one of my friend Leona’s daughters, we passed a display of decadent donuts. I asked what her favourite donut was. She looked confused for a moment and then said, “I’ve never bought a donut. When we want them, we make them.”
Most Mennonite families have handwritten cookbooks that have been slowly built over the years. When I started working on A Cabin Full of Food, I spent many hours with these cookbooks, listening to my friends’ suggestions of “This is a really good one.” and “I’ve made this ever since I was married in 1950.” It was wonderful seeing, so often, the gradual change from a school girl’s careful script to the hurried writing of a busy mother.
The result was a massive 320 page encyclopedia of old-style cooking updated for modern tastes.
Anyone who wants to “cook like a Mennonite” should have a copy of this!
We’re not finished yet! 🙂 Keep reading for the rest of the ways Plain Mennonites save money.