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Building Savings Through Trust and Community

My wife and I were discussing a recent article. The article shared some of the unique ways families were able to save money. I shared with her one of the ways my grandmother had saved money in the Caribbean island of Trinidad and Tobago. She called it “sou sou” (check out this Essence Magazine article about it). The term and method I’ve learned came from the Yoruba people of western Africa. It was brought to the Caribbean by west African slaves. The method is not widely known in American culture. However, the concept is being practiced by many ethnic communities within the United States. Some practicing groups include Caribbean Americans, Asian Americans and Jewish Americans. Sou-sou is a savings club where each party pays an equal amount of funds into a collective pool. Each person then receives the total amount of the pool on a rotating basis. Payout schedules are set for either a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis.

My wife, a business executive and the great granddaughter of sharecroppers from Louisiana, had a puzzled look on her face. I could sense something going on in her mind. What followed made it very clear of what was happening. She mentioned how deprived she felt that this knowledge was never shared within her ancestry.  She also felt that the knowledge would have made a significant difference in the lives of her family. Considering the large wealth disparity between the majority population and the descendants of slaves, I tend to agree. Our discussion led to a genuine sense of purpose that we should start a savings movement. We scheduled a family conference call and not long after started a family savings plan. A total of 15 individuals are participating.

The three things needed for a savings plan to work are trust, consistency and community. Traditionally, groups that used this savings method operated outside of banking systems. In some cases because banking systems were not accessible or available to them. What’s amazing about these groups is that for them, integrity and honor still matter. In these communities no one wants to risk getting a bad name or reputation. The method is a hassle free, cost effective way to not only save money, but raise capital to start a business as well. The savings concept is so rooted in some Asian communities that according to a study by UCLA sociology professor, Ivan Light, “75% of the members of the Korean American Garment Industry Association belonged to or had a family member belonging to a savings club or kye. And more than 36% said that at least part of their start-up capital came from a savings club or kye.”

Why should you take part? I like to think of this as a “NO INTEREST” loan of sorts. Instead of using a credit card or installment loan to borrow money, you have the benefit of receiving a lump sum of money without fees. For instance, if you were trying to save up $3K at the same pace of $250/month. How long would it take you to do so? Well, of course the answer is 12 months. But in this model, if you are the 1st person to receive the pool it will take you 1 month. If you are the 2nd person, it will take you 2 months…and so on. Only the person in last place will take 12 months to collect the pool.

Here’s an example of how it works.

Let’s say there are 12 participants each contributing $250 per month.

Month 1 = $3,000 in the pool

Recipient #1 gets the first $3,000 round (and can place in savings, pay off a bill, or pay cash for something they need, etc.

Recipient #1 (like everyone else) continues to pay $250 per month.

11 months to go…

Month 2 = $3,000 in the pool

Recipient #2 gets the $3,000 and continues to pay $250 per month for another 10 months…. you get the idea.

Saving money aside, one of the key benefits here is being able to build a strong sense of financial trust and community with those closest to you. For our family, we saw it as a great opportunity to reconnect and help each other.

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