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Is A Sou-Sou Or Partner A Good Money Solution During The Pandemic?

Informal savings groups aren't new, but in a clutch, it's a consideration.

Finance

We all know it's been rough this past year, and even 2021 has started off with quite a bit of ruckus. And there's always that sense of wanting to do whatever we can to ensure we're financially stable and able to take on whatever other craziness might be to come. So, anything that will allow us to either make or save money is a good look. So when I recently heard about a family member getting involved in a sou-sou, I was intrigued.

This wouldn't be the first time I'd heard of the concept. A few of my Caribbean friends and family have participated in a form of it they call "partner" (or "paht-nuh" if ya know patois. Big up yaself!) But what is a sou-sou or partner, you ask? It's an informal savings club, typically run by a "banker," that allows you to deposit money into a "pot," and once the pot grows, you get a certain sum of money when your "turn" comes around.

It's been called the "poor man's savings club," and it's something that has been embraced by Latin, Caribbean and African communities for generations. And the reason for it makes sense. Some have traced the concept centuries back, when West Africans pooled their money via an "esusu." Others might credit their popularity to the fact that many people of color faced extreme racism in the banking industry and could not utilize the traditional options for building savings. Add to that the fact that many did not trust banks, thus a sou-sou or partner was ideal.

I decided to get some insights from a few women on their own experiences with these sort of savings clubs. Here's what they had to say:

A Cautious Participant

My family member who recently participated in a partner told me that she'd had a bad experience in a previous one. (By request, I'm going to leave her identity anonymous.) She and her husband put in $400 but by the time it was their turn to collect on the $4,000 pot, people had dropped out of the group. They ended up getting a refund. After that experience, she just didn't take the whole concept seriously. "I really don't have time or money to waste, and I don't like when there's any sort of mix up or confusion when dealing with money," she told me. "We were able to get our money back because the person we were dealing with was honest. Thank God for that."

Image via Giphy

This same family member decided to try again with a different group and a lower deposit. She knew another in-law who had already gotten her $4,000 share after putting in less than $200 three months earlier. "At least with this one, there's a clear system. They even have Zoom calls to explain things, and the leaders of it use a spreadsheet. There's a good number of people in the group to make the numbers make sense. The bankers also have rules, and when members of the group don't follow them, they are immediately refunded what they put in and removed. It's just $100 this time, so I decided to give it another try."

She added that while she has traditional bank accounts, participating in such a group has an allure because of the instant money available once your turn comes to cash in. "Who wouldn't want to get $4,000 after only investing a small sum? It's a nice bonus that can definitely come in handy."

Image via Giphy

Generational Money Moves

Gaynete Jones, a podcast host and founder of Best, Periodt, a femcare brand, is from Bermuda and has always been an enterprising self-starter. The concept of a partner was one she too was introduced to by family. "My grandmother runs a savings club with family and friends. I love doing it as it's a great way to keep her mind sharp," Jones said. "My husband and I both participate with two 'hands' of $50 each, so we pay $100 each a week, and twice a year [we] both receive $2,500 back ($5,000 each). It's by no means our only way to save, but it's a unique way to stack coins that we enjoy participating in."

Jones explained that participants "get in" what they pay out since the partner runs 50 of the 52 weeks a year. "We've never had any delays or nonpayments, and we've been participating for years. The key is to participate with a group that is run by someone dependable, who vets trustworthy members—no complaints over here."

She uses the funds to nurture her enterprise projects. "Currently, my new business is the lucky recipient. While the $5,000 is only a drop in the bucket when looking at the capital required to run the start up, every bit counts. If you can find a trust-worthy group with a great track record (and you're dependable yourself), it's worth checking out for sure. I've heard horror stories from others participating in other groups, so I would never blindy recommend them. As with everything, do your research and determine if it's the best fit for you."

Featured Image via Giphy

Meet the 'Banker'

Shana Cole, founder of The Shana Cole Collection and Soignee By Shana Cole, is another island girl with a knack for financial savvy that started at a young age. Jamaican-born, she led a partner as a teen. "I started sou-sou when I was in high school. It was a way of savings for me. I used to save to buy my outfits and things that my parents wouldn't buy me. I've been joining with credible people since then and I now run a couple which are all successful."

Cole said she's been able to buy a car, get inventory stock for her business, finance awesome vacations and pay off debts. "I'm about to pay off my student loan [with savings from] my current one. I've even seen people use it for a down payments on a house."

Cole warns that those interested in participating must understand risks like a shady "banker" running off with the money, and her concerns echo that of experts who advise consumers to avoiding scams, especially savings group advertisements that are sent from random Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter accounts.

Image via Giphy

So, should you join an informal savings group or "partner" to reach your financial goals during the pandemic? My verdict is to proceed with caution, do your research, and be sure you are comfortable handing your hard-earned money to the people involved. If you have doubts, just don't do it sis.

Financial literacy advocates have even said that some people looking to participate should instead invest in the usual options of interest-bearing savings accounts, stock market investments, small loans, or financial advisement from a certified professional to cultivate debt reduction plans. There are also a plethora of employment, housing, business, and other resources for people struggling financially due to the pandemic. (There are a few good ones here, here, here and here.)

All in all, as my Granny would say, "Don't write a check you can't cash, and don't get into a pickle you can't eat." If you're already in a financial bind, this definitely isn't a good option, and it really shouldn't be something you think of as a "get rich quick" solution. Traditional sou-sous do not focus on profit but on savings, so if you hear promises that you'll make a certain amount after a specific short period of time, you might have the making of a pyramid scheme on your hands and a great reason to just say no.

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