Saving Money the Ole Time Way: Is the Sou Sou Outdated?

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Long ago, it was very common to hear people talk about a sou sou. Now, I’m not so sure.
See, I had a random conversation with some folks about its popularity recently. Smack in the middle of a BBM chat about Carnival, I joked that next year for sure I’d be using my sou sou hand to buy my costume and come home, and someone blurted out, “People does still do that?” And I, in the world that I live in, didn’t think that people had stopped. Have they?
For some of you who may have forgotten what a sou sou is, or in case I am a little too old school to some of the young readers out there, let me refresh your memory on this makeshift way of saving money.
A sou sou is structured where one person will be in charge of collecting monies from a group of people. All the monies collected will be given to one person in the group, on selected dates, and it rotates that way until each person has received what they call, a “hand”. Many people join one for big purchases, and or costly expenses that need to be taken care of. And when you get that ‘hand’ no matter what time of year it is, it’s Christmas in your household. Centuries old, and a tradition handed down from our ancestors, it’s not just a Caribbean thing. The Latino and Asian communities also use it. As one friend calls it, it’s “the under the mattress option”.
However, as we’ve all become more modernised and rely on savings accounts, mutual funds and other investment options, the sou sou has been pushed to the side, and I’m not even sure that young people even consider it as an option, though a friend did mention that her younger brother, who’s 25, takes part in one at his workplace – which is an established financial institution to boot.
As a devoted participant in my mother’s sou sou for the past five years, out of the eleven that she’s been running it, I will have to say that in my household it is still very much a saving tactic we use. I even remember at age 17 dropping off my mother’s sou sou payment to my aunt. She ran hers up until I was 28.
“Sou sou has afforded us to constructively buy homes, send our kids to college, and buy vehicles without having down payments and high interest rates to deal with,” says my mom.
And to many of us who weren’t born with a silver spoon in our mouths, this is the way to go. Like my mother said, joining a sou sou can be beneficial if you have a purpose and a plan for it.  And I have known people, including myself, who have joined to feed their Carnival addiction. A sou sou can help you afford that, without forfeiting your rent or bills money.
Still for some of us, joining a sou sou has brought some negative experiences, like people running off with their hard-earned money. But like my mother says,  a sou sou is a business built on trust, so you have to know the people you trust your money to. That’s why it’s commonly known to be between close family and friends, because it’s a trust you have to feel comfortable about.
The argument for and against the merits of a sou sou, especially in these modern times, can go both ways. One friend stands by it 100%.
“Sou sou has saved my life many of times,” she says, “It’s an old tradition but goes a long way for some, like me. So if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I will always support it.”
I’d say this is a fair testimony, but then again, I’m partial to it. It’s a family tradition of sorts for me.
Another guy told me, “Why don’t you save the money yourself? You will still end up with the lump sum same way”. Another friend said that sou sou is outdated for her, and now she saves her money in her savings account and reaps the interests that the money earns. Sure, I could. But knowing my spending habits, a hundred dollars a week in my underwear drawer won’t get me that new bedroom set I’ve been eyeing. I’ll be tempted to dip into it often, only to defeat the purpose of my saving. And a hundred dollars in my savings account won’t get me that lump sum that I may need at its needed time.
Some of us are antsy for that lump sum to come. One friend shamelessly confessed “I was happy when my ‘hand’ came, but doh ask me where the money went after I got it. To this day I can’t tell you”. That’s why, as with any type of savings scheme, you’ve got to know what your financial plans are and stick to them.
We all know that the economy has its highs and lows. There are some of us who were once struggling, but have since moved up the corporate ladder, and can now afford luxuries at our own expense. But there are many of us, who though we can afford it, still believe that a sou sou is very much the way to help afford expenses and help keep our savings intact.  What do you think? Is the sou sou outdated or still useful?

Long ago, it was very common to hear people talk about a sou sou. Now, I’m not so sure.

See, I had a random conversation with some folks about its popularity recently. Smack in the middle of a BBM chat about Carnival, I joked that next year for sure I’d be using my sou sou hand to buy my costume and come home, and someone blurted out, “People does still do that?” And I, in the world that I live in, didn’t think that people had stopped. Have they?

For some of you who may have forgotten what a sou sou is, or in case I am a little too old school to some of the young readers out there, let me refresh your memory on this makeshift way of saving money.


A sou sou is structured where one person will be in charge of collecting monies from a group of people. All the monies collected will be given to one person in the group, on selected dates, and it rotates that way until each person has received what they call, a “hand”. Many people join one for big purchases, and or costly expenses that need to be taken care of. And when you get that ‘hand’ no matter what time of year it is, it’s Christmas in your household. Centuries old, and a tradition handed down from our ancestors, it’s not just a Caribbean thing. The Latino and Asian communities also use it. As one friend calls it, it’s “the under the mattress option”.

 

“I’m not even sure that young people even consider it as an option.”

However, as we’ve all become more modernised and rely on savings accounts, mutual funds and other investment options, the sou sou has been pushed to the side, and I’m not even sure that young people even consider it as an option, though a friend did mention that her younger brother, who’s 25, takes part in one at his workplace – which is an established financial institution to boot.

As a devoted participant in my mother’s sou sou for the past five years, out of the eleven that she’s been running it, I will have to say that in my household it is still very much a saving tactic we use. I even remember at age 17 dropping off my mother’s sou sou payment to my aunt. She ran hers up until I was 28.

“Sou sou has afforded us to constructively buy homes, send our kids to college, and buy vehicles without having down payments and high interest rates to deal with,” says my mom.

And to many of us who weren’t born with a silver spoon in our mouths, this is the way to go. Like my mother said, joining a sou sou can be beneficial if you have a purpose and a plan for it.  And I have known people, including myself, who have joined to feed their Carnival addiction. A sou sou can help you afford that, without forfeiting your rent or bills money.

 

“For some of us, joining a sou sou has brought some negative experiences.”

Still for some of us, joining a sou sou has brought some negative experiences, like people running off with their hard-earned money. But like my mother says,  a sou sou is a business built on trust, so you have to know the people you trust your money to.

That’s why it’s commonly known to be between close family and friends, because it’s a trust you have to feel comfortable about.

The argument for and against the merits of a sou sou, especially in these modern times, can go both ways. One friend stands by it 100%.

“Sou sou has saved my life many of times,” she says, “It’s an old tradition but goes a long way for some, like me. So if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I will always support it.”

I’d say this is a fair testimony, but then again, I’m partial to it. It’s a family tradition of sorts for me.

Another guy told me, “Why don’t you save the money yourself? You will still end up with the lump sum same way”. Another friend said that sou sou is outdated for her, and now she saves her money in her savings account and reaps the interests that the money earns. Sure, I could. But knowing my spending habits, a hundred dollars a week in my underwear drawer won’t get me that new bedroom set I’ve been eyeing. I’ll be tempted to dip into it often, only to defeat the purpose of my saving. And a hundred dollars in my savings account won’t get me that lump sum that I may need at its needed time.

Some of us are antsy for that lump sum to come. One friend shamelessly confessed “I was happy when my ‘hand’ came, but doh ask me where the money went after I got it. To this day I can’t tell you”. That’s why, as with any type of savings scheme, you’ve got to know what your financial plans are and stick to them.

We all know that the economy has its highs and lows. There are some of us who were once struggling, but have since moved up the corporate ladder, and can now afford luxuries at our own expense. But there are many of us, who though we can afford it, still believe that a sou sou is very much the way to help afford expenses and help keep our savings intact.  What do you think? Is the sou sou outdated or still useful?

 

Onika Pascal

Onika Pascal is a Trini living in New York, who holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. She is a single mom, author of two published collections of poetry, aspiring novelist ,and lover of all things purposeful.

1 Comment

  1. Greggy

    September 13, 2011 at 9:18 pm

    I’m 25, and considering joining a sou sou for the first time. Anyone familiar with the practice of a “ghost hand”? The first payment from all, which is set aside almost as insurance, and everybody’s payout is equivalent to one hand less (so $50/week x 13wks, aka 13ppl = $650 each hand total, but the payout would be $600, and there’s $650 in the pot for insurance). I’ve never heard of this and I’m wondering if that is common practice? I do trust the person running it, but I’ve got to protect my interests first.

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