by Natasha Gordon
Let’s talk about the background on susu: susu is a system of saving found throughout the Caribbean and coming from our roots in West Africa. It is form of cooperative economics. Susu is made up of groups of family members or friends, each of them agreeing to paying, or “throwing”, a specified amount of money each week. This is known as a “hand.” Generally, one “hand” would equate to $100 a week; there is also the option of throwing a “half-hand” which would be $50 a week. (This is just an example. You can “throw” smaller like $75 weekly or bigger like $200 weekly. It depends on how deep your pockets are and how much you want to save. It can also be collected on a weekly or monthly basis depending on the structure of the susu.)
There is one person who “holds” the money throughout the cycle, “the banker” or for my natives, “the partna lady”, who is known for being reliable, financially thrifty, wise, and well-respected. Each week a person gets one hand or half/hand of the money, depending on how much they “throw”. It is interest free.
So, you inquire how does this shape my financial mindset?
- Managing Debt- As a Caribbean American, debt was no less severe than losing a loved one. It was a noose around your neck. And by all means you were obligated to freeing yourself and paying that debt. Throw a hand of susu for a credit card bill or car loan. Have the peace of ming in knowing that when you receive that “hand” that money will go straight to that debt.
- Managing Money-I look at my paycheck thinking that I am already deducting my susu money for the pay period. I pay two weeks at a time and I know that money is going towards my goal with no hesitation. Pay yourself first.
- Managing Goals- I have BIG goals. Obtaining a house is no more than figuring out, “hmmm… how many hands do I have to throw?” Being able to see lump sums of money at one time opens your eyes to the goals you can accomplish. Think bigger goals and make a plan.
- Managing Relationships- The people in my susu are friends and immediate family members. So we have conversations about what we are doing with our “hands” and how those actions help meet our goals. Being a part of a community of people with whom have the same financial mindset as you will support you at your weakest hours. Find yourself a group of people who speak the same financial language for support. Accountability.
Susu in Action
When my grandfather and grandmother immigrated to this country in the 1960s from Jamaica, West Indies, they had the desire for a “better life”. Susu bought my grandfather, a iron welder in Long Island, and my grandmother, a fitting room clerk for the department store, Alexander, a three family home in the North Bronx as well as plane tickets for each their five children back in Jamaica to come to America and the monies for immigration lawyers to pay for CITIZENSHIP for them all. They obtained all of this success without even a high school education, but with the strength of their commitment to their susu.
Their desire for a “better life” required owning a home with their children. This dedication to saving money in susu not only gave them financial support for their dream, but also a community of people that understood what it meant to sacrifice for a bigger goal. There was encouragement to save your money and to a sense of resilience in going through hard times for better ones.
The Next Generation
This tradition has existed in my family for generations as my parents used susu for children’s catholic school tuition, summer camps, college tuition, cars, and any big ticket item. Our “payment plan” was susu and will be susu.
Frugalistas: How are you saving for your goals? What is your susu success story? Want to find out more about susu? Leave a comment below and we will get back to you.
If you’re waiting for a sign that it’s time to make a change, consider this it. Money Therapy may be just what you need to break through your financial blocks and release your money guilt and shame.