When uncertainty runs amok — especially while so many workers are furloughed, underemployed or unemployed — people tend to gravitate toward easy solutions, even when those choices would seem unwise during less volatile circumstances. Money is becoming an even worse stressor than it already was, and now a pyramid scheme is making its timely way around the Internet.
Blessing Looms, Cooperative Economic Funds, Friends and Family Savings Clubs, Money Sharing Groups, Money Flowers. Whatever brand they choose, these are fraudulent money structures. They claim to be Su Su, but they are not. A Su Su is a closed system that moves money around within a group without each recipient taking out more than they contribute. Open systems can be recognized immediately when they promise to multiply your initial investment upon you recruiting new people to join after you. Dealing with fraud is the last challenge you want to add to your wellness plan during uncertain times, so let’s look at open and closed community financing.
Money Share Flowers take many forms; however, the one that has been gaining traction among my friends — and the YouTube channels they frequent — is promising to turn your initial $500 “investment” into $4,000 in one month. It is a tiered system (a pyramid scheme), wherein you pay $500 directly to that week’s recipient via PayPal, Venmo or CashApp. You then recruit two people to join the following week.
In Week 1 you have paid into the “Fire” phase. By bringing in your two “children,” you advance to the “Air” phase in Week 2. For you to advance to the “Earth” phase in Week 3, both of your recruits have to bring in their two recruits each (your four “grandchildren”). In Week 4 you enter the “Water” phase and get your $4,000, presuming that your four “grandchildren” have brought all eight of your necessary “great-grandchildren.” Each of your eight “great-grandchildren” has paid $500 directly to you via PayPal to start their own Week 1 “Fire” process. You can choose to take out only $3,500 and put in $500 to go again, but it isn’t required.
You see the problems, yes? These groups claim you have to bring in only two recruits. But how can that be true? You need to make sure your “children” can find you some “grandchildren,” or else why would your “children” each pay $500 to join? Then all those “grandchildren” must be covered by their own recruits as well. Getting your eight “great-grandchildren” to pay $500 each yields your $4,000. But at any time, if any of those steps is incomplete, you don’t advance (and then neither do your recruits on down the line).
And where does it end? My friends began groaning when I pointed out they needed eight directly recruited people to pay them. But that isn’t true either: Your two, plus their four, plus their eight means you have 14 opportunities to lose your $500. And even if you get to the center and opt out, what about those eight new people who just paid you? Now they are on this same path. For you to gain $4,000, 14 people have to lose $500. It’s geometric expansion that cannot be sustained.
Closed Su Su are very different. They do not grow money, but rather move it from person to person. Each participant pays a little into the pot on a regular basis, which is why the system is closed. No new recruits pay in. To keep the numbers simple, let’s look at a Su Su with a dozen members and an annual payout of $1,200 per participant. Of the 12 people, one is the constant organizer, and all money passes in and out through their trusted hands. All 12 people pay $100 per month, meaning each participant puts in $1,200 over the course of the year. Each month one participant takes out the $1,200. Over the course of the year, you get a one time payout of exactly what you put in.
How does that help? Proper Su Su move money within a community to fund each person’s infrequent, large ticket items. If you know you want to buy a house in a year, you will have access to your big payout just in time to make the down payment. But in the meantime, you are helping your 11 friends with their own singular purchases. Maybe your sister needs a new car, but no single person can gift or loan her the money? So long as she keeps making her small monthly contribution, she will have her turn at having a big chunk of cash when she needs it. Yes, you could save the same amount of money on your own in the same amount of time; however, by participating in a Su Su you can help people without burdening yourself.
Another example: Say your Su Su has 10 people, and that it pays out $5,000 every month. Each of the 10 members would pay $500 per month, and you would get your $5,000 back once within 10 months. Your Su Su needs only this: 1) A constant number of people (this gives you the number of payouts by which time you will have your return), 2) A constant contribution from each person for each payout period, and 3) A trusted organizer. Whether you have four, nine, 13, or 28 people, you can all help each other bear the burden of your large, infrequent obligations by making much smaller contributions consistently across the allotted time. You make no direct profit, but your money helps your community, and the Su Su provides financial discipline and accountability.
Jack Kirven completed the MFA in Dance at UCLA, and earned certification as a personal trainer through NASM. His wellness philosophy is founded upon integrated lifestyles as opposed to isolated workouts. Visit him at jackkirven.com and INTEGRE8Twellness.com.