A man counts money. Saving with like-minded people is necessary when doing merry go-round savings. PHOTO/ EDGAR R. BATTE


Investing with like-minded people in merry-go-rounds

What you need to know:

A person who receives money in the first month should have the honesty to collect until the agreed period. That is when a merry-go-round can become productive.

With the increasing need for quick cash, many people are resorting to forming merry-go-round groups commonly known as cash rounds.

A merry-go-round group is a self-help organisation which mobilises resources mainly from members’ periodical-rotating savings. This type of saving scheme is common among like-minded people, and lately, it is frequent in WhatsApp groups. 

The scheme is used to largely support one another in good and bad times. Many describe them as saviours, without which they would not save money.

For instance, an average salary earner of about Shs1.5 million net or a businessman who profits, say Shs500,000 a month, is likely to struggle to save given the increasing standards of living which exerted enormous pressure on earnings. This explains the emergency of informal saving groups like merry-go-rounds. 

Whereas merry-go-rounds are now a way of life especially for low cadre employees and small-scale business people, it is important to exercise a lot of precaution when subscribing to one.

In 2022, Nabukeera Gertrude experienced an unpleasant moment with a merry-go-round group that cheated her. In the beginning, it was all rosy until after a protracted period of defaulting by some members. The group comprised 12 members. 

As time went by, bit by bit, things started changing for the worse. Members were fond of defaulting by not contributing to the agreed monthly savings, and the treasury had to frequently send messages to remind them of their obligation. 

“Each member was saving Shs100,000 every month. But members, especially in the last position, like the 8th person not getting the exact amount of money,” Ms Nabukeera narrates. 

“We would get less money like Shs300,000,” she said. 
Ideally, a group of 12 members, each saving Shs100,000 monthly, each member bags Shs1.2 million but for Ms Nabukeera, unfortunately, she was among the savers in the last positions to receive and used to get less payment. 

The worst part is that she joined a group of anonymous friends. Luckily, she managed out when she decided to exit the group. 

“The defaulting syndrome was unbearable. We had to call members to remind them to save, that is why I lost interest in saving with people I do not know,” says Ms Nabukeera, adding that she was convinced by a friend to join the group. 

Ms Nabukeera decided to join informal saving groups but the experience left a bitter taste in her mouth. 

Merry-go-rounds offer a holistic package of development. They nurture social interactions and emotional well-being, and nowadays, irrespective of the risks involved, many people are easily creating them, thanks to social media. 

How they work
Groups of, say, 10 may come together and decide to contribute a predetermined amount of money every month. 
Ms Connie Namusoke is a member of a merry-go-round. But just like Gertrude, she had a similar experience. 

Second chances are usually part of life, and Ms Namusoke’s bad experience didn’t deter her from exploring other groups. Given her experience in the merry-go-round, she shared how these groupings work. 

“Whereas merry grounds can sometimes be problematic, there are good initiatives because it is hard to develop without any support in Uganda,’ she said, noting that raising a sizable amount of money in a month to, say, build a house, pay school fees or buy a car is quite hard’. 

“It is now some sort of culture in Uganda where a group of friends who meet regularly at church, workplace, bar, or family come together with a proposal to save.”

She adds: “Once you agree on amounts and saving period, you then do a raffle draw by writing numbers on pieces of paper. All you need is a ticket (paper) with a number on it. After the shuffle, members pick tickets randomly. The number you pick dictates the turn you will receive the money.”

In the merry-go-round, there is no structured leadership, apart from identifying a treasurer who further has a bigger role of reminding members to save through phone calls and sending WhatsApp messages. 

The money is sent electronically or members can meet periodically to receive cash. In cases of physical meetings, a treasurer might not be needed because each group carries their cash in hand. 
Incidents of late savings are also handled mutually, according to Ms Namusoke. 

“There are times when members send the money late, and depending on the relationship you have, some groups may pardon you, but they do not tolerate perpetual defaulters,” she says. 

The worst-case scenario is a person running away with members’ cash, and from Ms Namusoke’s experience, this is how it is mitigated. 

“You feel disappointed when your money is squandered, and this is why some groups go an extra mile of knowing your place of residence, workplace among others,” she says.

Regardless of the misfortunes, merry-go-rounds are inevitable because they are life savers,  Mr Ronald Mukasa, a director, research, innovation, and learning at Enterprise Uganda, contends.  

“The advantage of those groups is that people come together to save money and it helps people with incomes,” he says. 
However, if you must join one, what must you look for before accepting an invite?

Know who you save with
According to Mr Mukasa, the biggest challenge is trust, and trust is the guiding factor for the sustainability of the group.
“Normally, a person who receives money in the first month should have the honesty to collect until the agreed period. That is when a merry-go-round can become productive,” he says.

Save with like-minded people
Trust is hard to build and it is often said that many people’s true colours manifest when money comes. For instance, are they going to remain the same when the Shs1 billion hits the account?

Regrettably, there is no instrument to measure trust but some parameters can be used to ensure faith is inculcated in the merry-go-rounds.

For example, saving with like-minded people as mentioned earlier by Ms Namusoke. It is vital to know your members. Are these people you would want to identify with? What is their source of income like, and where do they reside among others? 

Registered group 
Mr Mukasa adds that to some extent, when a group is doing well, you can consider registering a SACCO because it is wise to have the savings group registered so that you can deal with challenges legally in case someone runs away with your money. 

However, he continued: “If you must join one, there is a need for due diligence on the savings group, and despite Ms Nabukeera’s experience, he has since joined another group. There is a cash round I am with my mum and the people she trusts,” she said.