Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Layaway: A Blast From the Past

I love layaway. It's how I bought my first coat when I lived in New York City. There was no other way a dirt-poor, recent college grad making $15,500 a year and paying $500 a month for rent could afford one. I distinctly remember going to the Strawberry store by Grand Central Station and selecting a knee-length jean coat with a flannel lining. The price tag was too high for me, so I put down a modest sum and vowed to pay a little more every few weeks until I could finally call it mine. Imagine the pride and joy I felt as I walked out the door of Strawberry on the day I had finally paid off the coat! I purchased it without bleeding my bank account or incurring credit card debt.

Layaway has been a friend to my family for years. My mom frequented the layaway counter at the old Hills Department Store in Youngstown. Not only was it a good way to buy furnishings and other items that were needed but immediately necessary, it was also an excellent way for my mom to buy new clothes a little at a time without my dad hitting the roof.

So what happened to layaway? Did we all suddenly get rich and able to pay on-demand for everything we wanted? Of course not. Unfortunately, our parents' quest for us to have a better life than theirs led to our "I've gotta have it now" mentality. Why should I wait three months for a new coat, stereo or whatever when I can put it on my credit card and have it TODAY?

This is not a case of the pot calling the kettle black. I freely admit that I fell victim to this attitude more than a time or two. You see the newest item on the shelves, then see someone you know walking around with it and -- BAM! -- you find yourself coveting that thing and eventually making your way to the store to get one for yourself. Credit card fees be damned!

Now, as we find ourselves in a major financial pinch, layaway is making a comeback. According to a recent article in the New York Daily News, many department stores are reopening the layaway counter to encourage customers to get a jumpstart on Christmas shopping. (See )

Putting money down a little money at a time for items you can't necessarily afford right now is sensible and practical. We don't have to deny ourselves everything, but we can plan to acquire them when we are ready. This is an old-fashioned idea that we shouldn't pooh-pooh. Instead, we should recognize the situation we currently face (and probably will face for awhile), and embrace the options available to us to weather the storm.

Welcome back, layaway, we really need you!

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