Truth never changes: Neither a borrower nor a lender be (in defense of layaway)

Around the time I turned sixteen, Chase Bank came out with its first co-sign credit cards, which they marketed to teens.  A parent co-signed, capped credit amounts and monitored spending, and was held responsible for the debt.  I thought this, of course, was the greatest idea in the history of the world.  I hammered away at my parents until they finally agreed to co-sign, but not before they launched into a lengthy lecture about delayed gratification and the pitfalls of credit and living within my means.  I smiled and nodded politely, and promptly discarded their advice as I watched them sign.

Within a week, I had maxxed out my parent-imposed $400 limit.  A drop in the bucket?  Not when you’re working part-time at Burger King for $6.18 an hour.  Mom and Dad handed me the scissors and I grudgingly clipped the card in half.  And since I was already making little car payments (my parents agreed to sell me their pickup truck – are you sensing a pattern here?), it took me an entire summer to pay off my debt.  The stuff I bought?  Mostly over-priced clothing, which I wore sitting at home doing exactly what I could afford:  nothing.

Looking back, I see that my parents had carefully orchestrated the entire debacle.  Which makes me wonder why they bothered to lecture me, because I learned from the pain of that summer-without-fun-money, but that lecture went in one ear and, well, you know.  At the time, I was furious with them for letting me dig myself into a hole.

I remember complaining that it was too hard to save money with all the stuff out there I wanted to buy.  I lacked will power.  My Dad raised an eyebrow and said, “Try layaway.  That way your cash is tied up and you won’t spend money you don’t have.  That gets folks into trouble.”  Indeed, I have friends who didn’t get this crash-course; nobody capped them at $400, and by the time they realized they were in too deep, well, fifteen years later they are still trying to dig their way out.

KMART recently brought back layaway, and I’ve heard grumblings and misgivings about it both in-person and across the social mediascape.  It’s archaic, they say.  Nobody does that anymore, not when, with the swipe of a shiny little card, we can have whatever our credit limit can afford.

But is it archaic?  Do we really want to proclaim that the way of the future is incurring debt up to our eyeballs?  Is instant gratification what we want to teach the next generation?  Sure, layaway means we can’t leave the store that moment with a coveted item.  And that’s no fun.  I get it.  But, the way I see it, the pros far outweigh the cons.  Layaway:

–  eliminates the dangers of impulse buying;
–  promotes delayed gratification
–  gives the satisfaction of working toward and acheiving a goal;
–  is interest-free;
–  is a great tool for teaching kids impulse control and about how to manage their money.

In an economy when most of us are either searching for a job or praying the one we have won’t vanish, it’s surprising to hear all the layaway-hating commentary.  According to, the average indebted household credit card debt alone is upwards of $15K.  We’re still mired in an economic crisis and the situation could well be spinning out of control.  As individuals, we can’t fix the entire economy.  We can’t create jobs.  The problems are huge.  But we aren’t powerless.  We control our household spending.  We control whether we live within our means.  Layaway is one of many good ways to help us accomplish this.  I wish more retailers would offer layaway, not less.  If you agree, here’s a little list of some that do.  If not, maybe you’d enjoy this fun little list of debt quotes, such as “debt is the slavery of the free.”  — Publilius Syrus

What do you think?



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