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Pro: Use layaway to buy pricey gifts in payments

By ALLISON MILES
Dec. 16, 2012 at 6:16 a.m.
Updated Dec. 17, 2012 at 6:17 a.m.


Should you use a layaway plan?

The saying goes that nothing is certain but death and taxes. For many, however, another annual certainty joins the mix: Christmas.

The season isn't just a time for friends and family but also for giving gifts to those same people. And when money is tight, sometimes layaway enters the mix.

Such shopping programs allow consumers to select their items and pay off the bill little by little before picking them up.

But is layaway worth it?

WHAT IS A LAYAWAY PLAN?

A retail sales promotion scheme under which customers deposit a fraction of the cost of the merchandise they want but cannot buy at the time. The store holds the merchandise until a certain date on or before which the customer completes the payment and takes the delivery.

Source: business dictionary. com

The holiday season requires its fair share of strategy, from finding the right gifts to making those purchases and getting them under the tree.

In the not-too-distant past, that strategy included layaway for Victoria resident Angel Saenz.

"It was a year I knew money would be tight, but I needed to buy presents," said Saenz, who enrolled in layaway plans at two stores. "I thought it was a good option."

The waiter and landscaper said he ventured into the stores, selected the items and paid them off little by little, eventually marking off everything on his wish list.

He isn't the only one taking advantage of incremental shopping.

A little more than one in 10 people plan to use layaway plans this year, according to a BIGinsight news release posted on PRWeb.com. Of those, two in five say they're new to the practice, while the majority have used layaway in previous years.

For many such shoppers, availability of such programs helps determine where they'll spend their money, according to the release. Electronics topped the list for layaway shoppers' purchases, followed by toys and apparel.

Participation numbers might not be staggering, but the service offers relief to consumers looking to stay on budget while avoiding credit cards, Pam Goodfellow, BIGinsight's consumer insights director, said in the release.

"To maximize their efforts, retailers really need to understand layaway shoppers and cater their program promotions in a manner that speaks specifically to this unique segment," she said.

Layaway isn't for everyone, but it can be helpful for those who can't purchase all their gifts in one fell swoop, said Erin Rodriguez, media and public relations coordinator with the Better Business Bureau's Austin headquarters.

The key is for a person to know the program's terms beforehand and make sure he or she can meet them.

Rodriguez said the bureau encourages consumers to plan ahead and make sure they can come up with the necessary payments. That includes knowing payment amounts, when they're due, what happens if a payment is late and so on.

Many complaints the Better Business Bureau receives about such programs come because people didn't fully understand what was expected of them or how the program worked, Rodriguez said.

As for Saenz, he said he didn't opt for layaway this time around - he was a bit better off financially this year - but said he wouldn't rule it out.

"It worked well for me," he said. "I'd do it again."

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