Layaway made a way for broke kid to pay

When I was 11 years old, I had my eye on a particular 10- speed bike. I spotted it one night at a store, passing time in the toy department while Mom was on one of her monthly grocery stock-up trips. It seemed as though the bicycle was made just for me. After all, it was purple — my favorite color — with pink and white paint splatters on it. It was pretty and it was girlie, but it also had big mountain bike tires on it.

But most importantly, it was an adult bike. And I thought I was 11 going on 18.

Every subsequent trip after that, I’d slip away from my mom and check if the bicycle was still there. I would study the price tag — $89.98 — and do simple math in my head to see how long it would take for my allowance to pay for such a big-ticket item. It was always a disappointing answer, no matter how many times I refigured it.

Finally, after Mom caught me studying the bike more than once, I confessed that I was coveting it more than a little and would probably ask Santa for the impossibly expensive gift.

Mom had a better idea. She said if I did a few more chores and baby-sat my younger brother and sister when she needed to get other work done, she would increase my allowance.

But I’d already been watching this bike for several months and it was going to take awhile to pay for it. What if it went out of stock?

Mom had another good idea: layaway.

Yes, before I knew what a credit card was and how it can get a college student into trouble faster than you can say Visa, I learned about saving by using layaway.

I had enough money that night to put the bike on layaway and make the down payment. I had to renew my purchase agreement an extra time before I finally got the bike paid for. But I did it — and I never paid any interest.

I had discovered a power to purchase like no other. I could guarantee both that the merchandise I wanted and the money to pay for it would still be around when I could finally afford it. After all, trips to the local ice cream store can really put a dent in an 11-year-old’s pocket.

After the bicycle purchase, I used layaway to buy a TV for my room, a stereo and other major purchases.

Eventually, I was old enough to get a job and was better at saving my money, so layaway wasn’t such a viable option as I could usually afford my purchases quickly.

Then came credit cards and the rest — just like layaway — is history.

But wait. Layaway is popular again. And credit cards, not so popular, especially not with me.

I’ve been looking at too many statements with high interest rates, even as every other interest rate is falling. It really is ridiculous. Time for a new plan — or maybe, an old one.

This will be my first Christmas of buying toys for my daughter. I got a practice run two weeks ago, before she turned 1. Her birthday gave me — literally — a run for my money. When did toys get so expensive?

While shopping, I kept seeing the signs for Christmas layaway. With my growing maturity and wisdom (there has to be some upside to getting old, right?), I am rediscovering the beauty of saving and buying outright. I’ll be signing up again for layaway for the first time in 15 years. I’ll budget my purchases and stick the plastic in a cupboard at home. On Christmas Day, Vivian will own her toys, not MasterCard.

This year, I’m telling Santa I need a bloated credit card balance about as much as I want a big ol’ lump of black coal. And I promise, I’ll be good.

Deann Stumpe

In her weekly column that runs Mondays in the Hastings Tribune, Deann Stumpe gabs about relationships, movies and TV, and life with a baby. She is the Tribune’s special sections editor.

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