The Checkout

The Grinch's Name is Wal-Mart

Laura Walsh of Luray, Va., got a rude awakening last week during a regular shopping trip to Wal-Mart. While standing in line, she noticed a small sign that said the company was ending layaway, the plan that allowed shoppers to buy on hold until they could afford purchases.

Walsh's first thought was: How will she and her husband afford to buy Christmas presents for their three children?

Wal-Mart announced the decision to end layaway in mid-September. At the time, not many customers had advance warning, and Walsh is among the many dedicated Wal-Mart shoppers who are only just finding out about it. In the September announcement, Wal-Mart said shoppers will have until Nov. 19 to put items on layaway and must pick them up by Dec. 8. If many of Wal-Mart's customers react as she did, the giant retailer may alienate a good chunk of its core customers.

The company cited falling demand and credit cards as reasons for ending the policy. Consumers apparently prefer the instant gratifcation plastic can give them to the patience that is required with layaway.

Wal-Mart wants instant gratification, too. It wants people to pay up and take their merchandise home.

Left out, says Walsh, are people who are trying to live within their means and avoid credit card debt.
"For being a responsible citizen, and paying for my goods ahead of time and not digging myself into debt, this is what I get," she said.

Walsh left her corporate job years ago to stay at home and raise her children. The family of five lives on one income. Walsh does almost all her shopping at Wal-Mart and estimates she spends anywhere from $150 to $300 a week there.

Layaway was a big factor in her loyalty. It's not only how she and her husband can afford birthday and holidays for the kids, but also how they bought their lawn mower, big-ticket baby items, and a generator to keep their sump pump running.

Right now, Walsh has a DVD player and a Nintendo console on layaway as Christmas gifts for two of her three kids. Each week, she has been pinching a little bit from her grocery budget to pay for the items within the 60 day window. At the end of the 60 days, she has to pay the balance. She will then get her presents for this year. But she will have to find another retailer that offers layaway before next year.

When Walsh called Wal-Mart to complain, she said she had a hard time reaching anyone who would listen to her. "I called the corporate number and got nothing and no one. They put it in a computer and say have a nice day," she said.

Part of what irks her is the fact that Wal-Mart has not only made billions off loyal shoppers just like her, but markets itself as the retailer of choice for working families. If Target had done the same, she said, she wouldn't have felt the same because Target has never sold itself that way.

Walsh said that before she gives into signing up for a Wal-Mart credit card, she will schlep to the nearest K-Mart, which in a small tit-for-tat display, followed Wal-Mart's announcement last month with news that it was going to keep offering layaway.

"Layaway has been the great American way...for those of us normal people who live week to week," she said. "Some corporate lovely gentleman--we'll call him--doesn't know what it's like to live on one income."

Given that so many Americans are awash in credit card debt, wouldn't we all be better off bringing back layaway? And I don't just mean at Wal-Mart.

By Annys Shin |  October 16, 2006; 9:00 AM ET Consumer News
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whats the difference between layaway, and stashing a little cash in a cookie jar every week and then taking it out on december 20th and just paying for the stuff when you buy it??

i don't understand how any real functionality is lost without layaway, assuming you have the disipline to keep the lid on the cookie jar.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 16, 2006 9:43 AM

I remember when banks had a "Christmas Club" account--you could deposit small amounts during the year, and then take it all out before Christmas to buy presents. Do any banks still do that?

Posted by: Cabin John | October 16, 2006 9:43 AM

"whats the difference between layaway, and stashing a little cash in a cookie jar every week and then taking it out on december 20th and just paying for the stuff when you buy it??'

I may be wrong, but I believe layaway actually "lays away" the item you want to it's there when you finish paying.

If you're looking for specific toys (as most parents are at holiday time), there's no guarantee anything you want will still be on store shelves on the just walking will likely find you leaving empty handed.

And it doesn't just apply to toys. When I worked in retail, customers could place almost anything layaway, as long as they could start a payment plan.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 16, 2006 9:51 AM

"Each week, she has been pinching a little bit from her grocery budget to pay for the items within the 60 day window."

As has been noted, why not just try saving money in a savings account and then withdrawing from it for special purposes? I have an account into which I depost about $150 per month which I use to pay for a house rental at the beach each year.

If she's got a normal checking account, she can open an internet bank account (for example, with ING or EmigrantDirect). She could actually earn a little interest on her savings. And banking on-line might save a trip. If she's ever had to make a trip in her car for the sole purpose of paying something toward her layaway, that's a waste of gas and mileage which is a waste of money.

Posted by: Derek | October 16, 2006 9:56 AM

Cabin John, that is how all savings accounts work. Put it in now and take it out later or whenever you want.

Posted by: Steve | October 16, 2006 9:59 AM

How about being honest with the kids and themselves (parents) and explaining that you cannot afford DVD player and a Nintendo console ?! Teach the kids they get enough (food, clothes, house to live in) to be greatful to their parents for, not to Santa?! Enyone thinks as I do?

Posted by: Anonymous | October 16, 2006 10:00 AM

And Annys, this is really old news. Surely you have something better to write about.

Posted by: Steve | October 16, 2006 10:00 AM

If she already spends $150 to $300 PER WEEK at Wal-Mart, can't she cut back on that and just buy whatever she wants outright? That's a lot of money to spend on anything per week, plus Nintendos and Xboxes are kind of extravagant if you're on such a tight budget. We have a local Wal-Mart and I don't spend $150 to $300 per year there. Don't think Wal-Mart is only for the redneck and rural yokel. Some of our local 'old money' and politicians shop at Wal-Mart.

Back in the early 1970's I put a set of dishes on layaway at Hecht's on 7th Street. The pattern was on sale and I paid every week until they were paid for. I even got a friend to drive me to pick up the dishes because they'd be in a big box and too awkward to carry on the bus. When we got to the china department, the dishes weren't there. The ditzy sales person didn't set them aside at the first payment! Boy, was I steamed! They tried to sell me another pattern, which I did not want. I ended up getting my money back and I've never shopped at Hecht's again.

Posted by: Southern Maryland | October 16, 2006 10:04 AM

To Southern Maryland: what are you talking about? What makes you think she isn't spending the $150-$300 per week on groceries? You don't seem to understand that in a lot of small towns, the nearest Walmart has the best deals on groceries as well as other things. You want her to cut back on buying food for her family?

Posted by: Lil | October 16, 2006 10:12 AM

This may be a grinch-like comment and may invite some flames (joy), but I would think that people who live week to week ought not to be buying things they can't afford to pay cash for up front (or save for). A Nintendo? Get your kids some books, a language class, art supplies, anything except mind-numbing video games. I know the lady in the story didn't ask for alternatives or advice or self-righteous moral postulating. This is what she wanted to buy. And that's fine. But I can't help but wonder why the poorer among the working class feel the need to buy gadgets like this at the expense of other options just to be "happy".

If layaway promotes paying in cash and avoiding debt, then I have to wonder why people stopped taking advantage of it? I used it once to buy myself some real jewelry when I was 16 and it was a great experience learning to budget, set aside money from my fast food restaurant paycheck, and find ways to cut teenage expenses so I could get the jewelry that much faster.

I'd be happy if we went back to the days of yore when credit was extended only after people met strict criteria for creditworthiness. Having credit so easily available is a constant struggle, even for someone fairly financially savvy like myself. It's there, it's available, and it takes some character to say "No, it's not worth it to charge this." It's tough to track spending with a credit card for budgeting purposes, yet it's equally tough for someone like me, who has never had a substantial amount of carry over in their checking account, to give what has accumulated to pad my account up by switching to a cash only diet. It's like the credit card is there and I can pay it all off if no other pressing cash expenses are around, and if there is an unexpected bill, I can just roll the credit over to the next month and hope to pay in full then. Silly, I know, but it's like engaging in psychological warfare with oneself to attain financial stability in a world of unknowns.

Ok I'm wayyyyy off the point here. Sorry....

Posted by: CyanSquirrel | October 16, 2006 10:14 AM

"Left out, says Walsh, are people who are trying to live within their means and avoid credit card debt."

As said by posters above, buying something when you don't have the money is not living within their means. For next year, start saving. Maybe start saving NOW for next Christmas so you will have the money in September/October and then buy the gifts.

Oh wait, Christmas is NOT about shopping, is it. It's religous, right? Why not celebrate the meaning of the holiday.

Posted by: Non-debtor | October 16, 2006 10:14 AM

Southern Maryland: If you do almost all your shopping at one store, -- including grocery shopping -- why wouldn't you spend that much? She's got a family of FIVE. That many people eat a lot, as well as use a lot of toilet paper, laundry detergent, shampoo, cold medicine... and what if she has a kid in diapers? Honestly.

Posted by: Silver Spring | October 16, 2006 10:15 AM

Lil: The 'groceries' Wal-Mart sells is snack food, chips, pop-tarts, watered down fruit juice, gummy bears, cookies. You can't buy a week's groceries there. No produce, meat, diary. Get real.

Posted by: Southern Maryland | October 16, 2006 10:18 AM

So MD - she's probably buying groceries there too! -- It's a big family.

Derek - She probably doesn't have that much that she can reliably deposit. Most banks want a minimum balance to keep the account open, or you get dinged with $5 or more fee each month.

Realize that you & I are probably in a position that if our paycheck was shorted one week, it would be tough, but not as hard a making a choice between lights or food. I am fortunate enough that we can pay off our credit card balances each month. Honestly, when was the last time you actually paid attention when the cashier at the grocery store said "you're total is $60" before whipping out the plastic. Many families in this area need to pay attention to that total, and will put something back.

I say good for her that she manages her credit like that. If something were to happen to the one income, she'd probably be able to get back to work, but it takes much longer to pay off debt than it does to accumulate it. When you can, talk with where you spend you money!

Posted by: So MD & Derek | October 16, 2006 10:18 AM

"it's tough to track spending with a credit card for budgeting purposes"

The heck it is. I use Quicken (and I'm sure there are a bunch of programs out there that do similar) to track everything that comes in or out of our accounts. When I charge something, I enter it into the credit card account and select one of many categories (groceries, clothing, entertainment, etc). Not only do I know how much is outstanding on the card, but I know where pretty much every cent spent went.

Same thing for checking account. For cash, I just put it into "Spending Cash" - too hard to track the $1.00 for the soda, $0.35 for the newspaper, etc. If I make a large cash purchase, I adjust the withdrawal to reflect the purchase.

Posted by: Non-debtor | October 16, 2006 10:19 AM

Some of the Walmarts have remade themselves to compete with the groceries. You can indeed get regular groceries, like produce and meat. (although not the ones in So. MD - thank goodness for zoning stuggles)

Posted by: So. MD | October 16, 2006 10:24 AM

Toilet paper? Laundry detergent? These kids should be using old corn cobs and the Sears & Roebuck catalog for TP; they should be washing their clothes down at the river with rocks! Living on one income? Why isn't this man out plowing the fields and working the land?! Charles Ingalls would be hanging his head in shame.

Posted by: Blog Extremeist | October 16, 2006 10:24 AM

This woman's complaint is stupid. As many have already said, a checking account is the same thing as layaway; a savings account is even better since you earn interest.

Posted by: William | October 16, 2006 10:27 AM

So. Maryland,

The Luray, VA Walmart has a full groceries section, with produce, meat, diary along with snack food, chips, pop-tarts, watered down fruit juice, gummy bears, cookies. You can buy a week's groceries there. Pwned.

Posted by: Sprawlmart | October 16, 2006 10:27 AM

Lay-away was great for my family when we were young and mostly broke. We had very little disposable income, but we still wanted to buy things for ourselves and child--clothes, Christmas gifts. We lived on a military base overseas, and each year there would be a huge toy sale/electronics sale. This was before the internet was really an option for people with apo/fpo addresses. We would get up at 6 am in order to get in line to buy Christmas gifts. This was usually in September. It cost three dollars to put everything on lay-away, I believe. If I had put the money away in a cookie jar, as you say, there would not have been anything left to buy in December! I actually returned, however, and got my deposit back on the items I wanted to purchase, because my two year old just didn't need that much (and I only had 3 items on layaway). The year before I DID use it to buy clothes for her. It was a little like Soviet Russia over there--a big black market and lots of hording. Since we were on a strict budget, my husband and I each had an allowance of 75 dollars for two weeks. I put an 80 dollar sewing machine on layaway and took 2 months paying it off. The 75 dollars had to pay for gas, entertainment and non-essentials. Again, the BX (military store) would have 'specials' on items a couple of times a year, so if you lost out, it wasn't like you could go elsewhere and get it. I paid 20 dollars every two weeks. By not running up our credit cards, which I don't think we would have had as much discipline to pay off, we were able to return to the US and buy a house. I really appreciated the lay-away program at the time, because the only other way for us to get those items would have been to go into debt. And that sewing machine has paid for itself many times over. My house has 39 windows, and I made curtains for all of them on that ten year old sewing machine. If I had bought them, it could have been thousands of dollars (but not really, because I would have put up NEWSPAPER before spending that kind of money on window treatments!). Anyway, my point is that the lay-away program was very much appreciated by me and my family. We are luckily in a position now that we buy most things with cash, but it wasn't always the case. Without lay-away, we might not be here now. Without the excellent credit rating, no house that appreciated 250% in 6 years (bought in 98), sold for over half million and helped us purchase a house with 39 windows! We lived within our means, and still do.

Posted by: Sorry this is so long | October 16, 2006 10:30 AM

"whats the difference between layaway, and stashing a little cash in a cookie jar every week and then taking it out on december 20th and just paying for the stuff when you buy it??"

I think where you have a relationship with a store and good credit, layaway makes sense.

Also, sometimes it's the rarity of the item, or getting it at a special price. If you buy it on a credit card, there's no saying how much interest will jack up the price. Layaway gives you a little extra time to spread out your payments without incurring interest.

I frequented an antique jewelry store during my college years. Since I was a good customer who recommended them to other students and faculty who complimented my vintage costume jewelry collection, they actuallly started to buy pieces at estate sales they thought I might like.

If I passed on the item, they could usually sell it anyway, so it wasn't a loss for them, and it was an informal way of thanking me for their increased business.

Twice over three years I bought pieces on layaway. I *could* have paid for them outright with my credit card, but for one item, the purchase coincided with the start of the fall term so I needed to pay for my books first (they'd actually kept the item out of the display case all summer for me). The other time was when I purchased an item I gave as a Christmas present to my mother.

Layaway served two purposes here: I got to not blow a healthy chunk of my Christmas budget at once (the pin was 3 times the budget I usually allowed myself for a single item, but it was one of those things I absolutely *knew* she had to have), but more importantly, the store kept the piece secure in their store - important when your newly assigned replacement roommate has sticky fingers...

Posted by: Chasmosaur | October 16, 2006 10:36 AM

"Lil: The 'groceries' Wal-Mart sells is snack food, chips, pop-tarts, watered down fruit juice, gummy bears, cookies. You can't buy a week's groceries there. No produce, meat, diary. Get real."

Do some research before you mouth off. Many Wal-Marts include full-line grocery stores including all the items you mention. If you read the Post's business section you'd know that Wal-Mart is now a big enough force in the grocery business that it's impacting the profits of some of the major food companies (as Wal-Mart demands lower wholesale prices for their brands) as well as other grocery chains. You may not cry for them now, but I wouldn't be surprised if in 10 or 20 years Wal-Mart is the only place left to shop for groceries for the people can't patronize the Harris-Teeters and Wegman's of the industry.

Posted by: BC | October 16, 2006 10:36 AM

To Sorry this is so long, it sounds like you could have survived without layaway. The BX specials weren't 100% by surprise. You knew they happened a couple of times a year. If you save (i.e. do your own layaway), you would have the money to buy what you needed when the specials came. Ok, you might have to miss the first one (assuming you didn't have money saved yet) but after that, you would be fine without layaway.

It seems to me (and I could be wrong) that layaway is just another way to live outside your means (to some). Less risky than credit cards but it's still "buying" something when you don't have the money.

Posted by: Non-debtor | October 16, 2006 10:39 AM

1. If one is disciplined, use a credit card, mark the amount spent in your check register, and move the cash from one's pocket or cookie jar and into the checking account with each purchase. Pay the bill in full each month. Maybe earn cash back on a no fee card.

2. Join a credit union. Minimum starting balances, typically low or no fees. Some even have accumulator certificates. Put in a little each month, earn regular CD rates. Have large cash stash in time for annual gift giving, car purchasing, etc. And most credit unions have free counseling and financial education for their members and for the general public.

Posted by: Credit Union Booster | October 16, 2006 10:40 AM

I feel it is tough for *me* to keep the budget in mind when I use a credit card. I use Money software, and yes in the computer, my spending is so noted in different budget categories, but how many people have their computer with them when they go to make a purchase (often unplanned)? That was my point: Unless you make a concerted effort to know the standing of expenditures in every category on every day, you can fall behind, making guesstimates at the checkout line of whether or not you've just blown your budget. That's the psychological tension I was referring to. I update my software twice a week. But I look at my budget spending maybe twice a month at payday. Life comes at you fast, and even the most disciplined have times where they experience uncertainty in their finances. :-)

Posted by: CyanSquirrel | October 16, 2006 10:40 AM

For those of you who think that those people who use layaway should be using their money to buy books, etc., instead of highly desirable things like nintendos, you should rethink that. First of all, while books are nice, they are largely FREE. Why would I pay good money for a book I can get from the library? And then STORE it? We go to the library twice a week, and even though my kids like to spend their barnes and noble gift cards (always 20 bucks at christmas from my uncle), they never buy books there. They buy 'stuff'--stationary, toys, journals. They know full well that if they wait a week or two, the tenth book of series of unfortunate events will be at our library.

Also, Wal-mart has two kinds of stores. Regular and Super. The super has a great grocery store with great deals on meat, produce, etc. I wish (kind of, since I rather dislike that store) there was one near me.

Art, language and music classes are very expensive. You could buy three nintendos for one of those classes a year where I live. I paid 20 dollars per half hour violin class for my kid. That is on the low side. And there is something to be said for having the same stuff as everybody else when you are a kid. When I was in school, bass weejuns were the thing to have, and the kids that bought the knock offs soon regretted it. Not saying that it is right or good, but that is reality of social life in school. Maybe I am playing into it buy getting my kid etnies, but they made her so happy, she wears them, and they give her a certain panache at her godforsaken middle school. Yeah, I want the system to change, but she is not going to be the one to do it in a school of 1000. I am not a real firebrand myself.

Posted by: STISL poster | October 16, 2006 10:51 AM

CyanSquirrel, I understand how it is harder for some to deal with finances (heck, my sister is terrible with it). But what I don't understand (and I hope this doesn't come off as snotty as I'm trying to understand) is how layaway is any better? If you don't know how much you have spent on a credit card (or owe on layaway), how will you know if the latest purchase is blown through your budget??

Similarly, if you are grocery shopping, hopefully you have made a list at home and are sticking to it. When making the list, you could consult your checkbook register/computer files to see your budget. If you are going off to make a big purchase (i.e. TV, car, etc), hopefully you know about your budget. If you aren't out to make a big purchase and you do, then no amount of budgeting can work.

Posted by: Non-debtor | October 16, 2006 10:58 AM

It is easy to play arm-chair quarter-back with someone elses life, ten years later. NOW I could do it, but I didn't have the skills or knowledge to do it then. Not to mention my spendthrift husband would have put his stereo on a credit card if I hadnt insisted on lay-a-way. We still have that stereo, incidentally. If you are at all familiar with being enlisted in the service overseas, you will know that things can change quickly. The first year we were there we didn't know diddly (o.k.--that may have had something to do with being 21, married with a child and spouse;-), and each year got a little better. The toy and electronic sale was a known factor, but generally we would not have even purchased the stereo on layaway if my husband hadn't gotten extra money from unexpected travel. Same with the sewing machine and furniture (not that we ever bought much there). You just never knew when those kinds of things would pop up. Besides the big stores, there were little ones where you could just get lucky (i.e. the sewing machine.)

Posted by: to non-debtor | October 16, 2006 11:06 AM

If it makes any difference, I got a Nintendo when I was a kid for Christmas, too, back in 1990 or so. The difference between me and most kids nowadays, regardless of the financial status of their parents? I still have it. Yes, an original NES that plays Duck Hunt and SuperMario Bros. 3...I am now 27. I took darn good care of that machine. It taught me motor skills, spatial reasoning skills, gave me exercise (the Olympics game with the Power Pad!) and was much more fun than idly watching TV. Will these kids be able to say the same for something their mom scraped by to afford on layaway? Or will it be in the dustbin in a few years?

My parents did pretty well with me, instilling an appreciation for, well, everything I enjoyed in life. I suggested the books because when people are living paycheck to paycheck like that, getting anything that can help increase the earning power of their children in the future by developing critical skills is a good investment, no matter your income level. So as opposed to some machine that may be obsolete in a year or two, it helps to take a look at the VALUE of what you are buying. If it still makes sense to you and your particular station in life, then by all means go for've made an informed and reasoned decision. In some ways I think Layaway can help with this, giving people a lot more time to think over their purchases as they make payments, instead of the few seconds you have at the checkout with the plastic in hand.

Secondly, Non-Debtor, you've made some good points...

Posted by: CyanSquirrel | October 16, 2006 11:39 AM

I think that lay-away is one, not the only, way to buy things without credit and stay on a budget. it is a tool. an option. It may not the best option for some people but it is for others. This lady could have get a credit card or save in a savings account but this was the easiet. That's all. and for those who don't understand why lay-away is good, then perhaps that is why it's not YOUR best option.

Posted by: wendykroy | October 16, 2006 11:45 AM

Spending a little bit each week means she CAN afford it; she's not buying something she can't afford. She just can't afford to pay for it all at once.

And the point of this original story is that Wal-Mart is forgetting about their base. Sound familiar?

I used the layaway at Wal-Mart once: I was buying a bike for my daughter's birthday, but I was shopping about a month before. The bike was on sale, but where would I stash a bike for a month without my daughter seeing it? The salesperson suggested layaway. I paid for most of it that day and picked it up on her birthday while she was at school. Perfect way to buy gifts without having to take them home until you need them.

Posted by: Smart Shopper | October 16, 2006 11:47 AM

Oh, and no we were not rich. Midwestern lower to middle class at best. Just had a really financially smart mom who took charge of the household finances and paid off a 30 year mortgage in less than 20 years, even after being fired for revealing to her employer of 18 years that she was losing her hearing...just before the ADA was she had no rights, and no recourse, and we lost 60% of our household income in the blink of an eye. Of course, no one would hire her for many years after because, well, she was deaf now, and people at that time thought deaf equals incapable of work. So...we struggled along on my dad's blue collar income. He didn't really care where the money went as long as he could bowl hehe...
Life can be harsh...I'm sure most of you realize that. It's why I just don't get some of the choices people make, to be tied to debt (including myself) or to buy frivolous things just because everyone else is.

Posted by: CyanSquirrel | October 16, 2006 11:55 AM

Anyone who shops at Wal-Mart deserves what they get. If you want to get Wal-Mart's attention, QUIT SHOPPING THERE!!!

Posted by: Steve | October 16, 2006 11:55 AM

"How about being honest with the kids and themselves (parents) and explaining that you cannot afford DVD player and a Nintendo console ?! Teach the kids they get enough (food, clothes, house to live in) to be greatful to their parents for, not to Santa?! Enyone thinks as I do?"

OMG, +1

This is such a non-issue. If enough people take their business elsewhere, then Wal Mart will bring back layaway. Otherwise, why should prices be higher for everyone else because some people are too lazy to do the method mentioned above, stash the money somewhere until they're ready to buy. If the price goes up/dish pattern changes/they get sold out/whatever, then hey, tough luck - either get a credit card or don't buy the damn thing, with no 'safety reserve' of money, you can't afford it anyway.

Posted by: JD | October 16, 2006 12:10 PM

It's kind of hard to give up shopping at Wal-Mart over this issue when I already DID give up shopping at Wal-Mart a while back.

But yes, I remember both layaway and Christmas Clubs. My parents, who were teenagers during the Great Depression, made good use of both purchasing plans when I was growing up.

I wonder how much longer Kmart is actually going to keep offering layway.

Posted by: Greenbelt Gal | October 16, 2006 12:20 PM

The problem with Layaway programs is that they are with odds with modern just-in-time inventory methods that are necessary to keep prices low. It costs money to warehouse goods and that either cuts into margins, increases prices or some combination of both.

Wal-Mart does a fantastic job and makes a significant contribution towards increasing the standard of living of it customers by increasing their buying power.

If you want to find something to fret over, why not take aim at the public school monopoly instead?

If Wal-Mart ran its business like the public school system, they would have only one brand of everything, it would cost three to four times as much as its real market value, it wouldn't work and it would misappropriate taxpayer resources to stifle any discussion of how to make it better.

Posted by: Randell Young | October 16, 2006 12:24 PM

I don't think anyone can truly fault Wal-Mart for getting rid of layway. If you read the business articles about it they all point out that Wal-Mart is simply following the trend of the industry. No one has layway anymore and it just became too costly to maintain. (that's been everyone's argument not just Wally World).

Posted by: Melissa | October 16, 2006 12:28 PM

Living within your means is the hardest art of all.

We pay off our credit card bills every month, we buy ONLY sale items at the food stores (what IS this $150 - $300 for food??), and we use coupons and rebates with a vengence.

But these tactics would be of little use if we didn't also JUST SAY NO occasionally to an attractive item on the store shelf.

People, discipline yourselves! Learn how to cut down on buying junk. Open those sale brochures, analyze, wait for sales and then stock up, NEVER buy at full cost.

If you don't do that, I don't wanna hear your whining.

Posted by: Gene | October 16, 2006 12:40 PM

Here's how Law-Away is better. You pick up that Christmas present when it's ON SALE (maybe Columbus Day or an Anniversary Sale) and toss it into lay-away. No back order, no out of stock. It's in a room somewhere with your name on it. The exact one you picked up in the store but couldn't afford today. There's no annual fee, no interest (for 60 days), and you make payments every week. Every now and again, you find a ten spot in the laundry and are able to pay it off early (not likely if you're living paycheck to know where every dime is).
No one cares what your credit rating is, or how much you make a year.
And she's right...people who use lay-away over credit should be applauded for keeping their debts in check. Too many don't.

Posted by: LiT | October 16, 2006 12:45 PM

A new Walmart topic I'd be interested in seeing covered is the whole site aimed at kids. It is a 'fun' site that allows kids to create a wishlist from items that are presented to them, but there are instances where the characters say how they will be out of a job when a kid doesn't add something to his/her wishlish. Just a recommendation, Annys.

Posted by: Another topic recommendation | October 16, 2006 12:51 PM

While the disappearance of layaway is following the trend of the retail industry, it is more interesting to note how judgmental the posters are about one family's use of layaway and the small amount of insight they provided into their finances. Slow Monday for the self-righteous?

Posted by: Get Over Yourself | October 16, 2006 12:51 PM

So. Maryland: In the area near Luray, Virginia, Super WalMarts abound. They have more groceries than a lot of the big grocery stores here in Northern Virginia, and at much better prices. You should check your facts before spouting off next time..

Posted by: Used to live near Luray... | October 16, 2006 12:59 PM


Anytime the issue has to do with credit, paying over time, or anything related, you are as predictable as clockwork to swoop in with a smug, self-satisfied comment that makes it clear to everyone you think yourself superior to most of us.

Knock it off.

Posted by: Darth Serious | October 16, 2006 1:03 PM

I can tell you that, in the Shenandoah Valley or in any other place in America:

Not everyone has a computer. A desktop PC is a luxury often out of reach for the working poor. But a mom paying the family bills with cash out of an envelope each month knows exactly what she has to spend, even without Quicken to keep her books.

Not everyone has or wants (or even qualifies for) a credit card, even one with usurious rates.

Not everyone has a checking account, even if they can afford the monthly fees.

No kid wants to be the one on the block without a Nintendo, the lack of which in today's society will come with the almost automatic connotation of being not just poor, but hopelessly un-cool within your peer group.

Of course, many people also don't have health insurance, a phone, a working car, or a steady job, either. They just make do, and are often reduced to trying to make it a little nicer than usual for their kids just one day a year. The world's biggest retailer has just made it a little tougher. I pity the working poor in America today.

Posted by: Front Royal | October 16, 2006 1:13 PM

Oh woe is me. Another thing Walmart OWES people. So now Walmart OWES consumers lay-away, yeah right. There are a million places to save a little money each week, not the least is the oft mention cookie jar. Walmart doesn't OWE anyone anything. That they provide the products they do at the prices they do.......isn't that enough? In addition, I spend $150 or less for groceries at Walmart each week for a family of 4, which includes all the sundries (asundries?) I can't imagine what I'd have to buy to spend $300.

Posted by: lizzieB | October 16, 2006 1:17 PM

Probably off topic, but I read all above comments and thought how sad that some people have no empathy or sympathy in their hearts, just the certainty that they've got theirs and anyone who doesn't have financial security is somehow second rate and undeserving. I'll bet they call themselves Christians, too. If they ever find themselves in need, I sincerely hope they reap what they have sowed.

Posted by: eb | October 16, 2006 1:28 PM

Hey Front Royal, the WaPo editorial page may be the bastion of bleeding hearts like yourself, but this blog sure ain't.

You can stow the 'feel sorry for the kids' argument because they are ostracized for not having a Nintendo (!). You gotta be kidding.

And the poor kids in Africa, Iraq, etc., think they have it tough; this family has to get by with saving money in a seperate physical place because Wal Mart's a grinch (at least, that's what Annys seems to imply by her title)

Posted by: JD | October 16, 2006 1:29 PM

To Front Royal - I have to say that my brothers and I were the kids on the block without the Nintendo or Play Station or any of the other gaming systems. We were not branded social outcasts or ridiculed at school for it. Getting something for the children just because "everyone else" has it is ridiculous.

As for WalMart getting rid of layway, its too bad because it did allow people for opportunities to get things they wanted and perhaps even needed without incurring the high costs of credit cards. Its very easy to charge, but if you cannot afford to pay the bill off every month, the finance charges start to hurt. Remember, we can all point fingers and say "that's not how I do it or how you should do it", but for some people there are not that many options.

Posted by: BiochemGirl | October 16, 2006 1:43 PM

I agree with the first poster and others that layaway is unnecessary. Sure some item might be out of stock later, but a Nintendo player and a DVD player, I doubt it. They will always be around or will restocked later. If there are sales to be made, they'll have the product. And sales always come back later or maybe you'll save enough money so that it won't be an issue. Personally, I tend to buy things because I need them, not because they are on sale. If I just want something, and I have the money, then maybe I'll sit around and wait for a sale.

I remember my mom buying us some school clothes on layaway at Marshall's when I was a kid. I suppose it's (or was) a convenient tool, but now I see layaway as telling some one else to save money for you. Just save it yourself. If you haven't developed the discipline to do that yet, work on developing it. Using layaway certainly isn't an indicator of "living within your means" to me.

On a completely unrelated note, I find it amusing that a Walmart loyalist is complaining about Walmart. Out of all the bad things they do, she complains about no layaway. How terribly cruel of them.

Posted by: Manuel | October 16, 2006 1:47 PM

1: Let me get this straight, Wal-Mart is supposed to extend a 0% loan while the customer waits to pay for an item that Wal-Mart can no longer sell to someone else, on top of the expense of paying for people and real-estate to store the item?

2: It is very stupid for a consumer to lock in the price for a tech item (DVD, video games), and pay for it 60 days later, in a world where tech products go down in price, and you can earn some interest in a bank. Wal-Mart is doing her a favor.

Posted by: MG | October 16, 2006 1:47 PM

Walmart is creating habits for people to respond to.

They are _The_Company_Store_ in progress. What you as consumers need to understand is that you don't want to be trained by the company. They are already busy training your congress.

Stick to the point.

Posted by: adress the problem at hand, not turn it into your personal pet peeve. | October 16, 2006 1:56 PM

The argument isn't so much whether Wal-Mart should offer layaway; the fact is, far fewer people are using it. If only one person bought one Squeaky Blue Widget per month at a given store, I'd expect the store to stop selling Squeaky Blue Widgets. It stinks for that one person, but businesses can't always afford the luxury of maintaining an activity or stocking an item for a shrinking minority of customers.

What this story shows us is that, perhaps, we have become "hooked" on easy-to-get credit; OK for those who manage it, unfortunate for those who cannot.

Posted by: WestAlex | October 16, 2006 1:56 PM

Wal Mart is not the only grinch out there; you people are mean. I agree that Walmart is a lousy choice of vendor- there must be other merchants who still do layaway. But the general tone of responses here is to condemn low income people for ever buying anything- for daring to ask for any pleasure in life. While I suspect a good percentage of you either earn in the 6 figures or live off stock dividends. Charles Dickens would have recognized this world view.

Posted by: Robbin | October 16, 2006 1:59 PM

Layaway is not only about buying things for Christmas. For poor people, such as myself, who have only one income and are struggling just to put food an the table and keep a roof over our heads, layaway is a godsend when it comes to clothing your family. And no matter how much you budget, stretching a $600 biweekly paycheck to cover food, rent, transportation, and necessities for a family of 4 is not easy. And no, I do not carry any extra debt. But when you're poor, you do what you can to get by. I don't even celebrate Christmas, but I do use layaway to get my children their school uniforms.
So before anyone else goes on about someone living beyond their means, just think for a moment that we're grateful to be living at all.

Posted by: Layaway User and Proud of It | October 16, 2006 1:59 PM

finding laziness in people as an excuse for having predictability is not necessary....

You all agree that corporations need to be protected from bankruptcy, but you ignore the consumer (you), and what would be good for you. Are you all trained to diminish your importance as the world and it's benefits recedes from view?

Asking for some thoughtful behaviour from a store that is used to getting _what_it_wants_ regardless of what you want, is really what this is about. Pay attention to that.

This is a store that thinks it's medical benefits are the medicare system for people living in poverty.........that's how you qualify for medicare.

They also hire _illegals_ so they don't have to hire you.

Posted by: as an exception to the rule... | October 16, 2006 2:03 PM

Hey Robbin, if you equate getting a DVD player or a Nintendo as the only pleasures in life, then boy you must live a pretty sad life. The argument is whether Wal Mart has the right to remove layaway; of course they do, and anyone (even a poor person) should be able to adapt easily.

Layaway User and Proud of It - assuming this isn't a fraud posting and you really are poor, supporting a family of 4 on $1200/month (wow, you must live in, where, West Virginia? or SE? or Petersburg?) You understand that you can just save the money yourself with the school uniforms, right? There's no difference with having the store hold it or you hold it.

As for the fact that we should be grateful to be, sure. OK. Whatever. Nice on-topic posting, I guess...

Posted by: JD | October 16, 2006 2:08 PM

"a savings account is even better since you earn interest."

Please tell me which banks allow you to have a free (meaning no monthly or annual charges), interest-earning savings account. Not online banks, just brick-and-mortar local banks.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 16, 2006 2:08 PM

what is it about giving each other the benefit of a doubt that you're having a hard time with?

At a time when the government is taking away $30 a month in medical benefits from the elderly, poor and disabled.....

to pay for an occupation, of an oil rich nation that is also struggling to stand up against the imperialist attitude....

and your congress feeds you lines about what a worthless bunch of citizens that you are so you'll pay for their tax benefits, remove the estate tax, as they start shipping doctors jobs to India.......

and you want to blame each other?

How much debt is owed to China?

Who is opening factories in China?

Who provides 67% of everything in a Walmart?

Do you even think beyond knee jerk responses? This whole thing is _about_ the United States Infrastructure, National Security, believe it or not.

Why is gasoline $2.00 a gallon in the United States and $8.00 a gallon in Europe just before an election?

Does your complicit congress have the corporations in their pocket and vice versa?

Pay some attention.

Posted by: just ask yourselves this... | October 16, 2006 2:11 PM

what's the median income in Fairfax?

around $100K.

There's subsidized housing in Reston, Falls Chuch, 7 Corners, and so on.

There are also multiple families living in one residence.

Washington DC is also port_of_entry_ for a lot of internationals.

Washington DC, is a nightmare to work in if you're not white collar.

In most areas that have high dollar jobs the service sector is also high dollar, that's not true in Virginia, DC or Maryland, because of the influx of internationals.

The elitist, serf mentality is also heavily involved in congress........

The Complicit Congress is starting to steal money from the Upper Class now, doctors jobs are being outsourced to other countries....

You are being maniuplated by corporate based media to _behave_.

And proud of it! Support that ?war? right.

Posted by: ps. | October 16, 2006 2:19 PM

Hey, anonymous poster who calls him(her)self 'just ask yourselves...' or 'an exception to the rule', you might want to knock it off. This is a blog about layaway, not Iraq, politics, China policy, etc.

If you want to talk about that stuff, call this guy

Posted by: JD | October 16, 2006 2:21 PM

"No kid wants to be the one on the block without a Nintendo, the lack of which in today's society will come with the almost automatic connotation of being not just poor, but hopelessly un-cool within your peer group."

Erm, wasn't a kid all that long ago, but never had a Nintendo or even a Game Boy and still managed to get by just fine. (Recently entered 20s.)

Posted by: Anonymous | October 16, 2006 2:25 PM

Yeah, with its tight profit margins, poor old Wal-Mart would go broke if it extended layaway to those who still want and use it. What's wrong with layaway? Why can't a person go in to a store, see something they need on sale, and put it on layaway, then save the money weekly until it's paid off? You don't always know that you're going to need xx amount to purchase something and you're not always able to catch it on sale just before you actually need it.

I don't think there's anything wrong with this family wanting a DVD player. You can get free DVDs from the library, so they are probably saving money on going out to movies or having more than basic cable TV. I'm not sure that getting one child a DVD and another child a Nintendo and then something I guess equally expensive for the third child is the right idea if they want to save money, but for all we know, this is the first Christmas this family has planned such expenditure and maybe they think the kids are at the right age for these gifts.

I'm still waiting for someone to tell me where to open a fee-free, no or very low minimum balance savings account that I can drive to weekly here in the DC area. If you're poor, the banks hit you with every kind of fee you can think of for even a basic checking account.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 16, 2006 2:26 PM

I must say that, as a Republican of 32+ years, I've never been accused of being a bleeding heart before. Perhaps I have a little extra of that missing empathy for people I know who are working their butts off every week and have little to show for it.

I stated what is already quite obvious to those people living hand-to-mouth, that they have to make do to live. You could swap "new shoes for school" for "a Nintendo," its really just a touchstone for the point I was trying to make that we, as a society, have for many years placed great value on personal possessions, and that each generation continues to view (and rank) its own members through that prism of materialism, instead of evaluating the truly important qualities like the content of one's character.

It is not a sin to be poor, but that doesn't mean that you have to stay poor forever. America allows people the means to work their way up out of poverty and build a better life, but not everyone has taken full advantage of life's opportunities. Many of us do what we can to help push people up, both here in the U.S. and overseas, but was it worth it to Wal-Mart's bottom line and reputation to save a few bucks by eliminating this service that, in my estimation, disproportionately affects poor people?

Posted by: Front Royal | October 16, 2006 2:29 PM

I know an immigrant family that has chosen not to have a lot of other material goods so that their two kids can have a home computer and Internet access. The parents have also learned to use the computer and have managed to open an online savings account and find other ways to save money.

I am from a very poor area of Va. and I don't know of a single family in my hometown that doesn't have a computer for their child(ren). They know that it's more important for their kid to be like everyone else and have a computer than to have a videogame console. If you don't have a computer, it's harder to get your homework done. If you don't have a videogame player, you can just play with your friends'.

Posted by: Stacey | October 16, 2006 2:36 PM

Mercantile Potomac Bank and other members of the Mercantile Bankshares Corporation (based in Baltimore) still have a club savings account (, and some bank(s) have 12 month "add-on" CDs which can function somewhat like a Christmas Club account if you start it at the correct time.

Posted by: ex-banker | October 16, 2006 2:41 PM

lay-away or not, Walmart is not the one driving the mom and pop stores out of business. its YOU - the people who shop in Wal-Mart instead of the mom and pops (or the smaller chains) that are responsible for the loss of variety. Wal-Mart will not be the only grocery option left unless you stop shopping at your regular grocery stores.

The previous poster was correct - Wal-Mart will take notice if enough people stop shopping there.

Posted by: anti Wal-Mart | October 16, 2006 2:43 PM

I'm not sure the point of this article is whether poor people deserve to buy the occasional extravagant thing or the overall goodness or badness of Walmart. Really, it's saying that layaway is a feature that some low-income families appreciate and the largest retailer who supposedly caters to that group might want to consider that it's a good idea to keep it around! It's saying that Walmart is being a little hypocritical in this area. Maybe storage and personnel costs for layaway are high, but you all are mostly imputing that reasoning to Walmart, who hasn't alleged it (at least not per the article). Come on, this was really just a chance for some of you to be mean in an article that was really just making kind of a narrow point.

Posted by: Arlington | October 16, 2006 2:55 PM

No one said Walmart "owes" anyone anything. But when you have a business model (catering to middle to lower class america) you need to stick with it. Not just pay lip service to it. And if you don't do that, Annys has a right to call attention to your hypocrisy.

Posted by: also.. | October 16, 2006 2:57 PM

I must live in a depressed area ... we don't have a super Wal-Mart, only the standard variety, so don't be so snarky about me 'mouthing off.' I have as much right to put in my 2-cents' worth as you, Grouch.

However, if there is a Wal-Mart there must be a Sam's Club closeby where you can sign up for membership and buy grape jelly by the truckload real cheap. There is a Costco in Harrisonburg that operates on the same principal. Those wholesale clubs also sell applicances, toys, computers, and groceries. If you're a mega-watt shopper, perhaps the cost of membership will be saved in the case-loads of groceries you buy.

Posted by: Southern Maryland | October 16, 2006 3:00 PM

OK let's see if I have this right: It's not fair that Wal*Mart drops layaway because now this person can't buy Christmas gifts. Somehow this person missed noticing that Christmas comes every year in late December and never realized they could start saving up all year long for those gifts, rather than trying to stretch the budget into thin slices just in November and December. And thus it is Wal*Mart's fault their kids won't have a new Nintendo this year. I see.

No, actually, I don't.

But, then, I didn't buy a new car until I had saved enough money (over 10 years) to pay for it in cash. And I don't charge my one credit card for more than I can pay off immediately.

Weird, right?

Posted by: Smukke | October 16, 2006 3:01 PM

Also, if you want a no-fee checking account with no minimum balances, Provident Bank of MD has that ( It doesn't accrue interest, but it's free (as long as you don't overdraw the account, of course!). They're in the DC suburbs, but I think there's only one branch in the district, in Georgetown.

Posted by: ex-banker | October 16, 2006 3:03 PM

Darth Serious said "Anytime the issue has to do with credit, paying over time, or anything related, you are as predictable as clockwork to swoop in with a smug, self-satisfied comment that makes it clear to everyone you think yourself superior to most of us."

To which "smug, self-staisfied comment" do you refer? The one that layaway is buying something for which you don't have the money yet (which is true) or that keeping track of your spending is not hard?

Posted by: Non-debtor | October 16, 2006 3:07 PM

Ugh, some of the meanest of you did not read this carefully before you jumped in all snarling. The kids will get the presents this year - lawaway doesn't go away until Nov and she already has them or is buying them soon; the lady was just worried about the future! No one says Walmart owes anyone, no one says saving is a bad thing. It just says that for a company that holds itself out as a certain thing, it's not acting that way! Some people are adeversely affected and maybe layaway would be a good thing to bring back! This was not that hard people.

Posted by: UGH | October 16, 2006 3:12 PM

"Please tell me which banks allow you to have a free (meaning no monthly or annual charges), interest-earning savings account. Not online banks, just brick-and-mortar local banks."

Apple Federal Credit Union offers "Prime Savings" with no monthly fees if you maintain a minimum balance of $5, and an interest rate of 1.25% (membership open to Fairfax Co Public Schools, GMU, and NVCC, employees and students, among other organizations, as well as to members' families).

Chevy Chase Bank offers "Super Statement Savings" with no monthly fees if you maintain a minimum balance of $250, and an interest rate of 0.40%.

Wachovia offers "Premium Savings" with no monthly fees if you maintain a minimum balance of $300, and an interest rate of 0.35%.

Credit unions, which are open in some way to just about everyone, are best, but really, this isn't so hard. I'm constantly amazed by the ads everywhere for banks offering "truly free checking/savings/whatever" - I thought they'd been doing this for years. I have *never* paid a monthly fee for a checking or savings account since I got my first one roughly 10 years ago.

I certainly have sympathy for people who have to adjust to a new way of doing things, and respect for those trying to stay out of credit card debt. I just think that a svings account is a much better way of handling this than layaway anyway. You save ahead of time so you don't miss the sales, and earn interest in the bargain. And while the "I can't store a bike at home for a month before christmas" argument is a good one, it's not insurmountable.

Posted by: Andrea K | October 16, 2006 3:20 PM

When the Super Nintendo came out and all my friends got one for Christmas, and I got the Regular nintendo, I wasn't shocked or surprised. When the Nintendo 64 came out and I got the Super Nintendo I wasn't upset. Why do kids need the very best? Why do all kids need the same technology? My mother knew well enough to save in advance or else we didn't get it. Now I understand with layaway you put the item in the back of the store and no one can take it, but you know if your kid doesn't understand why he doesn't get this years "Tickle me Elmo" toy sensation, then perhaps your kid can do without for a year or two. Wal-Mart made a smart business move, lay-away costs them money (what? How!?). Those of you who have been in the back of a store know that space is limited, and every lay-away item that is put back there takes up that much more space. One or two items doesn't matter, but remember Wal-Mart makes money on QUANTITY sold,operating at a 1% profit margin means that EVERY bit of space being used to a store an item that is not being paid for costs them that much more.

And as has been said before, Christmas isn't about the gifts...or it shouldn't be. I was happy to spend the day playing with second rate toys, so long as I was with my family.

Posted by: Squirt | October 16, 2006 3:26 PM

Every credit union to which I have belonged did not charge fees for any type of account, checking or savings.

There are many credit unions for residents of the area the CUs are located in - don't go by the name alone - they are often not just for employees. Check out this site to find one near you:

My credit union does have physical branches but I still do most of my banking online.

My only comment on the story - how the heck can anyone spend $150-$300/week on groceries and household items? my family of 6 including 3 teenage boys spends about $400 per MONTH.

This family should be commended for staying out of debt but could use some help with budgeting...

Posted by: Happy Credit Union User | October 16, 2006 3:26 PM

I don't understand the fuss here. Wal-Mart is not offering layaway after this year. Whether you use it, hate it, or whatever, doesn't matter - because it's gone.

If you really like it all that much, call them and ask for it. If not, then who cares?

Posted by: rabbit | October 16, 2006 3:31 PM

different than being informed.

the context within which decisions are made and prevalent attitudes of consumerism as being "training," is useful in removing same...

in other words, having one store that starts training customers to expect less from the store and more from themselves as a way of avoiding costs that it passes on anyway, is a form of manifesting the kind a life that you want by demanding it...

Posted by: having an opinion is | October 16, 2006 3:38 PM

Andrea K., thanks for the info on savings accounts and credit unions. I now know to point people in that direction. A minimum balance of $250 to $300 a month is too much for most people who live paycheck to paycheck. Basically, it means they are paying the bank that money to give them a "free" checking account. The interest rate is a joke if you only have $700 or so per month in your account. Also, there are often other hitches to these accounts, such as that you cannot make a bank teller transaction or you'll pay the monthly fee.

Also, not everyone has a computer and online access in their home, thus they do not have the online banking option.

Credit unions do sound like the best option.

Posted by: Corrine | October 16, 2006 3:40 PM

WOW. What a bunch of mean-spirited people.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 16, 2006 3:59 PM

Just throwing some things out there for clarification:

1. Nintendo's coming out with a new system in November. This woman's probably buying the OLD system on layaway because a) it's dirt-cheap right now (you can get a GameCube bundled with a game for $80 or less, depending on where you shop), and b) by the time Christmas rolls around, you won't be able to find the older, dirt-cheap system.

2. If she's anything like my family was, the two gifts are for all the kids combined. Everyone can watch a DVD at the same time, and four players can play on a console at once.

No judgment, just FYI.

Posted by: A Gamer | October 16, 2006 4:02 PM

Laura Walsh has done the unthinkable: she has suggested that she and her family are not wealthy. The pampered and spoiled yuppies can't take it, so they must attack her. Surely it must be her fault.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 16, 2006 4:03 PM

Wal-Mart wanted to open a bank, probably for exactly such consumers. The anti-Wal-Mart types helped other banks keep this competition away. Go blame them for the fact that this lady doesn't have a banking alternative to the layaway system.

Posted by: MG | October 16, 2006 4:08 PM

For everyone who says "save the money" - you are missing the very essence of layaway - you can put the item that you want NOW away and SAVED for YOU. Right Then! You are reserving the item while you save the money to pay for it, in essence.

You don't have to worry about it being sold out or no longer available when you've saved the money. For those who say "well, it will be there, because if it's selling, there will always be more", you've apparently never shopped for children at Christmas time.

For all of you who are taking the opportunity to kvetch about people's spending and saving habits - give me a break here - this is obviously a hard working person who wants to make sure that with the little extra that she has, she gives her kids a nice Christmas - Nintento 64, Play Station - whatever - who are any of you to say what she should or shouldn't do with her money?

Boy oh boy - maybe I don't miss my hometown so much after all - you people take the cake for lack of empathy!

Posted by: John D In Houston | October 16, 2006 4:14 PM

An addendum to that last post of mine - WalMart sells the GameCube for $100. Not the cheapest, but if WalMart's your only option, still less expensive than the first generation XBox or second- or third-gen PlayStations. It's also about $150 less than what the newest Nintendo console will be selling for.

Posted by: A Gamer | October 16, 2006 4:15 PM

I agree with you John D in Houston, but the essay says, "Right now, Walsh has a DVD player and a Nintendo console on layaway as Christmas gifts for two of her three kids."

Sounds like each kid is getting an *individual* gift, although they can indeed be shared by the entire family. I like that the poster above mentioned that Ms. Walsh may be buying the cheaper, older Nintendo while it's still available.

I have to say one thing: How old are these kids? If they are all in elementary school or older, why doesn't Ms. Walsh at least have a part-time job to help earn money for her family? If there are kids who are still at home, do they really need an expensive electronics toy for Christmas?

I don't want to criticize Ms. Walsh, because her life is her life, but I know a lot of poor families who spend hundreds of dollars each year on gifts for their kids. Gifts that are put on credit cards at 18% or higher interest. At least Ms. Walsh was trying to use layaway to stay out of credit card debt. It's Wal-Mart's choice not to offer layaway, and they have that right. Wal-Mart also wants to broaden its consumer base and stop being seen as a "poor people's store".

Posted by: Bumble Bee | October 16, 2006 4:28 PM

How will she and her husband afford to buy Christmas presents for their three children?
1. Save money.
2. In the words of the SNL skit with Steve Martin: Don't Buy Stuff You Cannot Afford.

Posted by: Alice | October 16, 2006 4:30 PM

Free or no fee savings: Check your local credit union. Many offer a minimum balance of 50 to 100 dollars. And as previous posters said, if you already have a free checking account (Wachovia is one the offers such a thing with no minimum balance), then you can link to an internet bank such as ING Direct, that offers 4.xx% savings rate and no minimums. Just head to your library, use the internet for free to make a transfer into or out of your linked accounts, and you're done.

I apologize if this is a repeat. I haven't finished reading all the posts yet. Eep...

Posted by: CyanSquirrel | October 16, 2006 4:31 PM

JD: "supporting a family of 4 on $1200/month (wow, you must live in, where, West Virginia? or SE? or Petersburg?)"

$1200 a month works out to $7.50 an hour for a typical 80-hour pay period.

Maryland's minimum wage is $6.15 per hour, DC's is $7, while Virginia sticks with the Federal Minimum of $5.15. Real people work for these wages everyday, let's not assume this is an impossible situation.

Posted by: JL | October 16, 2006 4:48 PM

Again, if you have to keep $50 to $100 in the account to avoid fees, then you are paying that amount for a "free" checking account.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 16, 2006 4:48 PM

oh this discussion is a good example of the culture I left behind in Northern Virginia.

If the story had been about some real estate mogul who got a great price on prime real estate - you'd all be singing his praises for being such a savvy businessman.

Or, if a scrupulous saver were able to get a Certificate of Deposit on a special day and got 5.6% interest instead of 5.4% interest, we'd be proposing she be the next Secretary of Finance.

However, all we are talking about here is a mom who is doing remarkably well in on one income, with five family members in an area of the country that accepts and promotes half-million dollar 3 bedroom capes.

The lay-a-way program is used by many people to get the best sale prices on items they will want for gifting -- whether it be the holidays or birthdays. It is the savvy person who realizes the sales price is a gimmick to get you into the store - and if you use lay-a-way - the price stays the same until you take it home.

Posted by: a mom in Columbia Missouri | October 16, 2006 4:55 PM

I don't agree with bank philosophy of charging a reserve to store your money fee free. I abhor it. And I patronize banks that have full service accounts for no fees. Sadly, however, most of these are found only online anymore. I think the banks have it wrong. They should charge people with boatloads of money the feels because it takes a lot of manpower to take care of their needs compared with someone who just wants a place to store their paltry paycheck without being penalized. Either they carry the cash on their person and get robbed or they put it in a fee bank account and get robbed. Heh...

The demise of the layaway should be lamented if only because it represents the end of an era where people gave their word, stood by it, and relationships were established between stores and customers. Nowadays, plastic makes folks just another face in the great sea of humanity. Hm?

Posted by: CyanSquirrel | October 16, 2006 5:03 PM

My parents were terrible money managers, and it was just 'gas and groceries' throughout the year. The first year my mother worked at a job that gave her a paycheck (as opposed to cash under the table), she took out a loan at Christmas, and she did this every year for many years. Why she didn't join a Christmas club and save the interest, I don't know. She budgeted that small loan ((1k or less-not sure how much) very carefully and bought us things we needed and maybe something we wanted. It was a little annoying because we needed stuff yearround, but she would just put necessities on the xmas list. Like socks and underwear! She made Christmas happen for us. My dad never would have done it. He didn't 'believe' in budgets, probably because if he sat down and looked where the money was going it would make him look bad, because he always had money for cigarettes and beer. My mom made Christmas for many people, not just her 3 kids. She also baked a ton of cookies. I just recently found out about the loan business, fy. Also, i never shop at wal-mart. She is a much better money manager now, but it took a long time. She is a great mom, though. This was before easy credit, fyi.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 16, 2006 5:06 PM

Absolutely right, CyanSquirrel! Banks make me cynical because they DO charge poor customers more than rich ones. Why? Because rich people put money in the bank that sits there month after month, earning interest for the bank as well as the customer. A savings account of only $500 or so costs the bank in manpower and yields them very little income.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 16, 2006 5:07 PM

Apparently the essence of blogging is the ability to pat ones' self on the back by humiliating others. Fie on all of you!

Posted by: Mostly a Lurker | October 16, 2006 5:14 PM

oh MG -- if the price on the item you layed-away goes down, many stores will give you the new lower price if you take immediately.

This is about getting the best price for the items you buy. A hard-working family is no less valuable than a rich person -- why shouldn't they use every option at their disposal to get the best price?

Posted by: a mom in Columbia MO | October 16, 2006 5:25 PM

I worked until recently at a large Walmart-esque store in the Midwest, and we also have gotten rid of our layaway. Reasons: 1) Many people never pick up their layaways and we are stuck with a whole bunch of merchandise to try to sell right after Christmas.
2) Labor costs. Corporate office will only allow us so many labor hours per week, and one or two people at the layaway counter eats up a lot of hours for not a lot of customer service. (Try explaining to an enraged crowd of Christmas shoppers why you can't open another register RIGHT NOW- because your only spare cashier is sitting back at layaway helping maybe one person every 20 minutes.)
3) In our store, layaway items were a major opportunity for employee theft. Our less honest employees would pry open the layaway boxes until they found a TV, DVD player or other high-ticket item, and then steal it to sell on the street. So some poor schmuck who'd been paying for three months would get their layaway with items missing.
Almost any big-box store will actually treat their employees worse than their customers. I feel less sorry for the woman who can't do her Christmas shopping on layaway than the Walmart layaway clerks who are probably being laid off right now to save on labor costs.

Posted by: ex-retail clerk in OH | October 16, 2006 5:30 PM

Maybe the gifts are for children who have done extraordinarily well at school last spring and this fall. Maybe they are taking on more responsibility that helps their parents, another relative or a neighbor. Maybe for the last 3 Christmases they have only received items that met their needs, e.g. new shoes, new clothes, etc. Maybe this year the parents decided that they were going to do a little extra for the kids because they felt the kids deserved it. Maybe the mother can't get a part-time job right now. We don't know if any of her children may have a need for her to be home. Maybe the third one doesn't have a costly gift on layaway because he or she may be unable to use such an item due to age or diability.

I live in the DC are with 3 kids and two incomes. Money is tight, but we do give our kids a little extra when we feel they deserve a reward. It lets them know that we recognize what they've done and appreciate their efforts and I think it helps to encourage them to continue to do well.

I used layaway when my nieces were younger. If I ran across an item, esp. on sale, I thought they might like, but I didn't have the money at the moment, I would put it on layaway. (This was before my own marriage and children.) I might have had the money two weeks later, but by then the sale would've been over. When I got paid, I could pay on or pay off the layaway and my budget would not have suffered.

My parents used layaway when I was child as well. It may be easy to say just save up, but when you have four children and they all need and want something saving up may not always work. For instance, I was accident prone. Any extra money my parents might have saved up for the holidays or other occasions might hvae been used to pay my emergency room and dental bills (yes, I did knock out a tooth during a fall).

We can only speculate as to what this woman's family and financial issues may be. Since layaway works for her, though, I think she would be wise to try to find another store that offers it.

Posted by: Maybe they deserve it | October 16, 2006 5:36 PM

You people are cruel! How could you deny a game console to a little kid? I was the only one on my block without an Atari game system. I still feel the emptiness

Posted by: kungfukoh | October 16, 2006 5:39 PM

I have not seen layaway anywhere for the past decade - I am surprised that Walmart even still had this in place. Why should a company be expected to provide 0% interest loans (which is what layaway amounts to) to their customers? That's just bad business. Walmart is no charity, and we should not hold such expectations of it. It sucks when banks force you to hold some money in your account, but it makes sense. If someone is just holding just $17 in their account, each transaction that person makes will cost more, as a percentage of their holdings, than for a person who has $70000 in the bank. And why dismiss online banks? They pay such fantastic interest rates and, if you don't have your own computer, you can use public computers or a friend's - in any case, you don't need to check your account every day right?

Posted by: rhadamanthus | October 16, 2006 6:48 PM

Layaway is a great concept. Those that suggest saving on the side or telling her to watch her budget just don't get it. The difference is with layaway, you actually see the merchandise and can dream of the one day that you make the final payment, you get to take it home.

Posted by: JCB | October 16, 2006 6:51 PM

I might add, I tried to get a jewelry store in town to do layaway for a Rolex watch for my then-fiance' (now wife). They told me just to put it on my credit card. They lost the sale. It may not be economically rational, but the concept of paying $300 a week for a few months - then pick up a totally paid for watch - seemed very different then slapping it on the Visa. Is there a reason this feels different? I don't know, maybe Malcolm Gladwell could explain.

Posted by: JCB | October 16, 2006 6:59 PM

So many people wearing blinders. If it's not your situation, you just can't see. Every parent wants Christmas to be special for their children. Just because you don't see any value in Nintendo, doesn't mean there isn't any. I grew up with a mother who couldn't get anything "big" unless it was on layaway. Why is that bad money management? It is making purchases with zero interest. Besides, it is more a matter of not having money to manage than managing it poorly.

If something comes up where you can't make the layaway payment, you can actually get your money back minus a small processing fee. If this was put on a credit card and something came up and you couldn't make the payment, there would be interest charges, lates fees, and negative credit reporting. The layaway seems to be a smarter financial choice for those who are struggling to make ends meet.

My mother made sure that we always had a nice Christmas - not extravagant, but not always practical either. We spent the rest of the year worrying about growing too fast and not being able to buy new clothes, getting sick and not having money for the doctor, hoping that the patch on the roof held up during the rainstorm, and any number of things that could have been a financial disaster. Christmas was the one time of the year where we could count on feeling special.

And so many self-congratulating perfect money managers want to take that special time away from people of lesser means because they don't agree with the purchases or the purchasing methods.

Posted by: discouraged | October 16, 2006 10:23 PM

There is an auto insurance company that offers discounted rates for those who have attained a certain professional level. I think the idea is that a certain amount of responsibility and dependability is required to reach that level, so the insured party is seen as being more responsible and a better risk.

While I do see a certain logic in that, it has always seemed ironic that those who can most afford higher rates are the ones who get offered the discounts.

I feel that I have seen more prejudice and bigotry based on economic class than on racism in the DC area.

Posted by: discouraged | October 16, 2006 10:30 PM

I have an online-only savings account (Emigrant Direct) earning me interest. It is linked to my brick-and-mortar checking account, because there was no other way to make the opening deposit. Maybe I'm missing something, but the only way I know of to get my money from this online account is to have it transferred electronically to my brick-and-mortar account. To all the people who say she should open the online account for better rates and low/no fees, I'd like to know how she's supposed to open the account or withdraw her money without a conventional account. Anyone?

Posted by: JB | October 17, 2006 9:29 AM

"Some corporate lovely gentleman--we'll call him--doesn't know what it's like to live on one income."

Of course he does - it's just that his one salary is probably 6+ figures.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 17, 2006 9:39 AM

Rhadamanthus, I hope one day when your only option is to go to work for Wal-Mart that you remember when you're getting the shaft there that, hey, it's a business and they have no responsibility to you, their employee, because they are only supposed to care about squeezing their customers and staff for every penny possible.

Good point about the online bank, JB. You also can't write checks from an online account, or at least I can't from my ING Direct account.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 17, 2006 9:45 AM

I have had an on-line account for years with e-trade bank. I have checking, savings, ira and visa and a couple more. With the checking account comes a check book. I can't believe ING won't let you write checks. That is so weird. Sometimes you just need to use a check!

I am also a member of a credit union. That was my first 'bank'. There really is no good reason for using a traditional bank. This c.u. doesn't have a brick and mortar site (well, there is one in Alexandria, VA, about a million miles from where I live, traffic-wise.), so this is what we do. Our paychecks are directly deposited in to our accounts, which are free because we use direct deposit. We can deposit checks and cash to this bank through their atm (but only at THEIR atm, and this may be unique to this c.u.--it is supposedly for military members) or by mail (no cash). I have done this a few times. I also use the computer to transfer money, pay bills, etc. Times when I didn't have access to a computer I was able to use the telephone teller to do all of the same things. My advice to anyone who uses a bank--QUIT using a bank! Join a credit union. FYI, my c.u. gives me free overdraft protection. I signed up for it when I opened the account and have used it twice. It has saved me about 100 dollars between the vendor and the possible over draft fee. I think I paid MAYBE five dollars in interest, and that is a very conservative number. It was probably more like 2 dollars.

And you take the money out using an atm. That is true for both e-trade and my credit union, which anyone can join ( for a small fee, unless you are in the service, and then it is free). Hope that is helpful.

Posted by: stisl to JB and anon@9:45 | October 17, 2006 10:28 AM

I like learning all this about credit unions, but I don't want to quit using a bank because my mom's bank and one of mine are throughout Virginia, so we can have linked accounts, which we need to do. I have enough in my account to get everything free and interest, so it works well for me. I also like the convenience of having ATMS everywhere.

I honestly don't know that you CAN'T have a checking account through ING. I just never needed it so never explored. ING is for my savings and CDs, so I don't write checks from those accounts.

Posted by: Melanie | October 17, 2006 11:15 AM

e-trade has tons of atms--that is the one target carries--and they refund (or maybe is it my C.U.) foreign atm fees. What do you do with a linked account? Transferring money can be done between any two banks, as far as I know. I used to do it frequently between my checking account at my c.u. and my husband's at e-trade.

Posted by: stisl again | October 17, 2006 5:41 PM

For those of you with the negative feedback. Its not that Walsh could or couldn't save, it is that layaway is convienent!! I refuse to have credit cards!! Can each one of you honestly tell me that you are 100% disiplined at all times? If you are...remember this isn't a Walgreens commercial world!!!

Posted by: Tisha French | October 18, 2006 1:06 AM

Good afternoon,
I've read all the comments, both good and bad, about Wal Mart ending it's lay-a-way program. Low income, upper income, to the insanely rich know the Wal Mart chain store name. The real (unsaid) bottom line is that the Lay-a-way program is no longer a moneymaker for Wal Mart. If it where making money they would keep the program. Wal Mart is all about marketing. The 'feel good' commercials are a bunk and a part of marketing. Lay-a-way and Market Surveys definetly save money when utilized with price matching. The key here is SAVING THE CONSUMER money hence Wal Mart making less in profits. For all the self-proclaimed savvy economists...think about that before damning a family of 5 on a single income. BX and PX sales (a.k.a. AAFES) are NOT a given in any sense of the term so the person who felt the need to strongly imply they are also needs to sharpen his or her skills. AAFES OCONUS (overseas)& CONUS (states side) is a crap shoot with limited quanities, types, and sometimes zero on what a consumer often desires. AAFES is sometimes the 'only show in town' in OCONUS locations which would not surprise me if that is actually the truth of why AAFES stays in business. My way or the highway option! Momma Duck ~ Mother of Ben AFLAC.

Posted by: Momma Duck | October 18, 2006 4:29 PM

Hey MD--thanks for that. Crapshoot it was. I once put an ad in the base paper to sell a fairly basic futon--black metal frame, etc. I got over ONE HUNDRED phone calls on it. We used to lay in wait on Thursday afternoons for the little classified magazine to come out so we could score something we needed, like a dehumidifier, cheaper than we could get it at the BX. No e-bay here! I haven't thought about that in years. But don't waste your breath telling people who were never in the service what it was like. They will never get it--like the one poster who is perfect in spending and saving. She/he is just a target for some instant karma.

Posted by: stisl | October 19, 2006 9:46 AM

The reason wal-mart is putting away their lay-away is because the are supposibly "not making enough money" which I don't believe is true wal-mart makes billions and billions of dollars a year out of our pockets, and now we are the ones who will have to deal with stretching out that dollar as much as we can and making sure we have enough for everything we need, but since my income isn't all that good i may even start looking for another job just to keep my family going.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 21, 2006 4:34 PM

Wal-Mart is doing a service to low income families here by keeping prices low by getting rid of lay away. It's like paying them with lower prices for doing the work of saving their own money. Wal-Mart is not the Grinch, and I appreciate that we all do not have to pay inflated prices to provide lay away service to those too short-sighted to save in advance. If you can afford to pay for it on lay away in November, then you could have afforded to save up for it in July-October instead.

Posted by: Former Page Co. Resident | October 23, 2006 12:53 PM

I'm a little new to the "layaway" concept. Does Walmart charge a surcharge or fee to store the layaway item? If not, why should they provide a layaway system for anyone? We are a society built on capitalism, and we're in the game to make money. What if your employer decided to "layaway" your paycheck? You did the work, and of course want to get paid. Same as walmart - you've picked out the item, so now you should pay for it. Otherwise, if you don't have enough money, shouldn't they be allowed to sell that item to someone else? Someone who can pay them up front? We forget that retailers are in the business of selling items, and selling them as quickly as possible in order to maximize their profit. Does your auto repair shop allow for a layaway plan? Probably not, because they did the work and want to get paid. The car dealership will sell you a car on a payment plan, but you pay interest. Shouldn't walmart work the same way? If you MUST have something, but don't have the cash to pay for it, then either forego buying it or charge it on a credit card. period. end of story.

Posted by: Ms. Practicality | October 23, 2006 3:40 PM

Ms. Practicaliy: "What if your employer decided to "layaway" your paycheck? You did the work, and of course want to get paid. Same as walmart - you've picked out the item, so now you should pay for it."

So I guess you are paid at the end of every workday? Most employers do not pay their employees until the end of the week, bi-weekly, semi-monthly, or even monthly.

I do not believe companies who offer lay-a-way charge interest, but if the item(s) is/are not paid for by whatever date the item(s) is returned to the shelf and the consumer does not get the money back.

Why would anyone want to use a credit card when they could use lay-a-way?

I agree with Tisha French lay-a-way is convienent.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 24, 2006 8:41 PM

a mom in Columbia Mo: "The lay-a-way program is used by many people to get the best sale prices on items they will want for gifting -- whether it be the holidays or birthdays. It is the savvy person who realizes the sales price is a gimmick to get you into the store - and if you use lay-a-way - the price stays the same until you take it home."

I couldn't agree more...great point.

Posted by: Go Tigers! | October 24, 2006 8:53 PM

I didn't read over EVERY single post made thus far, but I just wanted to add that many people have to put their kids' school clothes, supplies, etc in layaway because they can't afford to buy them all at once. I have worked at Walmart for several years now, and as an employee and a customer, I find it saddening that people on a tight budget can't place items on layaway to be able to pay on it until they can get it out. The jewelry department will still have it's layaway on showcase items and for the same reason that I am arguing for. If there is something there that you would like to purchase, it may or may not be there for another week, another few months, definately not the next day in some cases. Layaway has always been, for me as a customer, as a way to do just what the word says.. lay away items that may not be there before I can save up the money to purchase them. Heck, I've got a few pieces of jewelry and some articles of clothing put away now.. (of course, thanks to whatever dumbwit decided to take it away, I have to get them out soon... ) so that I can go and pay it all off when I have the money to do so.. and I'm not worried about what happens when the item sells out, because the item is tucked safely in a box in the stockroom, in a bin, with my name on it. My goodness, I would be SO upset if the $400 something odd ring that I want to get my mom for Mother's Day was gone by the time I had the money to pay for it.

Posted by: Amanda | October 25, 2006 12:48 AM

No more lay-a-way, so what, GET OVER IT. What good is it going to do to sit around and wine about it.

Posted by: amr | November 6, 2006 12:10 PM

I was surprised to hear that Wal-Mart ended their lay-a-way. I have read some of the comments and realize just how important it is to offer lay-a-way. There are so many people that do not have credit cards based on not being able to get one or by choice of not getting one. Lay-a-way is the ONLY way for people to purchase things that may not be available later.

Wal-Mart presents themselves to be for the communities, the place to shop, but now they need to change that statement. So many americans make minimum wage and live on poverty level. Even their own employees!

Have thanks for K-Mart who will not end there lay-a-way. Maybe they are more for the communities and the people than Wal-Mart. K-Mart needs to expand like Wal-Mart and push WM right out of the small towns where income is not in an abundance.

Who needs Wal-Mart?

Posted by: Anonymous | November 7, 2006 3:55 AM

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