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  Why Did Layaway Go Away?
A retired English teacher, Susan Dlugach just cannot retire from learning, tutoring, writing, traveling and exploring.

Wandering through five and dime stores like Kress and Woolworths was quite the treat when I was a kid. My little brother and I stowed away our jingly little coins for these excursions to town. If we saved enough, we could each afford a small metal dump truck, a coloring book, and water colors or a package of jacks.

When I reached the eyelash fluttering teen years, I found chicken wire earrings to go with my mod outfits I thought surely looked like they came from London's Carnaby Street where models who dated rock stars shopped.

Summer was school clothes shopping season, so Mom towed us off to Sears and Roebuck, where we tried on chosen items to see what size now fit our growing bodies. Then she purchased an outfit for each of us and put the rest on layaway, paying regularly, without interest or fees, and picking up the goods when the balance was fully paid.

Waiting for the new clothes might have been a test of patience, but we knew we couldn't have what wasn't yet paid for.

My shopping practices evolved through the years, especially as I became accustomed to the magic little plastic card that fits neatly in my wallet, a place that once held only coins and green bills.

By the time I had children, layaway was no longer in my vocabulary. It was cash, check or credit card, credit surreptitiously becoming the preferred payment method. And we know what happens when a payment is late or missed. Uh huh. A service fee plus interest is added to the cost of purchase. Goods bought on sale are no longer bargains with the extra charges that are added for the convenience of instant gratification.

One blessing that came with the recent pandemic's shut-down is that it shuttered my shopping practice. Except for food and basic essentials, I got plum out of the shopping habit. After all, as a retired person, I no longer have a professional responsibility to show up daily.

Covid necessitated that most engagements slide into the virtuality of Zoom and other online venues. Who needed to know what we wore beneath our waists? Did anyone see the lime green fuzzy socks that kept my feet warm? My attention to daily fashion slipped to the wayside.



But with vaccines and the waning of viral danger that Covid posed for a couple of years, the urge to venture out to malls again crept back into my court of desire. Tired of wearing the same series of clothes week after week, season after season, I sought a fresh look.

And the stores did not disappoint. There were many colorful tops and trendy jeans to tempt me, so I tried them on, then chose a few.

"Do you have our store credit?" the clerk asked while scanning each item I'd put on the counter.

When I shook my head, she informed me that I could save $20 off the purchase by applying for one. So I did what any reasonable, cost conscience shopper would do. I inked blood on the application and saved myself $20 for that day's roundup.

Back home, I tried on the clothes again and pranced in front of the mirror, turning this way and that, and decided it was a good haul.

Later as I was clearing away papers, I noticed the interest rate for my new store credit card is 35.24% with an additional $30 late fee.

"Loan shark!" I cursed.

Then I looked up the definition for loan shark.

"A person who offers loans at extremely high or illegal interest rates, has strict terms of collection, and generally operates outside the law."

What range of extremely high interest rates do loan sharks charge? Wikipedia says anywhere from 20-1,000 percent monthly. The average APR rate for legitimate credit cards ranges from 20-30 percent.

To translate, if a payment for a $100 purchase were to arrive an hour late for my recently acquired credit card, I would have to pay interest on the amount of the bill plus the $30 late fee. The $20 discount for opening a new account would then be vanquished.

Though Wikipedia states that loan sharking is generally illegal in the U.S., I heartily disagree. I am now closing the new account and reconsidering how I shop. Could we please bring back the layaway plan?

~ Susan Dlugach


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