Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Rambling Thoughts on Serial Layaway Benefactors, Gifts for Children & Our Society

There are articles circulating online about how people are going into random KMarts this holiday season and paying off complete strangers lay-away accounts for them.

I guess when people think about layaway they assume that these are people who don't have enough money to buy something and take it home right away.  Instead layaway users have to put items on hold and pay in small weekly increments over the course of the layaway until the full bill is paid.

Use to be, "back in the day", layaway was the bastion of those lower on the socio-economic ladder who couldn't obtain credit cards... this was the poor man's answer to the credit card.  And often layaways didn't get redeemed when weekly paychecks didn't stretch enough to cover necessary bills AND the holiday layaway gifts.

While many who are economically disadvantaged in this recession have embraced the return of the layaway(and cross their fingers that they'll have enough cash at the end of the paycheck to redeem their holiday loot), there is also a segment of society that isn't necessarily on the same rung of the income ladder, that also takes advantage of this method to obtain store bought goods....that group would be the frugal and the "anti-credit card" set.

Layaway can be a wonderful tool to buy without tapping into your savings upfront and tying up your ready cash.  Face it, for many people taking savings to pay for gifts would be easy to do, but a tad risky.  Say you used your emergency fund to buy Christmas toys for the kids and then you had a REAL emergency?  You'd have no funds to fix the immediate crisis in your life.
By putting toys on layaway, if you are disciplined and make your weekly payments, you pay your bills on time AND end up with toys for under the tree.  If that emergency happened whilst you were laying away the toys, and you ended up not being able to afford them after paying for the emergency, you'd just loose a small fee you paid to open the layaway account and any balance you had paid on the toys would be refunded to you.  You'd still have no gifts but that's a much saner price to pay than having a pile of gifts while being evicted from your apartment because you used your cash and now can't pay your rent.
It's a much more sensible way to try to obtain the 'wants' at the Holidays without going into massive debt.

On a side note(which has little to do with my main point here), there was a part in the article that I found disconcerting......(I've X'ed out her last name and city as to NOT embarrass her because she SHOULD be embarrassed by this.)

"Dona XXXXX, an Xxxx nurse, was at work when a Kmart employee called to tell her someone had paid off the $70 balance of her layaway account, which held nearly $200 in toys for her 4-year-old son. “I was speechless,” XXXXX said. “It made me believe in Christmas again.”"

I don't care if the person who laid away this lot of items brings home a 6 figure salary or barely clears $200 a week working part time as a dishwasher, NOBODY'S 4 year old kid needs $200 in toys at Christmas!
I've said it.
I'm the big bad old meany Scrooge woman.

I don't know.....that part of the article was very disturbing to me.  And she's a nurse, so she isn't rolling in dough anyway...why overspend like that?  Is she trying to buy her kid's love?  Is she trying to raise the next Veruca Salt?

Do the majority of parents in this country think this way?.....spending that much on a 4 year old?  If so I know why this country is circling the crapper.....

I just think that OVERGIFTING your child at a young age(either in number of items or amount spent on them), sets up unrealistic expectations as they grow.
$200 spent on a 4 year old.
Then when they are say, 10, there is pressure on the parent and expectation by the child of what?....$500 worth of  "stuff".....$1000?!?!

Having lived through the "kids and Christmas" years I feel I have some wisdom on this point, and can give the new moms and dads out there some advise when it comes to spending on kids at the Holidays.

I hear all the time how "it's our child's 1st Christmas and we want to make it SPECIAL for them!".

First off, if it's your kid's 1st Christmas then they are obviously under 1 yr. old.  A baby will NOT remember their 1st Christmas so the only ones these parents are making it SPECIAL for is themselves and maybe the Grandparents.
Get over it.
Yes, your baby will eventually see their 1st Christmas in family photos or videos, but they won't have memories of this time.  So don't kill yourself and your bank account going overboard with presents and stuff.
Give the babies lots of attention, some shiny stuff to look at, some nice music to stimulate their senses and take lots of photos/videos!
That's all they NEED.

If you feel the need to spend, buy some savings bonds or put some money in their 529 accounts as it's a much better way to spend on their Holiday.

I have found that it's appropriate and much more sane to gift your kids an equal number of presents as their numerical age.
A 1 yr. old or younger needs 1 gift/toy.
A 2 yr. old can handle 2 toys.
A 3 yr. old?....3 toys.
Up until the age of 5 or 6, this works well.
And I don't mean CLOTHING here.....it HAS TO BE A TOY!

Limited toys means the child doesn't go into sensory overload and you avoid meltdowns on Christmas morning.

If the relatives and grandma/grandpa won't take no for an answer and limit the number of gifts, then spread the opening through out the day.  Or better yet, throughout the week, by giving the child a new present to unwrap each morning after breakfast or lunch or dinner.

In fact, since most grandparents of small children do tend to want to overdue the gifts at Christmas, if I had it to do over again, I'd not buy any toys for my kids at Christmas and just use the Grandparents gifts up until a certain age. 
This would give you plenty of toys for the kids and help you parents save a few bucks and put it into savings or toward a down payment for a house or pay off some debt.  Young families tend to be more apt to be struggling to move up the economic prosperity ladder anyway, so any savings on spending is a good thing for the whole family!

Limiting the number of gifts/toys also helps the child to appreciate the ones they do get.  There is nothing worse than a jaded 6 year old, surrounded by a pile of spent wrapping paper and toys grumbling 30 minutes into the Christmas morning melee that they are bored with nothing to play with.
And yes, I know because I have seen this....not My kids but someone else's little brat.lol
And yes, they were a brat but they didn't start out as one....it took 5 years of bad parenting & 5 Christmases of overindulgence to get that way.  ;-)

And give age appropriate gifts always!
Only one time did I NOT follow this advise.  The year my oldest son wanted a Nintendo Gameboy Color(back in the day).  He was wild for this new Pokemon deal and as he was a good reader in 1st grade Santa got him one with a Pokemon game.   (And yes, he only got 4 Santa gifts that year as those 2 were quite expensive.)
His younger sister, who was in Pre-K, wanted everything he wanted and was also into Pokemon.  She however couldn't read well enough yet to use a Gameboy, but we knew all heck would break loose if Santa didn't bring her one too with the same game.
So I bought what was at the time an expensive electronic device for a child who was not old enough to fully use the thing.

But.....it worked out well.  Because even though she couldn't read well, it helped push her to learn quicker so she could play this game.  Plus her brother would assist her in reading the screen as they would sit side-by-side and play them.
And the oldest also benefited from this arrangement, as he had trouble following directions at that age and would often get worked up.  His sister, ever the calm, logically minded child, would help him follow the exact order of the game's progression.
This, at first, ill conceived purchase helped them with teamwork skills.
Happy, happy accident....oldest learned to follow directions better, sister advanced to reading earlier and both of those electronic toys were cherished and lasted many many years.



  1. I agree completely. Kids just get way too much. My MIL, bless her heart, had nothing as a child so went over-board with Anna and DJ. I just didn't buy as much.
    I have used lay-away before but it was more a storage thing. It was nice to just bring it home and wrap it instead of trying to find places to hide things. Then we finished the basement and I got the "Christmas closet" and life was good.
    Have a relaxing week leading up to Christmas. That statement is almost an oxymoron.

  2. The Nintendo Gameboy color that my son HAD to have one year got lost within a month...
    I should have just gotten him a box. That's the only thing he really loved on his first birthday anyway...

  3. This post did not go where I was thinking it was. And I'm glad for that! It's craziness I tell ya! I've told Fred that the twins(6 year olds) would be happy with $5.00 presents from the Family Dollar. A truck, some legos...It's just fun junk for them to play with and destroy. Because it will either get destroyed or they will grow bored with it.
    Great post! m.

  4. Unfortunately my 8yo ONLY wants LEGOS and lego sets cost a fortune! I "invest" in them because it keeps him off electronics and fosters creativity. He plays for hours with them. I am guilty of going overboard in your eyes but have some friends/family that spend $500+ on each kid. I would NEVER do that!

  5. My daughter was born in July. At Christmas she was not yet 6 months old. Santa gave her a small, soft doll that was plush all over except for the little face and hands. That was it. Friends and family said I should be ashamed. People shed tears for her. Her brother was not yet three and had loads of baby toys that I had removed from his sight well before she was born, knowing I would have less to pick up and she could use them. He did not recognize them as his toys, just things he had seen somewhere. I also bought Fischer-Price so all his and her toys lasted through 2 first two, my niece, and my third. Then, I got top dollar(more than I paid new) at antique shops for the toys that were 40 years old.

    My GED student (12 years ago) made $6/hr at a factory. Her husband made $7.50. Yet, she bought $900 worth of stuff For her child. They lived in a two-bedroom apt, yet had three televisions. Yes, boy had to have his own tv. She was hurt that I was not happy for what she had gotten. She had all rotten teeth, paid weekly for a car, and rented all their furniture and appliances.

    The bit about spending $400 on a 4-yr-old was a shocker to me. AND, she was a nurse, so she was not making minimum wage. I was hoping maybe it was a fancy swing set or new bedroom furniture thrown in there with a small toy. But, I am wishing for too much.

  6. I have Christmas pictures of the children with boxes and bows, playing happily. My son (18 months)just wanted the banana from a fruit basket, never mind the candy!

    Ooops, another thing...

    When my grandson was almost three, he wanted Nintendo 64 or something he heard his older cousins asking for at Christmas. He decided he had to have one. And, told Santa and pestered everyone, telling them Santa was bringing whatever it was he wanted.

    My daughter dug their old version of whatever it was out of the bottom of the closet, wiped it off and gave him that. Her son bragged to his cousing who came in and whispered to my daughter that he did not get what he thought he had.

    This was some game where the goal was to get out a room. At first, he just ran into walls, but my daughter said he concentrated so hard after she showed him what to do. Finally, he could navingate.

    With this game or some other, she heard him counting down...10, 9, 8...until he got to 1 or whatever...lost his turn? He could barely count that far, but yet learned to count backward...all from the game. She was shocked because the game was so far over his head.

  7. I think a lot of parents go way overboard. I read somewhere the other day that a woman's 2-year-old had his own iPad. What????!!!!!

    It's crazy!


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