Commentary: Layaway makes a comeback

The futon chair that I bought after college graduation is long gone, but years later I can recall how good it felt to finally bring it home and sink into its fluffy white cushions for the first time.

In the mid-1990s, I was a single 20-something, earning a modest salary as a cub reporter in Indiana, and I had put the chair in "layaway." It was best, I thought, to pay what I could when I had the cash, rather than hand over my already overloaded credit card.

Since then, life has changed for the better, and I count myself among those who have much to be thankful for. But in this time of economic uncertainty, I've been thinking a lot about my post-college days, a time when buying a piece of furniture was no small feat, given that I often had to decide whether to spend my last $20 on groceries or gasoline.

In fact, those memories are now serving as encouragement to avoid impulse buying and the little luxuries that add up. I've tried (somewhat unsuccessfully) to give up my daily mocha habit, and I've been leaving that pint of ice cream in the grocery freezer case. I'm combining trips to save gas and resisting the urge to shop, even if those stylish shoes in the storefront window scream "Buy me, I'm on sale."

I know these minor changes may elicit a "so what?" from folks who have been crushed by the global economic meltdown. Homeowners are losing their property to foreclosure, unemployment is rising and businesses are turning out the lights for good. Employees who had been contemplating retirement are postponing it because they can no longer afford to leave the workforce, and they're raiding their 401k plans. Back in my hometown of Detroit, family members are worried sick because a bail-out plan for the Big Three automakers has not yet been reached.

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