Monday, December 2, 2013

How to Pay Off a Stranger's Lay-Away

The title of this post should actually be: "How to Pay off a Stranger's Lay Away?" because I have no idea how to do it. Since we're not doing the gift card exchange this year, I'm taking some money I've earned doing sponsored posts and using it help families. We're going to put together some stuff for the women at the domestic violence shelter and rock the angel tree at preschool and a whole bunch of other things. 

This time of year, I've always enjoyed hearing about people who go to places like Walmart and Toys R Us and pay off the lay-aways of total strangers. I mentioned it Kate and Guru, who enthusiastically agreed that we should give it a try. While wearing elf hats. So I mentioned my plan in a blog post and got an email from someone who said "Ummm… Paying off a lay-away sounds good, but how do you actually do it? Do you just walk up to the cashier and say 'Can I please pay off a random lay away?'"

So I started to do some research on how the whole thing works. First, I wanted to learn about who actually uses lay-away to see if they were the kinds of folks who needed help from a chubby blogger in an elf hat. I read all about the specific programs at different stores and looked at data from National Retail Federation/BIGinsight™ (via Forbes).

Here's what I learned about folks who use lay-away:

  • They are younger adults (younger than the average holiday shopper by 6 years),
  • 75% have kids,
  • Their households tend to earn less than $49,000/year,
  • They are 60% less likely to use credit cards (either because they believe in paying cash, they don't have credit cards, have credit problems or some other very logical reason),
  • They are bargain hunters; using social media, circulars, coupons and shopping sales (like Black Friday) to get the best prices,
  • They are most likely to buy electronics, toys and apparel using lay-away.
  • They put stuff on lay-away at these stores in the following percentages: Walmart (65.5%), Kmart (42.2%), Toys R Us (21.2%), Sears (15.2%), Burlington Coat Factory (12.4%), Marshall’s (12.1%), and TJ Maxx (9.9%).
This is cool because it fits really well the people who we helped with our project last year (see graphic at the bottom of the post). It also means that statistically, if I helped pay off a stranger's layaway I would be helping a young, lower-income but budget-conscious family with kids (who doesn't or can't use credit cards) to buy electronics or toys at Walmart.

Here's what I found out about lay-away programs in general:
  • Some lay-away programs are free and some cost money ($5 -$10).
  • There are restrictions as to what types of products can be placed on lay-away (for example, no food or perishable items),
  • You usually have to put a small amount down ($10/$15 or 10%) when you open the lay away.
  • The total purchase has to be worth more than a certain amount ($50).
  • You have to keep paying on the lay-away plan or they assume you don't want it anymore and restock it.
  • If they restock it, they charge you (this fee depends on where you shop and how much stuff you had on lay-away).
  • You will get the rest of your money refunded to you (minus the fee).
  • If you use lay-away at Walmart, YOU MUST PAY IT OFF BY DECEMBER 13th or they restock it and charge you $10.
This means I'd have to do it earlier in the month than I'd thought and that to pay off a whole lay-away means I'd be looking at a minimum of about $50. In addition to getting that family the stuff they want, I'd be saving them the re-stock charges they'd be incurring. 

Here's what I've found out about paying off a stranger's lay-away (after going to several stores and speaking with customer service people):
  • It can be easy or hard. 
  • It depends totally on the person working at the customer service desk when you show up.
  • Pick a time when you know the store will not be crowded. You can't expect a customer service representative to work with you in this if they're swamped.
  • One assistant manager suggested calling ahead to let the customer service staff know when you'll be coming in and what you want to do. 
  • If the customer service person is awesome, they will want to to help you do this. I had one offer to go through the lay away receipts and find one that had mostly baby stuff on it.
  • If when you get there (all excited and happy to do something kind for someone else), the customer service person seems annoyed by you or doesn't get it, talk to someone else, come back later, or got to another store. Don't get upset, just roll with it.
  • If you want to pay off a Walmart lay-away - you must do it by Thursday, 12/12.
  • One gentleman at Walmart showed me a "good Samaritan" code that they used to key in contributions like this. But of all the people I spoke with, he was the only one who mentioned it (so it may not be something all staff people know about).
Here's what I hope you can help me with:
  • Do you guys have any great ideas about how to do this?
  • If you've done it before, what are your suggestions?
  • Do you work in customer service and have any ideas about how best to make this happen?
  • Do you work with lay-away programs? If so, what can you tell us about how best to do this?
I'd really appreciate any ideas or suggestions you might have. I'll update this post with all your awesome feedback! 

xoxo, Lydia

(c) Mommyland Blogs 2013


  1. YES, YES, YES!! It is SO EASY! We did it a couple years ago, and it was AMAZING! We are doing it again this year. K-mart could not make it easier and they are SO INCREDIBLY grateful...when we did it, the cashier cried. Here is where I talked about it! It will be the BEST thing you ever do!! :)-Ashley

    1. milagrostirado48@gmail.comDecember 12, 2016 at 9:50 AM

      Hi is there anywhere that would help us pay our layaway off today is the deadline and we are really struggling trying to makes ends meet í have 4 kids and last year my 2 oldest boys father passed its been hard ever since i don't know what to do

  2. I had a friend of mine do this last year. (Mind you friend was also unemployed, but had just "left" a VP job due to restructuring) So friend, said- hey, I have my needs met, but others don't. So friend just walked into Kmart and gave them a specific amount for several layaways-say $50-75 for each. That way, it wasn't paying off the whole thing -some people get upset by charity, but a good portion was paid off.

  3. I have heard about this happening mostly at Kmart, and last year someone paid off all the layaways at one store. Very cool.

  4. Does the store call the customer to tell them so they will know to come pick it up?

    1. Yes they would call. I was the supervisor of the lay-a-way dept at a big box store and we would call and let people know.

  5. I just did this on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving(wanted a few families to have an EXTRA special Thanksgiving!!!). I happen to have a friend who works at K-Mart and she looked through the tickets and found several that we all toys and kids' clothing items. She had about 10 different amounts for me to pick from(with NO names, of course). I picked the ones I wanted to pay for and paid for them...leaving $.01 on the bill which is required for pick up. She was able to then call them and let them know. If I didn't have her working there, I would call ahead of time and just explain what you want to do. I know my friend LOVES to make those phone calls and I'm sure most layaway people would love to help!!!!

  6. We are 28, have a 4 & 7 year old, make approx 40k a year now, don't use credit cards, I'm a bargain shopper and we put toys/clothes/electronics on layaway typically. Last year we used Walmart, this year Kmart. So I'd say those stats are right on!

    I have been a lucky recipient from your Christmas gift card program before. And so thankful for it. I did try to shout out on here to the woman who made helped us make a nice Christmas for our kids. And I was SO SO happy to surprise a Mom for Mother's Day. She sent me the sweetest thank you card and it sits in my box of treasures along side my children's hospital bracelets and my corsage from my then boyfriend (now hubby).

    I would have loved to be a giver this year for Christmas. But I understand. I hope you are able to pay off layaways like a boss and share the awesomeness with us. Do you think next year you would be willing to open up a fund me or something similar where we can all pitch in something to help?

    That might make things a little easier if you are collecting all the money and then go out and pay the layaways. Less unpredictability when leaving it in the hands of others and I totally trust your ladies' capable hands. Think of how much more you could do if we each kicked in $5. I would love to be able to say I helped :)

    Thank you for giving us so many ideas on how we can get our kids involved!

  7. I have another idea for the list of how to help others with regards to tipping -- "tip the person well that helps put your tree on the car." I feel for these men standing out in the cold, by a fire, and working for the guy who makes the good money - I actually worked with a family whose dad would be gone from his family all of December (until Christmas) living at a tree lot to make extra money for the family and the family missed him so much!

  8. My kids and I paid off someone's layaway last year at ToysRUS. We went during the weekday when there were few people in the store. We went to the customer service counter and told the lady what our budget was (around $75) and asked if she could find a layaway that looked like it was toys for Christmas so we could anonymously pay it off. At first she tried looking up the information by computer but then realized it would be faster to go through the receipts in another area of the store. It took about 20 minutes before she found the right layaway for us. The customer service lady knew exactly how to ring up our purchases as she had had someone come in the day before to pay off a layaway; her first anonymous payer since she began working at the store a few years prior.

    She told me that either ToysRUs or the Toys for Tots program has a special gift program for those who pay off a stranger's layaway. One of the companies (I can't remember which) will pay for $100 in toys to be donated to the Toys for Tots program. So, our $75 donation turned into $175. $75 to our layaway family and $100 to some kids who need gifts.

    The best part is the customer service lady got teary-eyed when I asked her if she would be the one calling the family to tell them their presents were paid would be her. I cried, too. When I turned to leave I noticed a couple behind us were also crying. They heard what my kids and I were doing and thought they were in the customer service line for another reason, they decided to pay off a layaway, too. Another layaway paid off, another $100 in toys donated to some special kids.

    I left feeling like a million dollars. I keep the receipt in my glove compartment and have looked at it several times this last year when I need a little pick me up. We plan on doing the same thing this year and have even added it as one of our special family events on our Advent calendar. My kids were three and four last year and had a basic idea of what we were doing. This year they completely understand which will make the experience even more special.

    Some admin notes, I don't know if there is a deadline but the sooner the better just to relieve the parent from some money worries. Also, the layaway family's receipt did not list my credit card number or name so it was truly an anonymous gift.

    I hope this helps!

  9. I don't know about layaway but after looking at your chart I do have an idea. Take a kid or two that is a child of divorce and take them shopping for their parents. Often these parents don't receive any gifts because their children are young and have no one to take them shopping for Mommy and Daddy (and money is an issue too). I'm very fortunate as a divorced mom that my mom takes my kiddo shopping for me but have many friends who don't get gifts from their kids because they don't have anyone to take them or pay for it.

    1. So I'm a single mom of 2 wonderful kids 3yr old girl and 5yr old boys I signed them up for christmas help in north dakota and we moved back to louisiana and it's to late for my kids to get help so I put my kids some things on layway at kmart cause I'm trying to find a job to pay it off so my kids will have Christmas no jobs have called me yet and I can't find any help does anyone here know who could help my kids have a great christmas and help pay our layway I've been crying and stressed any kinda help will be grateful please thank u Nikki Rouse u can email me at are my number is 3278523677

  10. Another idea is to pay off someone's utility bill. I did this last year by going into the office and asked if I could pay off someone's bill. I did not ask for a name, but the gal working at the desk said she knew of just the right person. They had been paying the minimum to keep the water and electricity on. Dad lost job and was looking for work, mom worked but not a lot and 3 kids. My advice: be sure to specify that you want to help someone in need, not some deadbeat who is using the system!

    1. Great idea. I know many families get gifts of toys at Christmas. It's easy to get on a charity list for gifts, and people will often generously buy toys for needy relative's kids for Christmas. Having been in a difficult situation in the past I know it's really hard to get help with needs when you're needy at Christmas. Other things needy people need: cash, non-food grocery items, gas cards, bus tickets, and car repair.

  11. My best suggestion is to grab a manager FIRST and bypass the customer service rep. Why? One, managers have fewer people IN THEIR FACE ALL THE TIME OMG, and two, they have the POWUH to do special stuff like this without asking for permission :) Plus, it'll keep the cashier employees from getting too stressed about their lines or doing the menial labor that the managers give them before quitting time :) Every time I've done this during the holidays, I just go to customer service and politely request the manager overseeing layaway; I usually also reassure them that it's about something good and they'll want to help me, really.

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  13. I love that you are encouraging other's to help those of us out who are strapped. I'm a single mom of a 4 year old. I am a bit older, but I make less than $20,000 a year. I did lawaway this year for my daughter so I could make sure she has a Christmas. It's not much, but it's what I can do. I hate to say that a lot of people look at me and think that I have it all together and don't need help. I don't advertise that I do, I do without for myself so she has what she needs. After all isn't that what a mother does? I hope someday to be in the position where I can help someone out by paying their lawaway. I never in a million years would have thougt of that or even that it was possible. I am so very grateful that you are bringing awareness to the struggles so many of us have. Thank RFML. I love you guys to pieces and wish I could fold ya'll up and carry you around in my pocket. Mainly so I would have a good source of entertainment when I need a laugh to distract me from my life! Merry Christmas to all your familes!

  14. FYI, apparently, Canadian WalMarts don't have layaway, despite what the internet says. I went in to do this yesterday, and was told that they don't do layaway anymore. Any suggestions on Canadian stores that offer layaway?

  15. I strongly suspect you're making a huge difference with this blog. Check out this article:

    I honestly think at least part of that upswing is due to you. :) Great job!!!

  16. I have five children and I will not be able to get their layaway out for husband works at WalMart so it's an associate layaway it's due out on the December 20. We barely make it from paycheck to paycheck.I teach doesn't pay much but I love it. If there is anyone who can help me it's under Nita Poindexter at WalMart in Franklin,Indiana 46131.

  17. Apparently, we don't have layaway in my part of the great frozen North. I ended up taking some names off the Salvation Army tree at Walmart and filling kids' wish lists. Still very cool!

  18. I also live in Canada and they stopped doing layaway at Walmart around the same time that all stores turned into superstores. I've been told it's because they just don't have the room to keep the layaway stuff in the back anymore because they need so much more space for stock.

  19. This is not about layaway....But, it is great idea! I am a teacher. Our staff is given complimentary sports passes for the year. Several years ago, our athletic department sent an email saying we could donate our pass to a student who would probably not be able to afford to attend all of the games. They are very discrete about who they choose Since my children have graduated, I go to fewer games. I can afford to pay for the few I attend. It is a great way to encourage students to stay involved and have school spirit! Just sharing.

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  22. Hi I am 17 and have $200 left on my layaway at Kmart and only getting paid 2 weeks is very inconvenient with holidays coming up. And this christmas will be very difficult for not only me but also my family. Because this last april we experienced an unexpected death in the family of my grandfather. He was not only the heart and soul of our family but a good provider.
    It would mean so much to me if someone just helped my family out by maybe even just paying a little. I normally do not ask for handouts from anyone but I am trying so hard to make this christmas the best for my family because they really deserve it considering all of the things we have had to deal with.
    Thank you .

  23. I am hurt i posted on here several days ago and can only assume tht it wasnt approved thats why it wasnt on here but yet i see a similar post here today very hurtful but its ok my kids will have no christmas and i done lost my layway so thanks and may god bless

  24. Hello. I came across your post when I Googled "how to pay off someone's layaway". My family has struggled over the years, financially, so I know how difficult it can be, first hand. My only child is nine years old and this Christmas is the first Christmas since he was born that I haven't had to sign up for help during the holidays. I just started a new job in November and have been blessed with a pretty decent salary. We are, by no means "rich", I wouldn't even say we are out of the red yet. But, my sister just came to me today and told me how difficult it was going to be for her to provide Christmas gifts for my niece (we are best friends and talk daily, but I had no idea that she was struggling so badly). She mentioned that she still had a small amount due on her layaway at Walmart so I decided that I was going to go pay off her layaway amount (secretly), in hopes that would help her out a bit. I have also reached out to our local community to see if there is anyone that would be willing to help.

    I loved reading this article and all of the comments that are posted here!! It's so great to see the outcry of support from complete strangers to help those in need. As someone who has benefited from that generosity, I'd like to personally thank each and every one of you!! It's scary being a parent and being unsure if you are going to be able to provide a few nice gifts for your children on Christmas. But with the help of Angels like all of you, we make it happen, together!! So, again, thank you so much! And thanks for the article- hopefully I will be able to help provide a nice Christmas for my niece this year!

  25. Several of my ex coworkers had their layaways paid off in Lake City (ALL the layaway at Walmart!) I'm so excited for them but a little bummed we didn't even have enough for a down payment on layaway this year. Cie la vie. I hear that buying from stranger's Amazon wishlists is catching on though, so I'm setting my lists to public *just in case.* Fingers crossed! That's the only way my kids are getting anything this year and I have massive lists. (I like to window shop Amazon at night. Sue me. lol)

  26. I am looking for someone to help me this year with my layaway... I recently lost my job due to a medical condition.. I have all the paperwork to boyfriend's income is all we have.. We have 4 children. 2 boys 15&12 and 2 little girls 9&7... if anyone is willing to help. Please let me know... all I want us for my children to have a good Christmas.. thank you

  27. Paying off a lay-a-way is great. I have always tried to pick an angel off of the angel tree and buy for them. However this year our oldest daughter passed away, we took care of her until the end and paid for her service. Also, my husband has become dis-abled. We are raising our handsome ten year old grandson, who misses his mother everyday. We could really use some help with our Wal-Mart lay-a-way this year. It is in Haleyville AL in Martha Williams name. My husband is a proud man, but I want our granchildren to have a great Christmas. It will get better for us; I finally secured a part time job. Thank you in advance and God bless you all for your kindness to others.

  28. My husband and I lost our oldest daughter to liver failure this year, and we raising our handsome ten year old grandson. We are having a rough time financially. If. someone could help us pay off our lay-a-way at the Haleyville AL Wal-Mart we would greatly appreciate it. Martha Williams

  29. My husband and I are raising our ten year old grandson due to his mother's death. We would not have it any other way. We are having a difficult time this year financially. We would greatly appreciate some help with our Christmas lay-a-way at the Haleyville Wal-Mart. It is in Martha Williams name. We have in the past been able to provide our grandchildren with Christmas with no problems. Due to our daughters death; we need a little help this year. I have recently secured employment. and know that things will improve. Any help would be appreciated.

  30. Hi , I was just wondering if somebody could pay off my layaway so my daughter can have a Christmas , I lost my job & have been without income , I haven't paid rent in two months , so I'm praying somebody can help me , and I can promise I will pay it forward next year . . .

    If anybody needs my intfo for my layaway you can email me at

  31. This is a great thing and it should be done by everyone with the means to do so. However, I also think that it should be left up to faith as to who will receive this act of kindness and not be solicited by others. I believe that if you are truly in need God will put you in my path as he has done this countless times for me.

  32. I wish my layaway was at Wal-Mart I have to cancel mine tomorrow so nothing for my kids again bless you all who have helped others

  33. I with I had a angel to help with my layaway at k-mart.I put things on there but now I have to cancel it I can't afford to pay it and don't know how to tell my kidos.

    1. I know how you feel. You barely make it through the month put a layaway in to try and things come up preventing you from paying on the layaway. It came between paying Christmas layaway or heating the house since the furnace went. We put in 8 layaways to save $10.00 in each. Now I feel bad because there will be no Christmas presents.




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