Holding fees can vary depending on the retailer. Sometimes it's a flat fee, other times it's a percentage of the total purchase price. Penalty fees for missing payments or failing to pick up a reserved item in a timely manner can present an additional burden.
Thinking About Layaway? Remember These Tips
"First, make sure you're going to just do it once in one store so that you don't get hit with fees at lots of different places," Hyman told ABCNews.com. "Make sure you're able to pay it off over time, make sure you're not going to end up being charged a lot of fees and not have presents for Christmas."
If you're thinking about layaway, he added, it's also an opportunity to reassess your financial plan and consider opening a bank account. Oftentimes credit unions or local bank have lower fees than larger banks.
"To my mind there's only one situation where it makes sense to do layaway and that's if you think the goods you're buying will not be available at Christmas time," said Hyman. "If there's a crazy sale maybe it's a good idea, but in general you're not going to find the deals that would offset [layaway fees]."
ShopSmart editor Rohlena cautioned consumers to research layaway program fees.
"Don't assume it's a free service where you're paying the list price," she said.
"The smartest thing to do is save up your money and buy what you can with the money you have. But that's a shift in habit for a lot of people who are used to pulling out the credit card. If they're trying not to do that this year, that's a good thing. But you want to make sure you don't get saddled with fees that are associated with a program that you might assume is free."
Layaway tends to attract the "most disadvantaged in our economy," Hyman said. "What's unfortunate to my mind is that they could do this without being charged any fees at all. They could open a savings account or put money in a cookie jar."
Sometimes, Rohlena said, it's best to think about shopping local.
"I think people tend to assume the big retailers have the best prices and that may not be the case," said Rohlena. "You may be able to go into a local merchant and negotiate a better price, you might also be able to work out a payment plan with a local merchant."
When asking for a deal or payment plan, "ask nicely," she advised. Even though you may not be successful, it never hurts to ask.