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Another Kind of Holiday Nostalgia: Layaway

Talk about Depression-era throwbacks.

With more shoppers opting for paper over plastic - cash over credit cards, that is - Kmart is reminding consumers in a new holiday ad campaign that it offers layaway service.

Yes, you read that right: LAYAWAY.

For those unfamiliar with the concept - and many shoppers aren't - the program allows consumers, for a small fee, to pay for purchases in installments before they take home the goods. The advantage: no interest charges.

The idea may seem quaint, but it makes financial sense, and the message may resonate well with shoppers who either find themselves with limited access to credit this holiday season, or those who simply want to opt out of our "buy-now-pay-later" culture.

Layaway was once a way of life for many consumers, especially those with low incomes, but easy access to credit cards, combined with the logistics and costs of managing a layaway program, forced many retailers to abandon these programs years ago.

But not Kmart. It's the only major national discount retailer that still offers the service. And they see that as an advantage worth touting as many consumers search for new ways to stretch their dollars and mind their budgets.

Kmart wouldn't disclose any specific sales figures, but it said that there already has been increased interest in its layaway plan since it began rolling out the new ad campaign this month.

Traditionally, Kmart has seen increased use of its layaway program during the holiday season, said Kim Freely, a spokeswoman at Sears Holdings, Kmart's parent.

Not only can consumers use the program as a way to free up credit and avoid interest charges, but parents like to use it as a "Christmas closet to keep gifts away from prying eyes," Freely said.

Shopping Elsewhere?

For those who aren't Kmart shoppers, it may be tough to find other layaway programs. But they're out there if you look. Check out Burlington Coat Factory and TJX Companies' T.J. Maxx and Marshalls stores. And online, there are two websites that offer layaway programs: elayaway.com and lay-away.com.

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Questions? Comments? retaildetail@cnbc.com

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