MIAMI (CBS4)- It’s time to think about holiday shopping and how you’re going to pay for it this year, and tough economic times are prompting some retail stores to bring back layaway.

“I spend more, I spend more than last year,” Theresa Rodriguez told CBS4’s Chief Consumer Investigator, Al Sunshine.

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Like so many other shoppers, Rodriguez has to save money. But she also has to make sure she’s got all the holiday presents she can afford for her family. So this year, she’s starting early and putting it all on layaway so she can spread out her payments over the weeks leading up to Christmas.

“I like it because it gives me the opportunity to pay little by little, you know, sometimes you don’t have enough money,” said Rodriguez.

According to local retailers, they expect layaways to be a lot more popular this year. But some local consumers told Sunshine that they are still not really sure how it works.

Retailers admit that “layaway” is a little more complicated because of the record-keeping, but say it’s all computerized now and some plans are even accessible on-line to their customers. 

Adrian Fernandez, store manager at the Sears in Coral Gables, said it gives consumers a different option.

“It is definitely beginning to develop a great deal,” Fernandez said. “There’s a couple of reasons for it. First with the economy the way it is right now, things are a little bit tough so it does allow the customer to use a different payment plan other than credit cards to actually make a purchase.”

“You really have to learn the terms of each store’s policy, it varies,” said Edgar Dworksy of Consumer World.

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He believes layaway can be a great tool to keep spending in check and spread out payments. But he warns that you have to do the math and factor in things like any extra layaway fees.

“They are a little simpler than the credit card agreements that you see, but they are very rigid. You can only buy certain items. You either can or cannot buy on-line. You have to make a minimum deposit. There is going to be a certain penalty if you cancel and that fee varies from store to store,” explained Dworsky

Rodriguez’s total is more than $200. She hopes to have her latest layaways all paid off over the next few week… well before the holidays.

“So come Christmas, it’s all paid for?” asked Sunshine.

“Exactly,” replied Rodriguez.

“How good is that going to be?” asked Sunshine.

“Oh, perfect, perfect. I don’t have to worry at the last-minute so that’ll be great!”

To make sure layaway shopping is right for you be sure to go over any contracts and understand all the fine print. Also,ask about the store’s policy if something is on sale and marked down.

Can you lock in the lowest price? You also need to check about cancellation charges or deadlines over how long you can extend your purchase before having to pay it off.

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Click on the links below for advice on layaway plans.