Whether you are signing a contract to sell or buy a house or using a coupon, the fine print can catch you off-guard. You may not realize what you are actually buying or signing if you don’t pay close attention.
The definition of fine print in the Free Dictionary is “the portion of a document, especially a contract, that contains qualifications or restrictions in small type or obscure language.” The second definition is “something presented in a deliberately ambiguous or obscure manner.”
We have all been warned about fine print. There is even an old saying “Buyer, beware,” which originated from the caveat emptor law that states that a buyer buys at his own risk.
Here are some cases of fine print that may or may not surprise you. You may have even been hit by one or more of these examples.
The coupon books sold by many schools and organizations as fundraisers are great deals. You pay $20-$35 for the book of coupons which can be used in local restaurants, retails stores and for local services. Sometimes there are also coupons for national chain restaurants and stores in the coupon books.
Some of the coupons are very specific, perhaps offering $5 off any $20 purchase or a free meal with the purchase of a meal.
Other coupons are more vague, offering one menu item free with the purchase of a menu item of equal or greater value.
Although this offer seems pretty cut and dried, it’s not really. Beware of the fine print, even if it’s not on the coupon.
You’ll probably see in really tiny print at the bottom of the coupon, “subject to rules of use.” This means that the company can set rules as they see fit.
When you show up at the restaurant of your choice at lunchtime and pull out the coupon, don’t be surprised if they tell you that the coupon can only be used at dinnertime.
If you planned to buy a sandwich and get one free, don’t be surprised if you are told that the coupon only applies to adult entrees.
This is a great example of how fine print can come as a surprise. The “subject to rules of use” allows the company to assign any rules they wish to the use of the coupon.
A second example of fine print came to my attention around the holidays. Many stores sell plastic holiday serving trays that you would assume were to be used for serving food.
They are all brightly decorated with holiday scenes including Santa, Christmas trees and more. Many people use these trays to hold appetizers at holiday parties or cookies for gift giving.
But, beware the fine print. Before you use one of these products, all made in China, turn it over and look closely.
The back of one such tray stated, “Do not contact with food directly.” Who knows what else they thought the tray’s use would be.
Restaurants are really big users of fine print, too. Big signs may state, “Kids eat free,” but when you get closer, you see the fine print at the bottom of the sign.
In the end, it all goes back to “buyer beware.” You and you alone are responsible for reading the entire contract, sign or coupon. You are responsible for turning an item upside down, inside out and sideways before you buy it to find the fine print.
Have you ever been zapped by fine print? Are you more cautious now?