Do you ever stop to consider all of the papers that you receive in the course of your daily life, but which you do not stop to read? Do you read the warranties on every product you purchase and the terms and conditions on every website that you visit? Do you even bother to read every cash register receipt to confirm the time that a store allows for returns?
I didn’t think so.
We are inundated in paper and verbiage every day. We receive notices and policies and invoices in the mail. We receive packing slips, receipts and other documentation with our purchases. We find ourselves signing contracts and other legal documents. We should read them all, but we don’t, and that can cost us.
For example, I moved into my home in 2000. My wife handled most of the transaction. She told me where to sign. I signed. It underscored for me the wonder of my wife because she was willing to deal with all of the papers and she only needed my presence for about ten minutes. I signed the closing documents, as directed, and then I went back to a conference. When I got back from the conference, I was a homeowner.
Unfortunately, I was not an informed homeowner. I did not read the covenants that our homeowner’s association required us to accept. As a result, I did not know that I was not free to landscape my yard however I wanted. Accordingly, I spent a summer having my front yard re-landscaped. I did some of the work myself and I hired some gardeners to help me with the rest of it. I spent a lot of money – over $4,000 including the cost of the plants.
Silly me. As I now understand, when one lives in a suburban subdivision, it pays to know the covenants that all homeowners are required to accept. I did not and I fully realized that about a month after I finished landscaping. Our homeowners’ association sent me a nasty-gram threatening me with legal action if I did not change my yard back to how it looked before I landscaped. Why? Because in my subdivision, a homeowner can only make material changes to his or her front yard if he obtains the approval of the architectural review committee of the association.
Who knew? (Don’t answer that. It is a rhetorical question because, I know, I was supposed to know.) In any event, to make a long story short, I fought with my subdivision for about 6 months and eventually compromised by tearing up a portion of my landscaping and replanting grass. Sadly, the area that I tore up and resodded had cost me about $2000 when I did my first re-landscaping. Thus, I had cost myself $2000, and six months of aggravation, because I did not take the time to read the documents that I had signed when I bought my house in the first place!
If you take the time to read the fine print in almost any document that you obtain as part of a purchase, you will find that there are often hidden costs included in them. Yesterday, I almost subscribed to a magazine because I received an advertisement indicating that I could subscribe for $1 for three months. That seemed like a worthwhile deal, so I filled out the on-line subscription form and then noticed – in really tiny print – that my subscription would automatically renew for one year and I would automatically be billed $39.99 in three months unless I cancelled the subscription first. The magazine seller knew that I would never remember to cancel and was willing to give me three months so that it could capture me for a year. Fortunately, I read the fine print this time, and I never submitted my subscription.
Taking the time to read the sales documents that we receive can save a lot of money in the long run, but at a cost of a lot of time, tedium and mental toil. How do you decide what you will read? Do you save all of your documents in neatly organized files or do your receipts and warranties and invoices go into the trash as soon as you receive them. I assume you do keep the major agreements that you sign, but do you always read them first?