Read the fine print
Building your buying skills is an important step to becoming a well-informed and knowledgeable consumer. The information below provides helpful basic buying tips you can use and apply today.
"Build Your Buying Skills" was created by the Consumer Measures Committee (CMC), a joint federal/provincial/territorial committee. CMC provides a federal-provincial-territorial forum for national cooperation to improve the marketplace for Canadian consumers, through harmonization of laws, regulations and practices and through actions to raise public awareness. The Office of Consumer Affairs at Industry Canada is the Secretariat for the CMC.
You can also contact Your Provincial or Territorial Consumer Affairs Office for further information on any of these and other consumer topics, as they may have information that is more specific to the area where you live.
Before You Buy
- Stick to a spending plan to keep your finances in check. Ask yourself if this purchase fits into your budget.
- Research products before you buy — especially big ticket items. Compare prices, service and warranties.
- Read the fine print on a contract before you sign. Ask questions — it is your money.
- Ask for references and check them before you hire a contractor. Your local Better Business Bureau can help.
- Walk away, hang up, delete or shred an offer that sounds too good to be true.
- Negotiate the price of an item with the seller. You may have better luck if you are polite and reasonable.
- Check the return policy. Unless stated in their policy, stores do not have to provide a refund or exchange.
- Avoid debt. Make sure a credit purchase is something you really need and that you can afford the payments. Debt can pile up quickly.
After You Buy
- Keep receipts, warranties and service contracts. You may need these to make a claim.
- Take responsibility for your debts. If you can't pay your bills, talk to your creditors or ask a budget counsellor for help.
- Say "No Thank You" to anyone who says they can repair your credit history. Only you can do this, by paying bills on time. Get a copy of your credit report every year and check it for mistakes.
- Give the seller a chance to correct any problems before you complain to someone else. If they can't or won't help, contact your provincial or territorial consumer affairs office.
Trusted consumer information
Published by the Consumer Measures Committee, a working
group of federal, provincial and territorial governments, that
helps educate and inform Canadian consumers.
Stick to a spending plan to keep your finances in check. Ask yourself if this purchase fits into your budget.
A budget allows you to take control of your personal finances. It can help you see how much money you receive, and how much you spend and save. It also helps you set limits so you don't spend money you don't have.
- When making a budget, it is important to think about your goals and to keep track of your money.
- The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada has a Budget Calculator to help you make a realistic budget.
- For more information on budgets, visit: Making a Budget and Sticking to It from the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada.
Research products before you buy – especially big ticket items. Compare prices, service and warranties.
Research by looking through sale advertisements, consumer magazines or online forums. You can also contact Your Provincial or Territorial Consumer Affairs Office if you have a specific question. Government offices do not compare the prices of products and services however they may be able to help you with other items. For example, they may be able to help explain something you do not understand about a product or to help you understand how a specific type of product, service or industry is regulated.
- For information about warranties, visit the Warranties page in our Shopping and sales practices section.
You may have been at the store and noticed that you have been charged the wrong price for an item. There are many possible reasons for this. For example, the wrong price may have been posted near the item, the correct price has not been registered in the scanner or you may simply have misread the sign. It is important to know your rights and responsibilities about price accuracy before you go shopping. The links below will provide some helpful information.
You may also want to learn about the Scanner Price Accuracy Voluntary Code. This is a code that many retailers have voluntarily agreed to follow when an item is scanned incorrectly. This Code is endorsed by the Competition Bureau.
Read the fine print on a contract before you sign. Ask questions — it is your money.
Signing a Contract
When you purchase a car, a new cellphone, hire a painter or mover, or purchase insurance you are entering into a contract.
Before signing a contract there are a few things to keep in mind:
- Always read the contract carefully, including the fine print.
- Only sign if you understand and agree with everything in the contract.
- Check carefully what you are responsible to pay and what the company must provide.
- When possible, and especially for a very large purchase, have a trusted person review the contract before you sign.
- Research the company and find references. The Better Business Bureau may be able to help you.
- If there is a deposit required, make sure you understand:
- if the amount of money deposited will go toward the final purchase price of the item; and,
- what will happen to the deposit if you cancel the contract.
In some provinces and territories, there is an automatic cancellation (or cooling-off) period for certain types of contracts. Examples include contracts for services such as credit, dating clubs, health clubs, funeral and cemetery services, time-shares, condominiums, natural gas, electricity and door-to-door sales. The cooling-off period is valid whether the company tells you about it or not.
To find out more about the cooling-off period in your area contact Your Provincial or Territorial Consumer Affairs Office.
Remember, the cooling-off period does not apply to all contracts, so it is very important to make sure you are ready to agree to everything in the contract before signing.
Ask for references and check them before you hire a contractor. Your local Better Business Bureau can help.
The more planning you do and research you put into finding a contractor, the better your chances of having things turn out to your satisfaction.
- Check with your local Better Business Bureau to see whether any complaints have been filed against any firm you are thinking of hiring. Ask relatives, friends and neighbours as well as local business associations for recommendations.
- Contact and interview more than one contractor. Ask for references and check that they are valid.
- Ask for a written estimate of all costs, including labour and extra charges. Be suspicious if the quoted price seems very low.
- Never allow work to proceed until you have completely reviewed, understood, agreed to and signed a contract.
To help you with the entire moving process, consult the Moving advice web page.
For tips and information on hiring a home renovation contractor, consult the hiringacontractor.com website run by the Canadian Home Builder's Association, and consider the following:
- Write a full, detailed list of the things that you want to achieve. If you change your mind part way through the project, the costs will also change.
- Check with your municipal building inspection department to find out which permits you'll need (this is not your contractor's responsibility unless that is spelled out in your contract). Also, check with your insurance company to discuss any extra insurance requirements that will add to your final cost.
- Keep the number of payments to a minimum and check with Your Provincial or Territorial Consumer Affairs Office for relevant consumer legislation.
Walk away, hang up, delete or shred an offer that sounds too good to be true.
There are many types of scams that are designed to take your money. Look below for some helpful information.
- Are you worried that some charities who call are not legitimate? Check out the Donation and charities page.
- Be careful when you shop and interact online. Keep your guard up for scams and bogus offers. For information and help when you shop online visit Online Shopping.
Negotiate the price of an item with the seller. You may have better luck if you are polite and reasonable.
While many people do not realize this, it is possible to negotiate the price of an item in a store. Although it is not common, in some cases a store may offer an extra discount or a reduced price if you ask. This is more likely to happen on items that are soon to be discontinued or are already damaged.
If you decide to try to negotiate the price of an item in a store, remember to be polite and reasonable. Stores do not have to give you an extra discount and in some cases they may not.
Unless stated in their policy, stores do not have to provide a refund or exchange.
Refund and Exchange
Always check the store policy before you buy. Stores do not always have to accept a return or exchange. Unless it is stated in their policy, stores do not have to give you back your money. If the item is damaged stores do need to offer some type of compensation. Although it may be a cash refund, it could also be an offer to replace or repair the item.
If a store does not honour their refund and exchange policy, you can contact Your Provincial or Territorial Consumer Affairs Office for more information.
Make sure a credit purchase is something you really need and that you can afford the payments. Debt can pile up quickly.
Buying on credit is easy and convenient, but can also be very expensive. Before buying anything on credit ask yourself if you really need the item. Would you still make the purchase if you had to pay in cash? Take time to shop around and compare.
If you must use credit, use it wisely.
- Understand the types of credit that you have, such as credit cards, loans and mortgages.
- Find out how much it costs if you only pay the minimum on your credit card balance, Credit Card Payment Calculator Tool.
* Some of these resources are provided by the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada.
Keep receipts, warranties and service contracts. You may need these to make a claim.
If you decide to return an item for any reason, it is always best if you have your receipt. To make a claim on a warranty it is always easier if you have your receipts and warranty documents.
If you can't pay your bills, talk to your creditors or ask a budget counsellor for help.
Debt can pile up quickly. It is important to watch out for warning signs and to know what to do when it starts to add up.
The links below will point you to tools and information to help you get a handle on your credit and debt.
Help with Money Management and Debt
- Making a plan to be debt-free.
- Budget/credit counselling services can help you rework your budget and make a plan to pay back creditors.
- Paying your bills on time is the only way to repair your credit. These habits are recorded on your credit report and it is important to understand what your credit report means. For more information, visit the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada's Credit Reports and Scores
If you have not paid a debt, you could receive a call from a collection agency. The agency will contact you on behalf of the company to whom you owe money.
There are rules that collection agencies need to follow. For tips and advice on how you should deal with collection agencies, visit the debt collection agencies page.
Say "No Thank You" to anyone who says they can repair your credit history. Only you can do this, by paying bills on time. Get a copy of your credit report every year and check it for mistakes.
There is no magic fix to repair your credit report. Paying your bills on time is the only way to improve your credit score.
- Learn more about your credit report from the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada.
Give the seller a chance to correct any problems before you complain to someone else. If they can't or won't help, contact your provincial or territorial consumer affairs office.
If you've just bought something that you're not happy with, contact the business right away.
- Good businesses will be pleased to fix any mistake they've made or replace a faulty product. For tips and tools on how to complain effectively, visit the Complaint roadmap.
- You can also contact Your Provincial or Territorial Consumer Affairs Office for help.
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