Beware the Dash Mat Principle


From Podcast #175: The Dash Mat Principle, the one in which Jesse talks about how the little things add up.


Today I want to discuss a principle I call the Dash Mat Principle. And that is where you go to purchase a car and it’s a big ticket item—let’s say you’re going to spend twenty grand on this car. You do your research, you’ve found the best deal and you’ve got everything lined up. You are paying with cash (good job, by the way!) and you go to buy this $20,000 car.

And then the dealer uses every opportunity possible to upsell you on the tiny stuff. I say tiny even though additional money is not at all tiny.

If you’re in the grocery store and you’re walking up and down the aisles and you’re deciding what kind of ketchup you should purchase, you’re looking at the $2.39 option, the $4 option, the $3.50 option, and you’re weighing… you’re standing there, holding your hands up like a scale, “Should I get the $3.50 option? It says it’s organic. Or should I go with the store brand—it’s less but might not be as good.” You’re weighing these options, looking at the features, benefits, and comparing it to the price. And the price difference is 70 cents.

And then when you’re buying that $20,000 car and the dealer say, “Do you want the…?” (I’m making stuff up, right, but I know they do this with dash mats.) “We’ve included the dash mats there for $200.” And you think, “Well, I’m spending 20,000. What’s another $200?”

Or, “We’re going to do some under-body treatment of the car that will do XYZ—it will only be $175,” and you think, “Okay, fine, whatever. I just want to buy this car.” So you start getting nit-picked on these proportionally small expenses, even though, in another context, you would consider it a lot of money. In the grocery store, where you spend $200 for the whole week, you are weighing every penny.

And so at the end of the day, to combat the Dash Mat Principle—where you are not as sensitive to cost as you should be because you’re dealing with a large overall cost—I encourage you to take a little bit of a page from Rule One.

Your awareness of your money increased as you began to break down your checking account balance into jobs, and you were prioritizing those dollars. As you started to see that you were spending X on Y and you were spending A on B, it started to feel more real—you were dealing with more compartmentalized, discrete, finite, defined amounts attached to specific goals, bills, desires, whatever that may be.

So when you go to purchase that car, I’d encourage you to do the same thing: break it down. Break down the entire price. And then you don’t analyze whether you should get $200 dash mats (I don’t even know if that’s the price of these) but you don’t analyze if you should get the $200 dash mat in comparison to the $20,000 car; you analyze if you should get the $200 whatever upgrade based on your priorities and whether or not that is how you want to spend that $200.

The same can be said for building a house, buying a house, any type of home renovation project or, in our case, just recently, office renovation project. What’s one more little upgrade when you’re already spending 15,000/20,000/30,000 on something, right? But it matters and you should be just as sensitive to those dollars as a part of your priorities overall.

Now, if you can just throw caution to the wind and have a heyday on some vacation because you’ve purposely saved a ton of money and you’re going on this vacation saying, “Listen, I have saved so much money so I don’t HAVE to sit there and question every cost,” more power to you.

Or if you’ve saved so much for your car you say, “Listen, I just want to walk in with a briefcase full of money, flash it to the salesman, walk out with my car. I don’t want to think about it, I don’t want to do anything.” That’s fine if that’s a priority of yours, if you enjoy that, if that’s the way you want it to go down.

But for the rest of us, may we ever beware of the Dash Mat Principle, where our price sensitivity tends to be anchored to this large purchase and we lose sight of the smaller things that, in any other circumstance, would still matter to us quite a bit.


Until next time, follow YNAB’s Four Rules and you will win financially. You’ve never budgeted like this.For more about how to stop living paycheck-to-paycheck, get out of debt and save more money, faster—subscribe to the You Need A Budget podcast today!