The Little Perks You Pay Big For (That New Car Smell, For Example)

Several years ago, Car and Driver had an excellent article about how car companies put in a lot of extra effort to engineer the right “new car smell.” The goal? They want that smell to feel both exciting and comforting, encouraging the car buyer to both desire the smell when they’re shopping and to enjoy it while it lasts after the purchase.

Little Perks, Big Costs

That “new car smell” is carefully engineered.

In fact, you can actually buy spray bottles of “new car smell” for your own car. Car dealerships use that stuff all the time in their cars to create that sense of freshness and appeal when you’re shopping for a car.

They do it because people will pay for it. According to Martin Lindstrom’s book Brand Sense, “Many people cite new car smell as being one of the most gratifying aspects of purchasing a new car.

Think about it: one of the most gratifying aspects of a $20,000 investment in the purchase a new car comes from a spray bottle. It’s a little perk that can cost you a lot of money.

We often drastically overpay for little perks and features.

I was recently at a cellular store where the salesman was selling two seemingly identical smartphones. One was $50 with a contract, while the other was $250 with a contract. The only difference I could tell from the specs was the model number and a 0.2″ increase in screen size (which I didn’t actually notice until I read the specs). While I was there, I watched someone sign up for a contract and take that $250 phone.

When I asked the salesman what the difference was, the only thing he could point to was the larger screen size, but boy did he sell that larger screen size! That 0.2″ might as well have been a foot! 0.2″ is clearly the difference between satisfaction and disappointment with your phone.

Is $200 worth 0.2″ of screen space on a phone that you’ll use for perhaps two or three years? That’s 0.2″ on the diagonal, mind you.

Is that “new car smell” worth thousands of dollars when buying a new car over a late model used one? How about spending a few bucks on a spray bottle instead if you really want the smell?

The story repeats itself over and over again. Rather than breaking the features of an item down into individual pieces, we sell ourselves on the package. It costs us money almost all the time.

Practices to Avoid Making Huge Financial Mistakes

Ask yourself whether you could live without a few of the features of an item you’re considering.

What features, if they were to disappear, really wouldn’t affect your use of the item much at all? Don’t pay much for those features.

Ask yourself whether you could live with slightly downsized versions of some features.

Would a smaller screen make or break the deal? What about cutting your phone line out of your internet package?

Ask yourself whether you could substitute some features yourself.

That “new car smell” comes from a spray bottle, so why not just add it later on if you like it?

When you start trimming back like this, you’ll quickly find that the item you might have chosen at first might just be overpriced for what you actually need or want. You might have been attracted to a particular package of features, but when you actually break it down, that expensive version really isn’t bringing anything to the table that isn’t included with this cheaper version – or with the version you already own.

Don’t get pulled into a big purchase by the little perks and features. When you pull away the things you don’t really need and the things you can add yourself, you can usually get away with a much less expensive purchase and not skip a beat.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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