Opportunity Cost

This or That

What is an Opportunity Cost?

An opportunity cost is a profit or value of something that must be given up to acquire or achieve something else—the cost of missing an opportunity.

Every choice you make in life has an opportunity cost because you could have been doing something else instead. It can also be thought of as a trade-off.

Uses

Estimating the Opportunity cost can be used to make various financial decisions.  Whether calculating the attractiveness of an investment, buying a house or determining the legal structure of a new business, it is an important method for choosing the best alternative.

Formula

Opportunity Cost = Most lucrative option – Chosen option 

Examples

For example, if you spend $30,000 on a new car, you missed out on the opportunity to invest that money, which over many years could bring in a return of thousands of dollars.

With a credit card, there is a double opportunity cost. First, your future income is reduced by the price of whatever you purchase; you can’t use that money to buy other things. Additionally, you missed out on the opportunity to save that money and have it earn interest. The money that is not saved and could be earning interest would be considered a loss affecting your spending budget in the future.

Fun Facts:

  • Although the term “opportunity cost” was coined by an Austrian economist, the inspiration was Benjamin Franklin’s theory of “time is money”. In 1746 he wrote:

“Remember that Time is Money. He that can earn Ten Shillings a Day by his Labour, and goes abroad, or sits idle one half of that Day, tho’ he spends but Sixpence during his Diversion or Idleness, ought not to reckon That the only Expence; he has really spent or rather thrown away Five Shillings besides.”

  • If you spent the money on an original iPod in 2001 on Apple stock instead ($499), you would have earned approximately $14,514 today.

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