What is Opportunity Cost? Opportunity Cost Definition

While the concept of opportunity cost applies to any decision, it becomes harder to quantify as you consider factors that can’t be assigned a dollar amount. One offers a conservative return but only requires you to tie up your cash for two years, while the other won’t allow you to touch your money for 10 years, but it will pay higher interest with slightly more risk. In this case, part of the opportunity cost will include the differences in liquidity. Investors try to consider the potential opportunity cost while making choices, but the calculation of opportunity cost is much more accurate with the benefit of hindsight. When you have real numbers to work with, rather than estimates, it’s easier to compare the return of a chosen investment to the forgone alternative.

By signing that lease, you are eliminating the opportunity to rent in SoHo, or the Upper East Side, or even New Jersey. Assuming your other options were less expensive, the value of what it would have cost to rent elsewhere is your opportunity cost. If you enter the workforce at 16 without qualifications you start earning money straight away. But the opportunity cost is that you lose out on the potential of getting better qualifications and possibly a higher salary in the long-run. If the government offers an income tax cut, the opportunity cost is that government revenue cannot be used to finance some aspect of government spending.

Opportunity cost and comparative advantage

The downside of opportunity cost is it is heavily reliant on estimates and assumptions. There’s no way of knowing exactly how a different course of action may have played out financially. Therefore, to determine opportunity cost, a company or investor must project the outcome and forecast the financial impact. This includes projecting sales numbers, market penetration, customer demographics, manufacturing costs, customer returns, and seasonality. Opportunity cost does not show up directly on a company’s financial statements.

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  • They’re not direct costs to you but rather the lost opportunity to generate income through your resources.
  • Alternatively, if the business purchases a new machine, it will be able to increase its production of widgets.
  • With that choice, the opportunity cost is 4%, meaning you would forgo the opportunity to earn an additional 4% on your funds.

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Opportunity cost factors to consider

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Sunk costs should be irrelevant for future decision making, while opportunity costs are crucial because they reflect missed opportunities. That’s not to say that your past decisions have no effect on your future decisions, of course. You’ll the importance of other comprehensive income still have to pay off your student loans whether or not you continue in your chosen field or decide to go back to school for more education. Opportunity cost is the cost of what is given up when choosing one thing over another.

Production possibility frontier and opportunity cost

The opportunity cost is equal to the potential $100 you could have gained from partaking in activity A (implicit cost), plus the explicit cost of \$50 from partaking in activity B. In reality, a gain of -$50 does not make sense on its own, because there is no such thing as negative money. Opportunity cost only makes sense when there is a choice in the first place, and choosing to lose \$50 to perform some activity is the very definition of a cost. A net gain (or profit) of -\$50 can make sense, but that implies more than one factor. In a situation where you pay \$50 and get \$0 back, that is a cost of \$50 and an output of \$0. This is often the case when you spend money for immaterial gains, such as entertainment.

Opportunity Cost FAQs

Opportunity cost can be used to inform any decision, from investing in a security to what leisure activities one does during their free time. Future estimated cash flows are discounted by a company’s IRR to calculate the net present value of an investment. Because resources are finite, investing in one opportunity causes another opportunity to be forgone. With the above definition, the alternative you choose ($B$ in this case) is completely irrelevant when calculating its OC. Of course, these are labels, and one could conceivably go on and define “opportunity cost” in some other way.

For example, a stock with a potential 10 percent annual return has more risk than investing in a CD with a sure-fire 5 percent annual return. So the opportunity cost of taking the stock is the CD’s safe return, while the cost of the CD is the stock’s potentially higher return and greater risk. The stock’s risk and potential for loss may make the lower-yielding investment a more attractive prospect. If you don’t have the actual rate of return, you can weigh the investment’s expected return.

While financial reports do not show opportunity costs, business owners often use the concept to make educated decisions when they have multiple options before them. He does not pay any interest to himself, but he could have earned some money if he had given the money as loan to someone else. Thus for personal capital, self-employed rate of interest would be imputed at the rate at which it could earn interest somewhere else. To make the approach still more realistic, the modern economists prefer to add normal profit to implicit and explicit costs of production. Trade-offs take place in any decision that requires forgoing one option for another. So, if you chose to invest in government bonds over high-risk stocks, there’s a trade-off in the decision that you chose.

Assume that, given $20,000 of available funds, a business must choose between investing funds in securities or using it to purchase new machinery. No matter which option the business chooses, the potential profit that it gives up by not investing in the other option is the opportunity cost. Opportunity cost analysis plays a crucial role in determining a business’s capital structure. A firm incurs an explicit cost of issuing both debt and equity capital capital because it must compensate lenders and shareholders for the risk of investment, yet each option also carries an opportunity cost.

You might save on the cost of gas but double the trip length and miss out on other things you could have done during that time. When calculating opportunity costs, it’s important to consider more than just flat returns, however. Opportunity costs may have explicit financial costs, like when you choose to use your dollars for one thing instead of another, or implicit costs. The latter won’t hurt your wallet but will cost you the chance to do other things with your time or energy, which actually can have indirect impacts on your finances. When you fully understand the potential costs and benefits of each option you’re weighing, you can make a more informed decision and be better prepared for any consequences of your choice.

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