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Opportunity Cost: What It Is and How to Account for It

Calculating Opportunity Cost

The way to calculate the opportunity cost is to subtract the value of the option from the value of the alternative that is foregone.

Opportunity Cost = Return on the best foregone alternative - Return on the chosen option.

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Opportunity Cost: What It Is and How to Account for It

Opportunity Cost: What It Is and How to Account for It

https://effectiviology.com/opportunity-cost/

effectiviology.com

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Key Ideas

Opportunity Cost

It is the estimated value of the best alternative or the best option that one misses out as a consequence of picking one particular option.

Example: Spending a limited resource, like Money, on healthcare, comes with the 'opportunity cost' of being unable to spend that amount on education.

Opportunity Cost in Non-financial Situations

Opportunity cost in non-financial situations is more difficult to quantify. The loss or gain with choosing an option while foregoing another can be subjective and not readily comparable.

Example: While deciding on which job offer to take, we may consider job satisfaction, brand name, commute time, long-term growth, and the salary offered. While finalizing, we have to forego the other best offer. While deciding on a career, we have to consider options like prestige, impact and the work sector.

Calculating Opportunity Cost

The way to calculate the opportunity cost is to subtract the value of the option from the value of the alternative that is foregone.

Opportunity Cost = Return on the best foregone alternative - Return on the chosen option.

Importance and Risks

Opportunity cost calculation is essential to individuals, corporations and governments, where there are decisions to be made regarding limited resources like time, money and effort. Choosing one of the scarce resources always leads to a trade-off in gains.

It is important to account for risks associated with the different available options. Often the rewards that different options offer come with a certain risk.

Opportunity Cost Calculations

Many people and organizations fail to take into account the various opportunity costs.

  • We need to actively question ourselves about the alternatives that may be missed out by deciding on a particular option.
  • The often neglected cost of waiting too long is also a decision that can incur a significant amount of opportunity cost, as we lose the time window to take action, losing the better option due to delay and inaction.
  • Not taking an action is also a decision that needs to be evaluated, just like other options.

Overestimating Opportunity Cost

Certain external constraints make us overestimate the opportunity cost, as we start to imagine all the foregone options as a missed opportunity and start to see the situation irrationally. This can cause a negative emotional and psychological reaction, like regret.

The opportunity cost in these cases should not be viewed as the sum of all your skipped alternatives, but only the value of the best one which is foregone.

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The decoy effect

The decoy effect

It happens when consumers change their preference between two options when presented with a third option, or decoy.

The decoy is priced to make one of the other options much more attra...

How decoys work

When consumers are faced with many alternatives, they often experience choice overload that increases anxiety and hinders decision-making.

Consumers try to reduce this anxiety by selecting only a couple of criteria (say price and quantity) to determine the best value for money.

A decoy steers you in a particular direction while giving you the impression that you are making a rational, informed choice.

Decoy example in the market

Consider the price of drinks at a well-known juice bar: a small (350 ml) size costs $6.10; the medium (450 ml) $7.10; and the large (610 ml) $7.50. The medium is a slightly better value than the small, and the large better still. The medium is designed to be the decoy, steering you to see the biggest drink as the best value for money.

If you buy the biggest, was it because you made a sensible choice, or have you been manipulated to opt for bigger than intended?

Status quo bias

Status quo bias

Status quo bias is when we prefer that our environment and situation should remain unchanged.

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Common Explanations for Status Quo Bias

These explanations are all irrational for preferring the status quo:

  • Loss Aversion: When we make decisions, we weigh the potential for loss more heavily than the potential for gain.
  • Sunk Costs: We continue to invest resources like time, money, or effort into a specific endeavor just because we are already invested, not because it is the best choice.
  • Cognitive Dissonance: In decision-making, we an option as more valuable once we have chosen it. Considering an alternative can cause cognitive dissonance.
  • Mere Exposure Effect: It states that people prefer something they've been exposed to before.
  • Rationality vs. Irrationality: We may choose to keep our current situation because of the potential transition cost of switching to an alternative. It becomes irrational when we ignore choices that can improve a situation because we want to maintain the status quo.

Status Quo Bias examples

  • When offered several sandwich options, individuals often choose a sandwich they have eaten before.
  • In 1985, Coca Cola reformulated the original Coke flavor and started selling a "New Coke." Although blind taste tests found many consumers preferred New Coke, consumers continued to buy Coke Classic. New Coke was discontinued in 1992.
  • In political elections, the current candidate is more likely to win than the challenger.