What Is Opportunity Cost and Why Does It Matter?

July 27, 2023
The opportunity cost is the gain that would have been obtained if a different alternative had been taken. To correctly assess opportunity costs, the expenses and benefits of each possible option must be analyzed and compared against one another. Consideration of opportunity costs can help people and businesses make more lucrative decisions. Opportunity cost is an internal expense used for prudent planning, excluded from accounting revenue, and not reported externally. Choosing not to improve firm equipment, choosing the costliest packaging for goods choice over cheaper ones, or investing in an innovative manufacturing facility in California rather than Mexico City are all examples of opportunity costs.

What is an opportunity cost?

Opportunity costs are the potential gains that a person, shareholder, or corporation forego while preferring one choice over another. Since opportunity costs are, by definition, unnoticed or unseen, they are frequently disregarded. They can be viewed as a trade-off. Trade-offs occur during decision-making and signify the cost associated when one option is selected over another. It is the value lost by a corporation while deciding among multiple options. As a result, an organization or a person must be mindful of the chances lost when they choose one investment or choice over another. This necessitates carefully considering the alternatives and settling on the best option.

The significance of opportunity cost

Opportunity cost assessment is critical in defining a company's capital structure. A business experiences an explicit cost when it issues debt and equity capital since it has to reimburse creditors and investors for the prospect of investment. Still, each choice also includes an opportunity cost.

For instance, money used to make loan settlements is not invested in bonds or assets, which have an opportunity for investment earnings. The corporation must evaluate if the development made possible by leveraging debt will result in higher yields than investments.

A company attempts to balance the costs and advantages of issuing debt and equity to achieve an ideal balance that reduces opportunity costs. Since opportunity cost is a prospective concern, the actual rate of return (RoR) for both choices is currently unknown, making this judgment difficult.

It is critical to assess investing derivatives with comparable risk. The computation might be deceptive when evaluating a Treasury bill, which is nearly risk-free, to expenditure on a highly fluctuating company. Both derivatives have projected returns of 5%, but the RoR of the T-bill is guaranteed by the US government, whereas there is no assurance like that in the stock market. Although both options have a 0% opportunity cost, the T-bill is safer when the relative risk of every stake is considered.

A cost occurs when a company foregoes a possibility or opportunity. The notion of growing opportunity costs is equally significant in economics. According to the law of increasing opportunity cost, if the generation of one item increases, the opportunity cost to create the new good also increases.

Enterprises may need to consider the opportunity cost of capital, investments, and other factors. Additionally, traders consider the cost of choosing one stock over another. From the shareholder's perspective, opportunity cost indicates that investment decisions will culminate in immediate profits or losses.

At its core, economics is the analysis of how individuals make decisions in the real world about the allocation of scarce resources. Without sufficient funds, there would be no need to forego any favored activity, allowing all chores to be completed. As a result, each action has an opportunity cost. As a result, it is vital to understand these costs' nature before making judgments.

Examining alternative options

According to management accounting or corporate finance concepts, opportunity costs exist when an option exists. If there seems to be just one option provided in the course of making a choice, the default option is "laissez-faire" (do nothing) with zero cost. Suppose an administrator must pick between two distinct decisions (A and B). In that case, the opportunity cost of the first decision (A) equals the total gain of the second decision (B), and the reverse is true.

Assumptions made about opportunity cost

This is a conceptual and quantitative concept, but it cannot be measured in the same way that the cost of a good or service sold or the price of an item or service produced can be. The customer's opportunity cost is based on the following three main assumptions:

·       Wants are limitless.

·       Wants and requirements are the same thing.

·       The customer is always looking for the greatest personal net advantage.

The opportunity cost for the manufacturer is predicated on the assumptions that (a) the decision foregone is viable and (b) the producer, like the consumer, always seeks optimum personal gain.

Formula and calculation of opportunity cost

The opportunity cost may be calculated using a simple formula:

Opportunity cost = FO CO


  • FO = return on best-forgone option
  • CO = return on the chosen option​

The approach for calculating the opportunity cost is simply the difference between the projected returns from each option. Assume we have choice A to invest in the stock market and expect capital gains. Meanwhile, option B states that we would reinvest our money in our company and purchase new equipment to increase production efficiency. Consequently, operating expenditures will fall, and profit margins will rise.

In case, we assume that the return on investment while investing in the stock market is 20%. Yet, if your firm had an equipment update within the same period, it would produce a 15% yield. The opportunity cost would be 20 - 15% if we chose to improve the equipment rather than participate in the stock market. We might also argue that if we invest in our firm, we will miss opportunities to increase earnings.

Although accounting records do not include opportunity costs, entrepreneurs frequently utilize the notion to make informed judgments when faced with several possibilities. Bottlenecks, for example, may culminate in opportunity costs.

Types of opportunity cost

There are two distinct sorts of opportunity costs: Explicit and implicit costs.

i.       Explicit costs

Explicit costs are direct expenses associated with a specific action. They are marked as out-of-pocket costs. Staff payments, cost of investment, operations, property fees, upkeep expenses like salary and rent, and so on all fall into this category.

ii.     Implicit / Indirect Costs

Implicit costs or implied costs are costs that are not easily identified. They are the expenditures businesses incur in employing resources that could have been used for other reasons. They are intangibles that are not apparent. As a result, reporting them is difficult. A small company proprietor may begin without a wage to boost the enterprise's profitability.

Marginal opportunity cost

The marginal opportunity cost calculates the effects of manufacturing every extra item of a good on the overall expenses of running your firm by combining marginal costs and opportunity costs.

The importance of opportunity costs

The following major points outline the significance of opportunity costs:

·       These costs aid in determining the feasibility of a certain business proposition. It may also help people decide if a given course of action will benefit them over time.

·       Understanding the cost of the preceding can help you make an informed selection from various possibilities, making the process easier.

·       It aids in determining the pros and drawbacks of the current course of action or choice.

·       When making decisions such as preceding short-term earnings in support of a longer-term investment, these expenses help assess the pros and cons of each alternative.

·       Ultimately, it is useful for examining long-term goals.

Drawbacks of opportunity cost

Several instances of opportunity cost constraints are:

·       Assessing these expenses cannot correctly forecast future outcomes.

·       Quantitative evaluations between the two alternative derivatives might be difficult at times.

·       These expenses vary from person to person and situation to situation.

Opportunity cost and risk

Risk is the likelihood that an investment's predicted and actual returns would differ. As an outcome, the shareholder may lose some or all of their money. Nevertheless, opportunity cost deals with the possibility that the yields on a selected investment will be lower than the earnings on the remaining investment.

The primary distinction between the two would be that the risk compares the expected and actual outcomes of the investment. In the meantime, the opportunity cost would assess the efficacy of two specific investments.

However, choosing between two risk profiles should consider opportunity costs. If a given investment is risky but has a 15% ROI, whereas venture B is significantly less risky but only has a 4% ROI, investment A may or may not succeed. If it doesn't work, the opportunity cost of choosing option B will be obvious. As a result, when evaluating choices, decision-makers rely on much more data than simply looking at cash figures for opportunity costs.

Sunk cost vs. opportunity cost

The purpose of opportunity costs is to determine what potential profits you might overlook by making an economical choice for your organization. Sunk cost, conversely, corresponds to the resources you have "sunk" into a specific project or objective in the past.

Sunk costs are crucial to opportunity costs since the "sunk cost fallacy" might mislead you. This rational error asserts that because you have expended a specific amount of money on an initiative, you should pursue it rather than pick an alternative. When calculating opportunity cost, remember to exclude previously incurred sunk costs and concentrate on the future advantages of one choice over another.

Accounting revenue and economic gain

Various kinds of firm profit are estimated using opportunity cost. Accounting profit/revenue is the most typical kind of profit economists are acquainted with. Accounting profit is a type of net income computation that is sometimes required by Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). Only explicitly stated, actual expenses are deducted from overall revenue.

Corporations or professionals may alter accounting profit to achieve economic gain. The distinction between the two is that economic profit incorporates opportunity cost as a cost. This hypothetical computation can then contrast the organization's real profit against the conceptual profit.

Economic profit (and any additional computation that considers opportunity cost) is solely an internal value utilized for making tactical choices. Additionally, no governing authorities control the public disclosure of economic profit or opportunity cost. Accounting profit is highly influenced by declaring regulations and schemes. In contrast, economic profit is influenced by the organization's nebulous assumptions and estimations, which are not subject to IRS, SEC, or FASB supervision.

Opportunity cost illustration

Before making major economic choices, such as purchasing a home or establishing an enterprise, you will most likely thoroughly examine the benefits and disadvantages of your financial decision. Still, most daily choices are not made with complete awareness of the possible opportunity costs.

Several individuals may check their savings account amount before spending money when unsure about a purchase. However, when they devise that spending decision, they frequently fail to consider the items they must forego.

The issue arises when you never think about other things you might do with your cash or purchase without contemplating the missed chances. This is a basic example, but the main point applies to various circumstances. Opportunity costs are there in every decision, large or small.

The determination of opportunity cost

The disadvantage of opportunity cost is that it is strongly dependent on estimations and preconceptions. There is no way of knowing how an alternative course of action would have affected the bottom line. As a result, to calculate opportunity cost, a trader or business must estimate the outcome and predict the economic effect. Sales volumes, market penetration, consumer demographics, production costs, customer refunds, and seasonality are all factors to consider.

This complicated circumstance explains why opportunity cost occurs. A company's optimal course of action may not be obvious at first. Still, after retrospectively examining the elements listed above, they could more effectively see how one choice would seem better than the alternative and have experienced a "loss" owing to opportunity cost.


The idea behind opportunity cost is that your assets as an entrepreneur are constantly restricted. You cannot benefit from every opportunity because you have limited time, money, and experience. If you pick one, you must necessarily abandon the others. They are not compatible. The worth of the others is your opportunity cost. Subsequently, opportunity cost is about your decisions rather than cash or assets. It is important to remember that one initiative or determination might prevent you from profiting from other choices.