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How to Calculate Opportunity Cost?

Learn how to calculate opportunity cost-effectively to make informed decisions for your business or personal finances. Understanding opportunity cost is crucial for prioritising investments, resources, and time to maximise overall benefits. In this guide, we’ll break down the concept of opportunity cost and provide step-by-step instructions on how to calculate it accurately.

What is Opportunity Cost?

What is Opportunity Cost?

Opportunity cost is the term used to describe the potential gain that is foregone when one option is selected over another. In simpler terms, it represents the value of the next best alternative that must be sacrificed when a decision is made.

For example, if you have the option to invest $1,000 in stocks or bonds, and you choose to invest in stocks, the opportunity cost would be the potential return you could have bought from investing in bonds instead.

Opportunity cost is a fundamental concept in economics and decision-making, as it helps individuals and businesses assess the trade-offs involved in various choices. By considering opportunity cost, decision-makers can make more informed and rational decisions about how to allocate resources, whether it’s time, money, or other resources, to maximise benefits and achieve their goals.

How Does the Opportunity Cost Work?


Opportunity cost works by evaluating the potential benefits of different options and understanding what is sacrificed when one option is chosen over another. Here’s how it works:

  • Identifying alternatives: When faced with a decision, there are often multiple alternatives to choose from. These alternatives represent different uses of resources, such as time, money, or effort.
  • Evaluating benefits: Each alternative carries its own set of potential benefits or returns. These benefits could be monetary gains, time saved, satisfaction gained, or any other desirable outcome.
  • Assessing trade-offs: Opportunity cost requires comparing the benefits of the chosen option with the benefits of the next best alternative. This comparison helps in understanding what is gained and what is sacrificed by selecting one option over another.
  • Making decisions: Decision-makers must weigh the benefits and trade-offs of each option to make informed choices. By considering opportunity cost, they can prioritise options that offer the greatest overall benefit or value.
  • Maximising utility: By considering opportunity cost in decision-making, individuals and businesses can allocate resources more efficiently to maximise their utility or satisfaction. This involves choosing options that provide the greatest net benefit after accounting for opportunity costs.

How to Calculate Opportunity Cost?

How to Calculate Opportunity Cost?

Calculating opportunity cost involves comparing the potential returns or benefits of different choices and determining what is given up when one option is chosen over another. The formula for opportunity cost is:

Opportunity Cost = Forgone Option – Chosen Option

  • Identify the options: Determine the choices available to you. For example, you might be considering investing in stocks, bonds, or real estate.
  • Evaluate returns: Assess the potential returns or benefits of each option. This could be in the form of monetary gains, time saved, or other benefits.
  • Determine the most lucrative option: Identify the option with the highest potential return. This is the alternative that you would pursue if all options were available simultaneously.
  • Calculate opportunity cost: Subtract the return of the chosen option from the return of the most lucrative option. The result represents the opportunity cost of selecting one option over the other.

It’s important to consider opportunity cost in decision-making to make informed choices and maximise benefits. By understanding what is sacrificed when choosing one option over another, individuals and businesses can allocate resources more efficiently and pursue the most favourable outcomes.

Difference Between Opportunity Cost and Sunk Cost

Difference Between Opportunity Cost and Sunk Cost

Opportunity cost and sunk cost are both important concepts in decision-making, but they represent different aspects of the decision-making process.

Opportunity Cost:

Opportunity cost refers to the potential benefit that has been seen above. It focuses on the benefits or returns associated with the next best alternative that must be sacrificed when a decision is made. Opportunity cost is relevant for future decisions, as it helps in comparing the benefits of different choices and making informed decisions to maximise overall benefits.

If you choose to spend your evening studying for an exam rather than going out with friends, the opportunity cost is the enjoyment and socialising you could have experienced by choosing the alternative.

Sunk Cost:

Sunk cost refers to costs that have already been incurred and cannot be recovered, regardless of future actions or decisions. It focuses on costs that have already been committed and are irrelevant to future decision-making. Sunk costs should be disregarded when making decisions about future actions, as they cannot be changed or recovered.

Suppose you’ve already paid for a non-refundable ticket to a concert, but you’re feeling unwell on the day of the event. The cost of the ticket is a sunk cost because it’s already spent, and the decision to attend the concert should be based on factors like your health and enjoyment, rather than the money already spent.

Advantages of Opportunity Cost

  • Informed Decision-Making: Understanding opportunity cost helps individuals and businesses make more informed decisions by considering the value of alternative options.
  • Resource Allocation: It assists in allocating resources effectively by identifying the most beneficial uses of time, money, and other resources.
  • Maximising Returns: By weighing the benefits and drawbacks of various choices, opportunity cost analysis helps maximise returns and optimise outcomes.
  • Risk Assessment: It facilitates risk assessment by evaluating the potential gains and losses associated with different decisions, enabling risk mitigation strategies.
  • Long-Term Planning: Considering opportunity cost fosters long-term planning and strategic thinking, leading to sustainable growth and success.
  • Efficiency Improvement: By prioritising investments and activities with the highest opportunity cost, efficiency, and productivity can be improved over time.

Disadvantages of opportunity cost

  • Complexity: Calculating opportunity cost can be complex, especially when dealing with multiple alternatives and uncertain future outcomes.
  • Subjectivity: Opportunity cost analysis often involves subjective assessments of potential benefits, which can vary depending on individual perspectives and preferences.
  • Time-consuming: Assessing opportunity cost requires careful consideration of various factors and alternatives, which can be time-consuming and resource-intensive.
  • Incomplete information: Limited information or uncertainty about future outcomes may result in inaccurate or incomplete assessments of opportunity cost.
  • Overlooked intangible factors: Opportunity cost analysis may overlook intangible factors such as emotional well-being, social relationships, or personal values that can influence decision-making.


Mastering the calculation of opportunity cost empowers you to make strategic decisions that optimise your resources and maximise your returns. By considering the alternative options and their respective costs, you can confidently prioritise investments, projects, and opportunities to achieve your goals efficiently. Incorporating opportunity cost analysis into your decision-making process is key to long-term success in both business and personal finance.


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