Investors define opportunity cost as the difference in return between a chosen investment and one that is necessarily passed up. In other words, it is the amount of money you could have earned if you invested in the optimal investment.
For example, between investing and paying off debt, if we decide to pay off or pay down credit card debt, we give up an opportunity to invest the same amount.
In this case, the interest that we could have earned on the investment is the opportunity cost of paying off debt.
Opportunity cost is an important economic principle that affects the value of our financial decisions. For example, if we make a $1,000 payment on a 12% credit card, we can lower our interest expense. For one month alone, we save $10 in interest ($1,000*0.12/12). However, in order to pay down this debt, we may have passed up an opportunity to earn a 5% annual interest rate in a CD or other money market account. The opportunity cost, in this case, is $4.17 ($1,000*.05/12) in interest income.
Subtracting the opportunity cost of $4.17 from the debt savings of $10, we obtain a net savings of $5.83.
Opportunity cost is an important concept in financial decision-making and also any other aspect of business while it can also be applied to our daily lives as well.
Here's a useful rule of thumb for incorporating opportunity cost into your financial decision-making: If you face a spend-or-invest trade-off and decide to pay off debt, subtract the income you could have earned on the investment to calculate a net savings. If you decide to invest, subtract the interest you could have paid off on the debt to calculate net savings.
If it’s your daily life, here is an example. Many people enjoy stopping at their favorite coffee shop for a caffeine boost before going into work. What is the true cost of that coffee? Well, the cost that we feel in our wallet is the amount we pay at the register plus the opportunity cost of the interest we could have made had we invested it instead. This is fairly straightforward to calculate and countless articles have shown just how much money we are spending for our coffee. What isn't as obvious is the opportunity cost of the time we have spent getting our java fix.