Sunk Costs Extensive Look With Examples and FAQs

Should that employee leave after a few weeks, the cost to train them up can effectively be classed as a sunk cost. It gained no benefit as the employee was not with the company long enough to provide it with a productive return on its investment. Supermarkets take daily deliveries of fresh produce and other goods. During transit, unloading, and stocking the shelves, it is inevitable that some produce ends up becoming damage. In turn, the product becomes unsellable and is considered as a ‘sunk cost’ by the store. In order to understand the sunk cost fallacy, let us take an example of a couple of friends that go to the local basketball match.

It has no bearing on the likelihood that a new idea will have better luck working out. A sunk cost refers to money a company has already spent and that they won’t be able to recover. Sunk costs can influence decision-making by creating emotional attachment and the desire to recoup past investments, leading people to make decisions that are not in their best interest. This is often seen in investments which loser stocks being difficult to walk away from. Let’s take a look at how the Sunk Cost Dilemma works and how it relates to rational thinking. The dilemma comes into effect when you consider the money you’ve already spent, as well as money that will be spent in the future.

Budgeting for these in advance is beneficial; for example, companies may estimate payroll expenses or rent while creating a personal budget. The bias often results because you are averse to losses or do not want to admit that you have wasted your resources in a failed cause. In managing both personal and business finance, fiscal responsibility is important to minimize the risk of loss. However, sometimes, even if you act responsibly, there will be some money that is lost. What is the real consideration is what the 100 means for the marginal benefits of the product.

How to Avoid Sunk Cost Fallacy

The sunk cost definition states that these are already incurred expenses and are not recoverable. These are related to past actions and are actual costs that have no role in future decision-making. After 18 months, the project has incurred 800k of costs and is forecasting another 1,000k to complete. There is pressure from the project Board to limit the overspend so the Project Manager must start looking at how. Opportunity costs are also common in everyday life, like deciding between two college majors.

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  • They believe this because the resources already invested will be lost.
  • Now let’s say you decide to go with Product A, and Product A doesn’t end up selling as well as you thought it would.
  • The company finds out that there is a demand for premium-quality football shoes.
  • Sunk costs are important because may act as distractors in decision-making.
  • It’s important to take this viewpoint when determining if one should cut their losses in any investment or project.
  • Then, an economy slowdown occurs, and the company is now unsure whether it should continue with the new warehouse.

Whether its the groceries already in your refrigerator, the employees on a company’s payroll, or capital expenditure plans by your local government, sunk costs are a natural part of finance. A sunk cost is money that has already been spent and cannot be recovered. In business, the axiom that one has to “spend money to make money” is reflected in the phenomenon of the sunk cost. A sunk cost differs from future costs that a business may face, such as decisions about inventory purchase costs or product pricing.

This is particularly applicable in deciding on whether to continue spending on a specific project. Only a relevant cost should be considered, not a cost that has already been made and cannot be altered. It’s important to take this viewpoint when determining if one should cut their losses in any investment or project. Businesses generally pay more attention to fixed and sunk costs than individual consumers as the numbers directly impact a company’s profits.

What Is Sunk Cost, and How Does it Impact Your Business?

And, the reasoning behind the fallacy is that the individual or business already spent time, money, and effort, so they want to see it through. Relevant costs are all of the expenses that play a role in your decision-making process. And, future costs are also relevant costs because they are expenses your business will incur in the future that can impact your current decisions (e.g., product pricing). Consider your relevant costs with the potential revenue of the expense when making financial decisions.

Certain costs will be incurred; although it is important to know how these can be avoided whenever possible, it is also crucial to prepare for these costs. Cost of Goods Sold (COGS), is how much a company spends to directly create a product or service – The calculation? Beginning Inventory + Purchases During the Period – Ending Inventory. In investing, volume is the number of shares changing hands or transactions executed in a particular security or market during a specific period of time. The opportunity cost of manufacturing Product A is the profit you could make from Product B. The opportunity cost of manufacturing Product B is the profit you could make from Product A. New customers need to sign up, get approved, and link their bank account.

Sunk Cost Fallacy – Psychological Factors

Sunk costs should not be considered when making the decision to continue investing in an ongoing project, since these costs cannot be recovered. However, many managers continue investing in projects because of the sheer size of the amounts already invested in prior periods. They do not want to “lose the investment” by curtailing a project that is proving to not be profitable, so they continue pouring more cash into it. Rationally, they should consider earlier investments to be sunk costs, and therefore exclude them from consideration when deciding whether to continue with further investments. There are some expenses that a company pays for that will result in a return on investment — They’ll be able to get that money back at a later point. With a sunk cost, however, there’s no opportunity to get your money back — It’s a past cost that can’t be changed or recovered.

This fallacy is closely tied to Prospect Theory, which states that people tend to become risk-takers when faced with a loss. The fallacy, therefore, is the belief that by investing more time and money, a different outcome will be achieved – thereby turning the sunk cost around. Importantly, if sunk costs are included in the decision-making process, this makes it difficult for management to focus on the key decision variables.

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In the previous example, just because the customer already spent the money on gas to get to the store should not be considered when deciding on buying the television or not. Another way to describe this would be if a project has spent all of its 1,000k to develop a product and needs only another 100 to release to market. It seems a simple enough approach that for ‘just another 100’ we can get our product out the door but therein lies the bias if considering sunk costs. To illustrate what this means for a project let’s go back to the earlier example where the project Board has directed the Project manager to limit overspend. For a project that is at risk of incurring double its budget and still has a lot of questions on whether the outcome is assured, ongoing viability of the investment should absolutely be considered. The Project Manager must start by working out what costs are ‘sunk’ in the project that can’t be changed.

But as you experiment, you do not sell the experimental baked goods and label the new products as testers for customers to taste. Sunk costs are the expenses you already incurred and do not play a role in purchases you plan to or will make. Ellingsen, Johannesson, Möllerström and Munkammar[40] have categorised framing effects in a social and economic orientation into three broad classes of theories.

An opportunity cost is the value of what you miss out on by choosing one option over another. It’s a future cost that you might consider when weighing a business or life decision. Imagine you’re that business owner who spent $5,000 on market research for a new product idea that didn’t pan out. When it comes time to sit down and brainstorm your next product idea, ideally, you would no longer think about the $5,000.

Is the Sunk Cost Dilemma Common in Business Decisions?

Firstly, the framing of options presented can affect internalised social norms or social preferences – this is called variable sociality hypothesis. Secondly, the social image hypothesis suggests that the frame in which the options are presented will affect the way the decision maker is viewed and will in turn affect their behaviour. Lastly, the frame may affect the expectations that people have about each other’s behaviour and will in turn affect their own behaviour. Taken together, these results suggest that the sunk cost effect may reflect non-standard measures of utility, which is ultimately subjective and unique to the individual. Reuters, the news and media division of Thomson Reuters, is the world’s largest multimedia news provider, reaching billions of people worldwide every day. Reuters provides business, financial, national and international news to professionals via desktop terminals, the world’s media organizations, industry events and directly to consumers.

Since such expenses are irretrievable, they do not form part of any subsequent financial decision-making. The money is already spent and cannot be included in your future budget. For example, the rent on a factory is a fixed cost as it does not change as output changes. If a company produced 100 widgets or 10 widgets, the fixed cost of rent for a factory would be the same.

An example of a sunk cost would be spending $5 million on building a factory that is projected to cost $10 million. The $5 million already spent—the sunk cost—should not be taken into account when deciding whether the factory should be completed. What ought to matter instead are expectations of future costs and future returns once the factory is operational. Sunk cost, in economics and finance, a cost that has already been incurred and that cannot be recovered. In economic decision making, sunk costs are treated as bygone and are not taken into consideration when deciding whether to continue an investment project.


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