Home Bookkeeping Understanding Sunk Cost Meaning: Examples & How it works

Understanding Sunk Cost Meaning: Examples & How it works


It is easy to compare the opportunity costs of the salaries between the two jobs. It is much harder to calculate the levels of happiness you will experience or consider what you could do with extra time in the job with fewer working hours. In business decisions, organizations often focus too much on Sunk Costs, ignoring the Opportunity Costs. Sunk Costs are explicit and appear on financial statements so it is understandable why these costs are honed in on.

That’s because when you understand how the sunk cost fallacy works and the different psychological factors that feed into it, you can check for cognitive biases each time you make a decision. Over the years, behavioral scientists and economists have tried to pinpoint why the sunk cost fallacy happens. Richard Thaler first introduced the sunk cost fallacy, concluding that people have a greater tendency to use a good or service when they’ve invested money into it. Sunk costs are spent dollars that cannot be refunded or recovered.

Why do we make worse decisions at the end of the day?

That’s why just paying off their credit cards for them doesn’t fix the problem. Without a change in behavior, they will just build up the debt again. It would help if you didn’t evaluate whether it will introduce the product based on their factors. Click here to learn more about product management software that can help you determine these factors. If you’ve set goals and KPIs for your project, you already have a way to determine whether your current strategy is working.

Sunk Cost Examples

The sunk cost fallacy is the improper mindset a company or individual may have when working through a decision. This fallacy is based on the premise that committing to the current plan is justified because resources have already been committed. This mistake may result in improper long-term strategic planning decisions based on short-term committed costs. Sunk costs don’t only apply to businesses as individual consumers can incur sunk costs as well.

Types of Sunk Cost

Sunk costs are independent of any event and should not be considered when making investment or project decisions. Only relevant costs (costs that relate to a specific decision and will change depending on that decision) should be considered when making such decisions. For example, imagine you’re working on a project to increase product signups through paid ads. You set a goal to increase signups by 30% over a period of six months. But after that six months is up, signups have only increased by 10%—in fact, the money you’ve spent on ads is more than the revenue you’ve gained through new signups. Since you set a concrete goal, you have compelling evidence to close out your project.

Sunk Cost Examples

Let’s say you buy a theater ticket for $50 but at the last minute can’t attend. The $50 you spent would be a sunk cost but would not factor into whether or not you buy theater tickets in the future. In general, businesses pay more attention to fixed and sunk costs than people, as both types of costs impact profits.

Commitment Bias

Researchers have identified five psychological factors that lead to the sunk cost effect. When a business chooses to pursue an alternative platform or service that does not subsequently perform well or become profitable, the amount spent exploring the new direction is sunk cost. While these functions are framed differently, regardless of the input ‘x’, the outcome is analytically equivalent. Therefore, if a rational decision maker were to choose between these two functions, the likelihood of each function being chosen should be the same.

What are sunk cost projects?

Sunk costs are costs that must be incurred to achieve a project's aim, that are incurred once, and that cannot be recovered upon exit.

To make the decision to close the facility, XYZ Clothing considers the revenue that would be lost if production ends as well as the costs that are also eliminated. If the factory lease ends in six months, the lease cost is no longer a sunk cost and should be included as an expense that can also be eliminated. If the total costs are more than revenue, the facility should be closed. To make this decision, the firm compares the $15 additional cost with the $20 added revenue and decides to make the premium glove in order to earn $5 more in profit. The cost of the factory lease and machinery are both sunk costs and are not part of the decision-making process. Imagine a non-financial example of a college student trying to determine their major.

But the price you paid for something should not affect your decision to later sell it. The sunk-cost dilemma requires deciding whether to continue a project with significant sunk expenses or abandon it. Sunk costs are unrecoverable funds already expended and are irreversibly committed to spending. The sunk cost fallacy arises when decision-making takes into account sunk costs. By taking into consideration sunk costs when making a decision, irrational decision-making is exhibited. The sunk cost fallacy can be tricky to detect, especially if you don’t regularly check how your project is performing.

For example, when you create goals in Asana, you can set a due date and create automated reminders to update your goal progress. Plus, you can easily share progress updates with stakeholders so everyone is informed and on the same page. In this ebook, learn how to equip employees to make better decisions—so your business can pivot, adapt, and tackle challenges more effectively than your competition. Financial responsibility does not mean avoiding these expenses but knowing when and how to mitigate the damages. These costs are contrasted with the possible earnings of one alternative compared to another. Currently, XYZ Limited produces basic shoes at a cost of INR 1,000 per pair and sells them at INR 1,200, which gives a profit of INR 200.

What effects can the sunk cost fallacy have?

A “fixed” cost would be monthly payments made as part of a service contract or licensing deal with the company that set up the software. The upfront irretrievable payment for the installation should not be deemed a “fixed” cost, with its cost spread out over time. The “variable costs” for this project might include data centre power Sunk Cost Examples usage, for example. An Opportunity Cost is the loss of other alternatives when one option is chosen or no action is taken. Opportunity costs are unseen, not included in financial reports, and can often be forgotten about in capital budgeting. Part of the reason opportunity costs are unseen is because they consider Implicit Costs.

  • Going back to our medical school example, choosing to stay in the program would mean potentially doubling one’s student debt to complete coursework they aren’t genuinely passionate about.
  • You set a goal to increase signups by 30% over a period of six months.
  • Part of the reason opportunity costs are unseen is because they consider Implicit Costs.
  • Read this article to learn more about this trick and how to avoid it.
  • The basic sunk cost meaning is that it has already been incurred and should not be a part of the decision-making process.
  • For example, if you funnel thousands of dollars into a new business investment, you’re more likely to believe it will pan out—regardless of actual evidence.

Experimenting with new recipes is a part of research and development. You spend $100 on materials for one potential new product, and nobody purchases the product. After a test run, the customer feedback is that the new product is not something you should sell. Sunk costs are the expenses you already incurred and do not play a role in purchases you plan to or will make. The sunk cost fallacy can easily be overcome with mindfulness, dedicate, and thoughtful planning.

Key characteristics of sunk costs include having occurred in the past, and being irreversible and unrecoverable. You can avoid sunk cost fallacy by thinking logically through every action you consider. Depending on the type of sunk cost, one of the best ways to avoid it is to make ongoing data, cost, and market-analysis decisions. A small business leadership team choosing to continue sunk costs is a reflection of poor financial and business judgment.

After trading for Joey Gallo, the New York Yankees outfielder struck out 194 times over 140 games. Instead of continuing to stick with their decision that didn’t pan out as they’d hoped, the Yankees traded Gallo in August 2022. There’s five common explanations as to why the sunk cost fallacy exists. Here are the psychological reasons that explain why some decision-making processes fail.

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