S 2 E 13 Ignore Sunk Costs

A company invests $2,000,000 over several years to develop a left-handed smoke shifter. Once created, the market is indifferent, and no one buys any no units.

ignore sunk costs

But when we have sunk costs, we really have a past investment that we have an unknown return upon– and we’re deciding whether to abandon that investment. The sunk cost dilemma occurs when you incur your costs before you receive your benefits. To avoid this situation, attempt to structure your projects or investments as incremental wins, sinking your benefits at regular intervals with your costs. When it occurs, the sunk cost dilemma becomes a downward spiral that you can’t get out of. Each decision you make aims to maximize your future returns, but forces you into taking a larger cumulative loss.

Sunk Costs: What They Are And When To Ignore

We worry about the sunk costs partly because we need to look for a story to justify our decision to others. We need to explain what it means to walk away from our past approach and off to the new path. We desperately want to avoid the feeling of cognitive ignore sunk costs dissonance. Ignoring the sunk costs means that we are brave and generous enough to forge a new path regardless of what they cost us to do something else before. The key here is not to base a decision on how much the past cost you–on your sunk costs.

ignore sunk costs

If you spend 3 hours trying to fix something and fail, you shouldn’t value the item any more. The value of the tickets doesn’t go up because the time you spent on it. The question to evaluate the potential sale is only which do you value more, the $500 being offered or the ticket. What you spent on the ticket is irrelevant – it’s a sunk cost. The example illustrates that the amount of resources invested in the project in the past should not be a factor in the decision-making process because it leads to poor, irrational decisions.

Examples Of The Sunk Cost Fallacy

The $2,000,000 development cost is a sunk cost, and so should not be considered in any decision to continue or terminate the product. Experiments have shown that the sunk cost fallacy and loss aversion are common; hence economic rationality—as assumed by much of economics—is limited. This has enormous implications for finance, economics, and securities markets in particular. Daniel Kahneman, cash basis who collaborated in this area with Amos Tversky, won the Nobel Prize in Economics for his extensive work. 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.

In this case you’re merely using history to make a relevant choice about the future. You’re not honoring the retained earnings balance sheet sunk cost because of the investment, you’re just using the lessons your learnt while making this investment.

Why You Should Ignore Sunk Costs In Decision Making

You should generally ignore a sunk cost and avoid further investment unless it shows convincing evidence of providing current and future value. Because of the study, the company decides not to release a product. In the following examples, you can clearly see how sunk costs affect decision-making.

This example has nothing to do with sunk costs and everything to do with WTP vs. WTA. Some people — like the author, apparently — think they are the same. I came in to say that this was one of the tidbits of info I always held onto from business school. The whole point of understanding ignore sunk costs sunk costs is avoiding the Sunk Cost Fallacy. Alternatively, the sunk cost fallacy is a heuristic that compensates for the fact that calculating marginal value (especially in high-pressure settings) is hard. Except that’s not how spending time on something works.

For example, a manufacturing firm may have a number of sunk costs, such as the cost of machinery, equipment, and the lease expense on the factory. Sunk costs are excluded from a sell-or-process-further decision, which is a concept that applies to products that can be sold as they are or can be processed further. Well-meaning parents saying “eat what’s on your ledger account plate, kids are starving in Japan” really reinforce valuing sunk costs. They also ignore that there’s a global obesity epidemic. If you never believed in it, then you should drop it by all means. But if you take the sunk cost fallacy to heart, you will give up whenever the going gets tough, which statistically means you will give up everything you ever start.

  • These results provided powerful evidence that sunk costs indeed played a role in individual decision-making processes.
  • Just as in the other condition, a competitor had begun marketing a better version of the plane.
  • Instead, the subjects simply had to decide whether to invest one million dollars in this project.
  • The results showed that forty-one of forty-eight subjects chose to invest the one million dollars when told the project was 90 percent complete.
  • Instead, decision-makers should base strategies on how to proceed with business or an investment based on future costs.
  • On the other hand, just ten of sixty subjects chose to invest the one million dollars when they knew nothing about prior investments.

The new CEOs, of course, are not weighed down by the burden of sunk costs. We see our decision’s “ground zero” reference point as the point in time when we made the original decision that led us here today—but unfortunately, all of that is just an illusion of time. It is by learning to https://business-accounting.net/ that we attune ourselves to future happiness.

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