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The concept of opportunity cost

Economists use the term opportunity cost    to indicate what must be given up to obtain something that is desired. The idea behind opportunity cost is that the cost of one item is the lost opportunity to do or consume something else; in short, opportunity cost is the value of the next best alternative. For Alphonso, the opportunity cost of a burger is the four bus tickets he would have to give up. He would decide whether or not to choose the burger depending on whether the value of the burger exceeds the value of the forgone alternative—in this case, bus tickets. Since people must choose, they inevitably face tradeoffs in which they have to give up things they desire to get other things they desire more.

View this website for an example of opportunity cost—paying someone else to wait in line for you.

A fundamental principle of economics is that every choice has an opportunity cost. If you sleep through your economics class (not recommended, by the way), the opportunity cost is the learning you miss from not attending class. If you spend your income on video games, you cannot spend it on movies. If you choose to marry one person, you give up the opportunity to marry anyone else. In short, opportunity cost is all around us and part of human existence.

The following Work It Out feature shows a step-by-step analysis of a budget constraint calculation. Read through it to understand another important concept—slope—that is further explained in the appendix The Use of Mathematics in Principles of Economics .

Understanding budget constraints

Budget constraints are easy to understand if you apply a little math. The appendix The Use of Mathematics in Principles of Economics explains all the math you are likely to need in this book. So if math is not your strength, you might want to take a look at the appendix.

Step 1: The equation for any budget constraint is:

Budget = P 1  × Q 1  + P 2 × Q 2

where P and Q are the price and quantity of items purchased and Budget is the amount of income one has to spend.

Step 2. Apply the budget constraint equation to the scenario. In Alphonso’s case, this works out to be:

Budget = P 1 × Q 1 + P 2 × Q 2 $10 budget = $2 per burger × quantity of burgers + $0.50 per bus ticket × quantity of bus tickets $10 = $2 × Q burgers  + $0.50 × Q bus tickets

Step 3. Using a little algebra, we can turn this into the familiar equation of a line:

y  =  b + mx

For Alphonso, this is:

$10  =  $2 × Q burgers  +  $0.50  ×  Q bus tickets

Step 4. Simplify the equation. Begin by multiplying both sides of the equation by 2:

2 × 10  =  2 × 2 × Q burgers  + 2 × 0.5 × Q bus tickets   20  =  4 × Q burgers  + 1 × Q bus tickets

Step 5. Subtract one bus ticket from both sides:

20 – Q bus tickets = 4 × Q burgers

Divide each side by 4 to yield the answer:

5 – 0.25 × Q bus tickets = Q burgers or Q burgers = 5 – 0.25 × Q bus tickets

Step 6. Notice that this equation fits the budget constraint in [link] . The vertical intercept is 5 and the slope is –0.25, just as the equation says. If you plug 20 bus tickets into the equation, you get 0 burgers. If you plug other numbers of bus tickets into the equation, you get the results shown in [link] , which are the points on Alphonso’s budget constraint.

Point Quantity of Burgers (at $2) Quantity of Bus Tickets (at 50 cents)
A 5 0
B 4 4
C 3 8
D 2 12
E 1 16
F 0 20

Step 7. Notice that the slope of a budget constraint always shows the opportunity cost of the good which is on the horizontal axis. For Alphonso, the slope is −0.25, indicating that for every four bus tickets he buys, Alphonso must give up 1 burger.

There are two important observations here. First, the algebraic sign of the slope is negative, which means that the only way to get more of one good is to give up some of the other. Second, the slope is defined as the price of bus tickets (whatever is on the horizontal axis in the graph) divided by the price of burgers (whatever is on the vertical axis), in this case $0.50/$2 = 0.25. So if you want to determine the opportunity cost quickly, just divide the two prices.

Questions & Answers

what is the meaning of function in economics
Effah Reply
Pls, I need more explanation on price Elasticity of Supply
Isaac Reply
Is the degree to the degree of responsiveness of a change in quantity supplied of goods to a change in price
Afran
Discuss the short-term and long-term balance positions of the firm in the monopoly market?
Rabindranath Reply
hey
Soumya
hi
Mitiku
how are you?
Mitiku
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Soumya
through hard study and performing well than expected from you
Mitiku
what should i prepare for it?
Soumya
prepare first, in psychologically as well as potentially to sacrifice what's expected from you, when I say this I mean that you have to be ready, for every thing and to accept failure as a good and you need to change them to potential for achievement of ur goals
Mitiku
parna kya hai behencho?
Soumya
Hallo
Rabindranath
Hello, dear what's up?
Mitiku
cool
Momoh
good morning
Isaac
pls, is anyone here from Ghana?
Isaac
Hw s every one please
Afran
Ys please I'm in Ghana
Afran
what is firms
Anteyi Reply
A firm is a business entity which engages in the production of goods and aimed at making profit.
Avuwada
What is autarky in Economics.
Avuwada
what is choice
Tia Reply
So how is the perfect competition different from others
Rev Reply
what is choice
Tia
please what type of commodity is 1.Beaf 2.Suagr 3.Bread
Alfred Reply
1
Naziru
what is the difference between short run and long run?
Ukpen Reply
It just depends on how far you would like to run!!!🤣🤣🤣
Anna
meaning? You guys need not to be playing here; if you don't know a question, leave it for he that knows.
Ukpen
pls is question from which subject or which course
Ada
Is this not economics?
Ukpen
This place is meant to be for serious educational matters n not playing ground so pls let's make it a serious place.
Docky
Is there an economics expert here?
Docky
Okay and I was being serous
Anna
The short run is a period of time in which the quantity of at least one inputs is fixed...
Anna
that is the answer that I found online and in my text book
Anna
Elacisity
salihu
Meaning of economics
Suraj Reply
It will creates rooms for an effective demands.
Chinedum Reply
different between production and supply
babsnof
Hii
Suraj
hlo
eshita
What is the economic?
Suraj
Economics is a science which study human behavior as a relationship between ends and scarce means which has an alternative use.
Mr
what is supply
babsnof
what is different between demand and supply
Debless Reply
Demand refers to the quantity of products that consumers are willing to purchase at various prices per time while Supply has to do with the quantity of products suppliers are willing to supply at various prices per time. find the difference in between
Saye
Please what are the effects of rationing Effect of black market Effects of hoarding
Atty Reply
monoply is amarket structure charecrized by asingle seller and produce a unique product in the market
Cali Reply
yes
Niraj
I want to know wen does the demand curve shift to the right
Nana
demand curve shifts to the right when there's an increase in price of a substitute or increase in income
kin
ask me anything in economics, I promise to try and do justice to the question, you can send me an email or message, I will answer
kin
what are the factor that change the curve right
Nana
explain the law of supply in simple .....
freshwater
the Law of supply: states that all factor being equal, when the price of a particular goods increase the supply will also increase, as it decreases the supply will also decrease
kin
@Nana the factor that changes or shift the d demand curve to the right is 1) the increase in price of a substitute good or commodity 2) increase in income
kin
you can send your questions I am Comr. Kin chukwuebuka
kin
different between bill of exchange n treasure bill
Nana
yes
Ada
so would you tell me what means an apportunity cost plz?
Cali
what is true cost
Akiti
your question isn't correct naadi
Anthonia
define an apportunity cost?
Cali
orukpe ,is my question whats wrong or u dont know anything?
Cali
In a simple term, it is an Alternative foregone.
Sule
opportunity cost is the next best value of a scale of preference
Akiti
Both of you are not correct.
Nelly
opportunity cost: is a forgone alternative
kin
Monopoly is where is one producer produces a given product with no close substitute
James
what is income effect?
Qwecou Reply
if you borrow $5000 to buy a car at 12 percent compounded monthly to be repaid over the next 4 year what is monthly payment
Nitish Reply

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Source:  OpenStax, Principles of economics. OpenStax CNX. Sep 19, 2014 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11613/1.11
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