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How To Recognize Sunk Costs

Only relevant costs (costs that relate to a specific decision and will change depending on that decision) should be considered when making such decisions. A sunk cost is always classified as a fixed cost, though some fixed costs are not classified as sunk costs. A fixed cost that is a sunk cost cannot be recovered, as is the case with customized equipment for which there is no resale market.

  • Sunk cost fallacy can lead to missed opportunities as people become more reluctant to pursue new ventures and cannot abandon or pivot from what they have already invested in.
  • Sunk costs don’t necessarily need to be financial, though in business, it usually is.
  • With sunk costs, a business cannot sell what it purchased to recoup the costs.
  • Lastly, the frame may affect the expectations that people have about each other’s behaviour and will in turn affect their own behaviour.
  • You decide to purchase new office equipment for your business, including desks, computers, and chairs.

When making business decisions, organizations should only consider relevant costs, which include future costs—such as decisions about inventory purchase costs or product pricing—that still need to be incurred. The relevant costs are contrasted with the potential revenue of one choice compared to another. Sunk costs are excluded from future business decisions because the cost will remain the same regardless of the outcome of a decision.

Do you own a business?

Examples of sunk costs in business include marketing, research, new software installation or equipment, salaries and benefits, or facilities expenses. By comparison, opportunity costs are lost returns from resources that were invested elsewhere. A sunk cost is a cost that an entity has incurred, and which it can no longer recover. Sunk costs should not be considered when making the decision to continue investing in an ongoing project, since these costs cannot be recovered.

However, the software may need upgrading after some time, and additional training will be necessary. Therefore, the initial training expenses are a sunk cost since they are not recoverable. Is there still potential for a positive outcome if you continue investing your resources and energy? These are the factors that should influence your decision rather than any previously sunk costs. A sunk cost is always a fixed cost because it cannot be changed or altered.

  • If you resell the equipment for a lower cost than the purchase price, the difference between the original cost and the resell cost is the sunk cost.
  • A sunk cost is a cost that has already occurred and cannot be recovered by any means.
  • A sunk cost is always classified as a fixed cost, though some fixed costs are not classified as sunk costs.
  • ABC Limited is planning to expand its business and is considering launching a new product.
  • Opportunity cost is the benefit lost when you choose one course of action against another.

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. However, this consideration creates a bias in the decision making process which could result in greater consequences rather than the intended benefit. This is the ‘sunk cost fallacy’ which can otherwise be described by the idiom, ‘to throw good money after bad’.

How do you determine a sunk cost?

Alternatively, when people have invested their own money, time, or effort into something, they may develop a sense of ownership and attachment, making it harder to let go. This also relates to the difficulty of letting something go in which time, not only dollars, have been invested.. Our mission is to empower readers with the most factual and reliable financial information possible to help them make informed decisions for their individual needs.

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However, as the project progressed, it encountered numerous design and engineering challenges that led to cost overruns and delays. Architect Jørn Utzon’s innovative design, while iconic today, posed significant technical difficulties and was much more complex to develop than initially anticipated. Someone on our team will connect you with a financial professional in our network holding the correct designation and expertise.

Avoid the sunk cost fallacy by monitoring the outcomes of your financial decisions and stopping projects that no longer show benefit. Do not compound sunk costs by continuing to direct vs indirect cash flow methods spend money on investments or financial decisions with a negative financial outcome. Economists suggest that, in theory, sunk costs are not relevant to future decision-making.


In 2013, the country came up with an additional Submerged Cultural Heritage Law, undermining its earlier restrictions on treasure hunters and setting the stage for the legal commercial recovery of the San José. Most shipwrecks involving gold and silver have been accompanied by legal battles or claims to be the richest haul ever. In 2012, a US-owned salvage company had to turn over its find of an estimated $500m worth of gold and silver coins taken from the Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes shipwreck to Spain after five years in court. In 2019, Spain’s ministry of culture produced an inventory of 681 shipwrecks to which the country lays claim, all of which sank near the Americas between 1492 and 1898. In the years-long debate over remote work, upper-level executives have often been the loudest — and staunchest — advocates for returning to the office. The construction of the Sydney Opera House began in the 1950s with an initial budget of 7 million Australian pounds.

Purchasing a car is a sunk cost as the full amount cannot be recouped or saved and depreciates over time. In the business world, the start-up capital used to begin operations and sales for a new venture is a type of sunk cost when the sum is not recouped, or the break-even point is not achieved. Budgeting for these in advance is beneficial; for example, companies may estimate payroll expenses or rent while creating a personal budget. 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. 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.

What Is a Sunk Cost?

Sunk costs are excluded from future business decisions because they will remain the same regardless of the outcome of a decision. Again, sunk costs are irrelevant to future business decisions because you already spent and cannot recover the funds. After all, sunk costs are an expense you pay and should consider, right? Rego, Arantes, and Magalhães point out that the sunk cost effect exists in committed relationships. 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. These expenses are already committed to and nonrecoverable; for that reason, sunk costs should not be included in future decision-making as the expense for the sunk cost will be exactly the same in every situation.

The sunk cost fallacy states that making additional investments or commitments is justified since some resources have already been invested. You decide to purchase new office equipment for your business, including desks, computers, and chairs. The company you purchase the equipment from has a 90-day return policy. After the 90-day return policy expires, the equipment is now a sunk cost for the business. The $100 you spent to test out the new product is a sunk cost because there is no return on investment when you decide not to sell the product. And, you cannot return the purchased materials or resell the materials to recoup the funds.

The San José lies more than 2,000ft below the surface (some reports say up to 3,100ft). But Petro, who came to power in 2022, wants to recover the treasure and is looking to commercial salvage companies for bids on the shipwreck. Because of the cost of such an endeavour, these businesses are likely to be based in the US or Europe—perhaps even oil companies familiar with deep-water projects.