Opportunity Cost

Balance Scale- Opportunity Cost

I led the discussion today in our Relief Society class.  The assigned topic was a talk given by President Oaks in last April’s General Conference called “Where Will This Lead?”  He began with the premise, “We make better choices and decisions if we look at the alternatives and ponder where they will lead.”

In his comments, President Oaks used a term I’d never heard before.  When I mentioned that term to my millennial son Aaron, he knew exactly what I was talking about.

President Oaks said:

“We make many choices between two goods, often involving how we will spend our time. There is nothing bad about playing video games or texting or watching TV or talking on a cell phone. But each of these involves what is called “opportunity cost,” meaning that if we spend time doing one thing, we lose the opportunity to do another. I am sure you can see that we need to measure thoughtfully what we are losing by the time we spend on one activity, even if it is perfectly good in itself.”

What a perfect label for something I think about All The Time.  Now I know what to call it.  I’ve been thinking about one of the first times I became acutely aware of opportunity cost.  I was 22 years old, a student at BYU, living with roommates.  I was also preparing to be a missionary.  I had friends and roommates who questioned my desire to step away from our social world and dating for 18 months to go wherever I would be sent.  Several friends told me, “I’d rather stay home and get married than go on a mission.”

I left those friends and spent 18 months in South Africa.  I was 24 years old when I returned.  I remember visiting many of my old friends who had stayed at home to get married.  Many were still single.  I had gone and come back with the world in my heart, and they were much the same.   They had missed an incredible opportunity.

Descriptions of Opportunity Cost:  a benefit, profit, or value of something that must be given up to acquire or achieve something else. Since every resource (land, money, time, etc.) can be put to alternative uses, every action, choice, or decision has an associated opportunity cost.  The opportunity cost is the missed potential gain from the choice that is NOT taken.  When economists refer to the “opportunity cost” of a resource, they mean the value of the next-highest-valued alternative use of that resource. If, for example, you spend time and money going to a movie, you cannot spend that time at home reading a book, and you can’t spend the money on something else.  There can never be zero opportunity cost for anything that we human beings do in this life. Every  choice has an opportunity cost. There will be times when our opportunity cost cannot really be expressed in terms of money, but the cost is still there.

An unfinished sign sits in my office:  a clean house is the sign of a wasted life.  Maybe someday I’ll do the stitching to finish it.  I showed this sign to the ladies today and we all laughed, but that sign has been something I’ve looked at every day for years.  Now I have the vocabulary to explain what it means to me:  opportunity cost.


I am asked pretty regularly if I ever sleep.  I do.  Every single night.  But when I’m awake, I try really really hard to use my time doing the most important things I know how to do, or doing things that will outlast me.  My dear mentor, Mary Ellen Edmunds taught me long ago the importance of “leaving yourself behind.”  I do that with words.  I do that with quilts.  I do that as I gather family history stories.  I’d like to leave something beautiful or meaningful behind when I go.  I may not always succeed, but I try hard to.

Today in our Relief Society class, we talked about ways we can improve how we spend our time.  We talked about making better choices so we don’t miss out on the important stuff.  As we went around the room, each friend and neighbor told one thing they would like to change to live more deliberately.  It was enlightening.  I love that we are all in this together, cheering each other on.

Here are a few other thoughts and quotes I shared with the women today:

The Prophet Jacob gives this counsel:
“Wherefore, do not spend money for that which is of no worth, nor your labor for that which cannot satisfy. Hearken diligently unto me, and remember the words which I have spoken; and come unto the Holy One of Israel, and feast upon that which perisheth not, neither can be corrupted.”  (2 Nephi 9:51)

The Savior taught the following to both the Jews and the Nephites:
“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:

“But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:

“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”  (Matthew 6:19-21 and 3 Nephi 13:19-21)

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf gave the following counsel not too long ago:
“Our Heavenly Father sees our real potential. He knows things about us that we do not know ourselves. He prompts us during our lifetime to fulfill the measure of our creation, to live a good life, and to return to His presence.

“Why, then, do we devote so much of our time and energy to things that are so fleeting, so inconsequential, and so superficial? Do we refuse to see the folly in the pursuit of the trivial and transient?”  (General Conference October 2012, Of Regrets and Resolutions)

Sharon Eubank:
I know this isn’t unique to me, but sometimes I’m so pressed with everything I have to do that I often don’t even know what the priority is. I have started asking the Lord every morning, “What is one thing you want me to do today?” I’m a maximizer, and I tend to think if one thing is good then five are better and ten are best. Then I’m overwhelmed. So, I’ve calculated if I do one thing that comes through inspiration, 365 times per year for 50 years, that will be a total of 18,250 things that the Lord wanted done. He has counted on me 18,250 times, and I have tried to respond. That is no small thing!

One of the greatest feelings is to know when you go to bed at night that you did the best you could that day. Offer it to the Lord: “I did my best. Will you please use my offering and augment it with the grace of Jesus Christ?” And then wake up and try again the next day. I have learned so much by doing this. I had no idea how creative the Spirit can be! Some of my “one” things have been making a phone call, teaching kids to play Yahtzee, listening to a forgetful friend tell stories I’ve already heard, and once it was taking a nap.(BYU Women’s Conference, 23 May 2018, “Doing Better Doesn’t Mean Doing More”)

President Russell M. Nelson:
Spend more time on your knees in prayer, more time in the scriptures, more time in family history work, more time in the temple. I promise you that as you consistently give the Lord a generous portion of your time, He will multiply the remainder.   (Worldwide Devotional for Young Adults • January 10, 2016 • Brigham Young University–Hawaii)

See also this post from a year ago:  https://annlaemmlenlewis.com/2018/07/27/i-was-given-a-gift/

What ideas do you have about what you might change to have no opportunity cost regrets?

About Ann Laemmlen Lewis

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