Opportunity Cost

Opportunity cost is an economics term.

Anytime we make a decision, what we give up in that choice is the opportunity cost. For example, you’re in a grocery store, staring at two kinds of milk—one is organic, one is not. The organic milk is $1.99 more. The opportunity cost to buy a better brand of milk is the $1.99 you lost by buying the more expensive brand. We pay more because it is worth it.

Free trials are a good example of opportunity cost at work. Music streamers like Pandora, Spotify, or Apple Music give you week-long trials so you know what you lose if you don’t pay for a subscription. Is it worth a few cents a day to listen to your favorite music without commercial interruption? Spotify thinks you’ll say ‘yes’ after a week. We determine what commercial-free music is worth to us when we make the decision to subscribe.

Way sign

When we go one-way, we are often consumed by the opportunity cost of the alternative route.

Flash floods rocked the mid-Atlantic this week. Our daycare closed unexpectedly Tuesday. My wife and I had to negotiate and compromise in a hurry that morning to decide who stays home with our daughter.

I’m a stubborn person. Changing work plans, sacrificing responsibilities is difficult for me to do. I agreed to come home for 3 hours in the afternoon to care for our daughter. I agreed begrudgingly. I let my wife know I was not happy about it. I could only think of the work I would miss.


My daughter is an alchemist. She can turn lemons into lemonade with a single smile. I am powerless over her love. I wrote posts when she first waved (“Connect”) when she turned one (“She’s One. I’m Done”) to explain her wizardry.

I came home Tuesday afternoon to start my daddy-day-care shift. She ran into me as fast as those 1-year-old legs could take her and I fell on the carpet rolling her around. She laughed and giggled. My heart melted.

Later she brought me her shoes with a “dah”. While she can’t talk yet, she is a great communicator. What’s more, she is a force of nature who never shies away from expressing what she wants.

I put on her shoes and we took our dog for a walk. She held my finger as we walked, taking quick wobbly steps to keep up with me. When the heat became too much she moaned and raised her hands. Her eyes were squinting. I picked her up. She rested her temple on my shoulder as we walked the last block home. Her head resting on me felt like the last piece of a complex puzzle snapping into place.

These moments are invaluable. I lose nothing when I choose to be with her.


Work is a chore. Spending time with my daughter is a reward.

My ego sees the two choices: stay at work or be home with my daughter. It tells me the opportunity cost—what I lose from taking time of work—is immesne. My self-importance craves to make work seem more important, more valuable. But it’s not. There is nothing in this world more valuable than spending time with her.

What I realized Tuesday is that I rarely put the proper value on decisions. In fact,

my life’s best opportunities seemed inopportune at the time.

When I got out of rehab, all I could think about was getting back to work, getting back to my life. But surrendering to my counselor’s suggestion for after-care (“Prayer”) became the single most important decision I made.

If I trust the values my ego places on decisions, I am destined for a cold and angry life.

I pray to better understand the value in the decisions I make—that taking time off work to be with my daughter will always be worth it.

11 Responses to “Opportunity Cost

  • colin chatburn
    1 year ago

    you have to ask .would my daughter prefer a walk with daddy and the dog,or a playstation.so much of life is driven for the benefit of big business.newer this a shinier that.you pays the money and takes the choise.now how well does that opportunity cost apply to works of art.one to ponder

  • Lori K
    1 year ago

    Beautiful! Haven’t heard “opportunity cost” since college- MANY years ago 😉

  • Excellent blog post! I had never thought of that way before. Also, you’re such a good writer. Keep on finding the opportunities to pursue your dreams!!

  • Cat’s in the Cradle… You know the song. Choosing your children first is always the answer.

    • Wow. I do know that song. And it’s a perfect extension of this post. Thank you Birdie (and Norbert the cat).

  • One time, a couple years ago, I was away for a week for work. Little one was visiting her brother, the dad would be at work all day all week long. My girl who was mid whopping relapse came home unexpectedly, thinking she would have the house to herself to detox. The dad quickly caught on to what was going on and without a word, took the week off. He made sure she had Gatorade, he cut up cold watermelon and brought it to her, and handed her ibuprofen a few times a day. He quietly was just there. He didn’t make suggestions, didn’t lecture, he was just present. He texted me part way through saying, ” I don’t know if this is going to achieve anything good for her.” I replied, “who knows….what I do know is that she will never forget the time her dad dropped everything to stay home with her while she detoxed off of heroin.” Some things are priceless Mark. That walk with your little Lovey, my husband being available without judgement for his girl. Those are the things, the gifts, of real life.

  • Another wonderful look into the life of a writer, dad and all round good guy. The unexpected good things seem to happen when we are fixed on the negative expectations. Well, often they do. I get annoyed too when I “have to” do something with my kids at times, but those are the times that I often remember most. I have this Sat off and I have my youngest for half the day. Part of me was like “man, I want to get this and that done, but I can’t, etc.” but I know that it will be something we remember – not the stuff that I want to get done. Anyway, rambling. Love this. You paint such a vivid picture with so few words. Brilliant.

  • I imagine you & Lovey walking along, and I am transported back to the days when I would hold onto my Daddy’s finger. There was no better feeling in my little world than spending time with him. Every little girl oughta haveher Daddy wrapped around her tiny little finger. Great post, as always!

  • Ya, I go through similar struggles at times with my little boy. No one can pay us for those moments where seeds are planted and flourish right in fron of our eyes!

  • Big Yes!
    I was a work-a-holic. I would bring lesson plans home to work on, go in to my classroom almost every weekend, stay later than I should…and who was waiting for me? My darling hubs. I gave up skiing and other fun things, because I “needed” to work. Now, it’s hard work being a teacher, and I never learned how to let some things go.
    I also lost a big part of me, so when i retired, I couldn’t find myself!

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