If a sunk cost is considered a reason to spend more money to realise the project benefits it ignores the question of why the project is failing to deliver in the first place. The sunk cost fallacy is the belief that additional investments should be made in an activity, or else earlier investments in it would have been wasted. This is a spurious belief, since it encourages managers to continually add money to a project for which there is no possible return that can pay back the investment. For example, a company invests $100,000 in a pilot project to manufacture green widgets.

Relevant costs are future expenses like product pricing or inventory purchase and are important when making particular business decisions. On days one through 90, the equipment is simply a fixed cost because you can return the items and recover the entirety of the funds you spent. However, on day 91, the equipment automatically becomes a sunk cost if you do not return the items. 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.

The reason economic analysis ignores sunk costs is that doing so helps to prevent decision makers from throwing good money after bad when they are stuck in an unprofitable project. It is often the case that heavy initial investment in a poor project results in a temptation to spend more money on the project in the hope of recovering the sunk cost or preventing embarrassment. Economic theory tries to solve that problem by focusing only on future costs and returns. In accounting, finance, and economics, all sunk costs are fixed costs. The defining characteristic of sunk costs is that they cannot be recovered.

  • In reality, the student should only evaluate the courses remaining and courses required for a different major.
  • However, all business expenses can be reviewed and decreased, including upcoming sunk costs.
  • The survey found that 68% of bosses, a group that includes middle managers, executives and business owners, would like remote work to continue in 2024, while less than half (48%) of employees feel the same.
  • Ask a question about your financial situation providing as much detail as possible.

The framing effect which underlies the sunk cost effect builds upon the concept of extensionality where the outcome is the same regardless of how the information is framed. This is in contradiction to the concept of intentionality which is concerned with whether the presentation of information changes the situation in question. The survey found that 68% of bosses, a group that includes middle managers, executives and business owners, would like remote work to continue in 2024, while less than half (48%) of employees feel the same. But it’s still hard to draw any definitive conclusions about employees’ and managers’ remote work preferences. For example, the rent on a factory is a fixed cost as it does not change as output changes. If a company produced 100 widgets or 10 widgets, the fixed cost of rent for a factory would be the same.

What Is the Sunk Cost Dilemma?

It’s easy to imagine a scenario where fixed costs are not sunk; for example, equipment might be resold or returned at the purchase price. Businesses with the highest sunk costs tend be those with the greatest barriers to entry and biggest startup costs. These would include capital-intensive industries that require large buildings, expensive tooling and a high ratio of fixed to variable costs. In fact, the level of sunk cost is a major barrier to entry to many of these businesses.The concept is simple and straightforward, but sunk cost plays a major role in many personal and business decisions. It’s important to have a decision-making strategy when confronted with the need to spend more money when the recoupment of the sunk cost may be in jeopardy. For example, if a firm sinks $400 million on an enterprise software installation, that cost is «sunk» because it was a one-time expense and cannot be recovered once spent.

A real-world historical example of the sunk cost dilemma can be found in the construction of the Sydney Opera House in Australia. To calculate a sunk cost, you simply subtract the amount of money you’ve spent from the total amount of money you had available to spend. Yes, salaries are not recoverable; they are expenses incurred by the company.

Why are the funds spent on advertising a sunk cost if the marketing campaign brings new customers and sales? Because the business cannot directly recover the $2,000 spent on the advertisements. The advertiser does not return the money to the business directly, so the profits from sales do not count as recovered funds. The sunk cost fallacy can result in wasted expenses, time, and energy, regardless of whether the business follows through or abandons the project. Another way to describe this would be if a project has spent all of its 1,000k to develop a product and needs only another 100 to release to market. It seems a simple enough approach that for ‘just another 100’ we can get our product out the door but therein lies the bias if considering sunk costs.

  • Sunk costs are independent of any event and should not be considered when making investment or project decisions.
  • The computers prove to be unreliable, and the sales manager wants to discontinue their use.
  • Researchers have identified five psychological factors that lead to the sunk cost effect.
  • The company you purchase the equipment from has a 90-day return policy.
  • The sunk cost effect causes normally rational people to dismiss common sense, allowing past investment decisions to affect their future choices, despite seeing consistently poor results.
  • The relevant costs are contrasted with the potential revenue of one choice compared to another.

A «fixed» cost would be monthly payments made as part of a service contract or licensing deal with the company that set up the software. The upfront irretrievable payment for the installation should not be deemed a «fixed» cost, with its cost spread out over time. The «variable costs» for this project might include data centre power usage, for example.

Overcoming the Sunk Cost Dilemma

This fallacy is based on the premise that committing to the current plan is justified because resources have already been committed. This mistake may result in improper long-term strategic planning decisions based on short-term committed costs. In financial accounting, sunk costs must have already occurred and they cannot be changed or avoided in the future.


It pays $5,000 a month for its factory lease, and the machinery has been purchased outright for $25,000. The company produces a basic model of a glove that costs $50 and sells for $70. The manufacturer can sell the basic model and earn a $20 profit per unit. Alternatively, it can continue the production process by adding $15 in costs and sell a premium model glove for $90. Sunk costs also cover certain expenses that are committed but yet to paid. Imagine a company that has entered into a contract to buy 1,000 pounds of raw materials for the next six months.

What are some examples of sunk costs?

Our writing and editorial staff are a team of experts holding advanced financial designations and have written for most major financial media publications. Our work has been directly cited by organizations including Entrepreneur, Business Insider, Investopedia, Forbes, CNBC, and many others. The articles and research support materials available on this site are educational and are not intended to be investment or tax advice. All such information is provided solely for convenience purposes only and all users thereof should be guided accordingly. The cost of the building and its depreciation will be the same regardless of the composition of the company’s product mix. Sunk cost fallacy is the psychological need to follow through with your original plans once you have invested resources into them.

In practice, however, sunk costs can and do significantly influence decisions about the future. This is largely because it’s psychologically challenging to let go of previously invested time, effort, or financial resources even if what is data governance and why does it matter the outcome of those investments fails to meet expectations. All sunk costs are fixed costs but not all fixed costs are sunk costs. If equipment can be resold or returned at the purchase price, for example, it’s not a sunk cost.

Do you own a business?

If your answer to these questions is “yes”, then you have experienced the sunk cost bias. This is human tendency to continue investing additional resources in a losing proposition due to the investments that have already gone into these. The sunk cost definition is money your business already spent and cannot recover.

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