Opportunity Cost

I’m the one who does most of the writing here on my blog (not surprising, huh?!)  Brett does some of the proof reading and editing. But Jim is the one who adds all the pictures and hyperlinks.

About a month ago, he told me that while I mention “opportunity cost” in a lot of my blog posts, I’ve never had a post dedicated to it.

So I’ve been waiting for just the right example in my life to use for an opportunity cost post.  And I’ve found it.  But first, let’s define opportunity cost.

According to Investopedia:

Opportunity cost refers to a benefit that a person could have received, but gave up, to take another course of action. Stated differently, an opportunity cost represents an alternative given up when a decision is made.

But the way they said it that I liked best is this:

Opportunity cost is what a person sacrifices when they choose one option over another.

That to me is the clearest description.  Because opportunity cost does mean a sacrifice.  And most people miss that concept completely.


So let’s talk about why I’m posting this now.  As you probably know, my children get asked questions all the time by customers.  Most of them are totally fine, some of them are on the personal side, and some of them go way too far.  Here is an example of somebody who had a very strong opinion on a subject, and didn’t hesitate to share it.

In the Sweet Shop, Brett was talking with a customer and the customer was asking about our homeschooling.  This person asked Brett about what she had studied for high school.  When she found out that Brett has not taken any courses in Chemistry, Physics, Trigonometry, or Pre Calculus, she made a comment that was something like, “Well, your homeschool education was wasted.”

Now, I was in my office which is right next to the Sweet Shop listening to the entire conversation.  Brett was doing a great job handling it, but at that comment, I jumped up because I needed to clarify some points.

In my most upbeat, positive, smiley voice, I introduced myself, said that I had overheard the conversation and that I wanted to point out some things.

I shared with this woman that I was an engineer and had the ability to teach any of my children Chemistry, Physics, Trigonometry and actual Calculus, but that I chose not to.  And the reason that I chose not to was because of Opportunity Cost.

I asked the woman if she know what opportunity cost was, and she replied that she didn’t.  So I told her that, “Opportunity cost is what you give up because you choose to do something.”

I continued with the response that if I chose to take the time to teach those subjects to Brett (or any of the other children), they would be sacrificing their time to other skills or knowledge they could acquire.  I explained that by the age of 16 it was very obvious that Brett would not be making her career in the maths, sciences, engineering, or anything to which detailed knowledge in those courses would be needed.  So if I taught them to her, she would be missing out on learning more skills in English, Writing, and Business, in which she clearly excels.

I could tell that I wasn’t going to change this woman’s mind that every child need to learn Chemistry, Physics, Trigonometry, and Pre Calculus, so I didn’t push it any further.

But afterwards, Brett said to me, “Thanks, Mom, for allowing me to explore what is more important to me and not forcing me to learn what I didn’t want.”

Thanks, Mom!

Now let me be clear, there are a lot of things I believe every child needs to learn, whether they like it or want to learn it or not.  I’m not talking about reading, writing, and arithmetic.

But I believe that there are a lot of children graduating from high school having taken a Pre Calculus class who don’t know how to distinguish between wants and needs, don’t know how to balance a budget, don’t know how to live below their means, don’t know how important it is to save for retirement while they’re young, and a lot of other really important life skills.

When you’re making a decision about what to do with your time (or your children’s time) please, please recognize that you are sacrificing something else.  I see so many young children enrolled in all sorts of classes.  Those may be great, but is it worth the opportunity cost of being able to do nothing and or be creative, or play outside?  I don’t know.

But every time I think about what we are going to do or money we are going to spend, before I make the final decision, I always ask the question, “If I don’t do this, what else could I do with that money or time?”  And on the flip side, “If I do this, what can’t I do because I don’t have the money or time?”

If you start to notice the opportunity cost, it’s amazing how it impacts your decisions.

What about you?  What opportunity costs are you dealing with?



As many of you know, Brett is getting married soon.  She asked if we could do another round of P90X3* before the wedding (we completed the fitness program together a few years ago).  Of course I agreed.  Not only is the exercise good for me, but I get to spend time with my daughter who will be leaving my home soon.  No way was I passing up the chance for that!

P90X3 is put out by the company Beachbody.  So every morning (6 days a week) when we ‘press play’ on the DVD player*, we watch the Beachbody bumper play.  Beachbody’s tagline (which I like because its style mimics our Work hard. Get dirty. Use good soap.) is “Decide. Commit. Succeed.”

Aside from the similarities to the GMS tagline, I think it’s brilliant because it really distills what is required to get physically fit. First you need to decide on a program.  Then you commit to it.  And if you stay committed, eventually (exceptional situations withstanding) you will succeed.

P90X3 Workout

I think the ‘decide’ part is pretty easy.  We all know the things we “should” be doing.  We “should” eat healthier.  We “should” exercise more.  We “should” save more money for retirement.  The list goes on and on.  It’s not difficult to decide that we should do something specific.  (Isn’t that why people make New Year’s resolutions every year?)

The last part, ‘succeed’, kind of follows naturally if the first two parts are done so there’s not too much to talk about there.

It’s the “commit” part that’s difficult.  That’s where we are challenged because life happens and life has a bad way of interfering with our commitments.  And there are times it takes a will of iron to stick with our commitments in the face of what life likes to throw our way.

Let me give you a personal example.  Back in July, I committed to blogging three times a week for the rest of 2017.  I try to have a few blogs written ahead of time so that if life gets super busy, I have something to post.  September was rather crazy and it got to the point where my blog posts (that are supposed to go live at 10am) weren’t even started by 10am.  So I’d be rushing, trying to get something written to post that day (because even if it wasn’t finished by 10 am as long as it was done by 10pm I was ok with it) and then I’d get upset with myself because I felt I could have written it better if I’d had more time.

My Mom was here because she was hiding from Hurricane Irma and she encouraged me to decrease my blogging to just once a week.  She was convinced that everyone would understand.  I knew that she made the suggestion because she didn’t like seeing me stressed and wanted what was best for me, but I didn’t want to break my commitment.

And then this past week happened.  It was nuts – between building a new barn, switching my website to a completely new platform, Brett’s wedding planning, cross-country season, and a bunch of other stuff, I got overwhelmed.  And I thought to myself, I’m just going to quit blogging altogether.  Then I thought, “Nope, can’t do that.  I’ll just go down to once a week.”  So I wrote a blog post I called “curve balls” describing the curve balls life had thrown my way and that I was going to decrease the frequency of blogging.

Then I went to sleep.  And I woke up to a brand new day.  And I thought, “There’s no way I’m going to stop blogging three times a week!”

I enjoy blogging.  A lot.  And even if I didn’t, I committed to blogging three times a week for the rest of the year.  What would I be teaching my children if I just broke my commitment because I became overwhelmed?!?

Life is full of times when we are overwhelmed.  That doesn’t mean we can just quit and break our commitments.  Sometimes we we need to power through the difficult time even though quitting looks like a really good decision.  That’s what I want to not only teach, but model for my children.

Are there times where it is ok to break our commitments?  Of course.  If one of my children or Jim were hospitalized, I wouldn’t hesitate to quit blogging while I took care of them.  And I wouldn’t feel the least bit guilty about it.

But while there are very legitimate reasons to break our commitments, I think many of us take the easy way out sometimes.  Life starts to feel a little bit (or a lot) out of control and our commitments fall apart.  And I want to be clear, I’m not just talking about commitments to others.  While those count, I’m mainly talking about commitments to ourselves and our families.  Many of us do whatever is needed to keep our work or outside commitments – it’s ourselves and our families that suffer the consequences when life throws a lot at us.

How many times do you stop taking care of yourself when things become overwhelmed?  I know I do it all the time.  If I’m needed elsewhere, my self-care is the first thing to go.  Doesn’t matter if I need to exercise or meditate or journal or get to bed on time or cook a healthy meal.  If my customers or family need me, they get my attention first.

Because I know this about myself, I’m always careful to follow these steps as much as possible:

Choose commitments wisely.  There are a lot of things that would be really nice if we could do in our lives.  But I’m sorry to tell you that you can’t do them all.  Don’t commit to what’s not truly important and worth maintaining.

Don’t over-commit. If you think you can handle 10 commitments in your life – only commit to 7 or 8 of them.  Generally speaking, we all think we can do more than we can.  And this way, when you experience life’s curve balls, you still have some wiggle room.

Choose timing wisely.  When your life is going smoothly, don’t pick that time to add 5 new commitments to your life.  Forecast out a few months and think about if that commitment will still work at a different (busier?) time.  I keep 6 monthly calendars* on hooks* on my wall in the office.  I can see at a glance what is coming up (and how quickly it is coming).  This helps to keep me from over-committing now because I can see how busy the next six months will be.

Wall Calendars

Try it for a test period before committing.  Try something for a while to see how it really fits into your life before committing.  If you’re thinking of joining an exercise class – go once or twice and see how much time it really takes.  You may think it takes 90 minutes only to find out it takes 2.5 hours when you figure in all the prepping and after care that is needed.

Get approval before committing.  Accountability is a great thing.  Ask your husband and your children what they think about you committing to something.  Do they think it is important and are they willing to support you?  Or are they against it?  Sometimes your family can see your ability to handle a new commitment more clearly than you can.

Set an end time.  Don’t set a new commitment for perpetuity. When I committed to blogging three times a week, it was for a five month time period.  I figured that was a reasonable span to see whether I could blog sustainably at this level.  If after five months I’m overwhelmed by it, I can decrease the frequency.  Setting an end time helps to set expectations.

Build margin into your life.  I’m a big believer in margin.  If you don’t have any margin in your life, do NOT add any more commitments, but instead work on ending some of your existing ones.

Say “No” more often.  As a general rule, most people say “yes” when they really should be saying “no”.  Find freedom in saying “no” and commit to what is truly important in your life.

I’ve learned over the years not to have any knee-jerk reactions when my life is gets a bit harder.  And yet despite that knowledge, I still do it at times.  But I generally recognize it for what it is, once I have a moment to pause and take a deep breath.  And a good night’s sleep is always great at putting life in perspective again.

What about you?  Do you often find yourself over-committed?




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Last Saturday morning I went food shopping.  As usual, it took two carts (sometimes it takes three) to get everything on my list.  All the children and Jim were working, so I emptied the Beast of all the groceries by myself.  I put a John MacArthur sermon on to listen to while I put the groceries away.  I only got about a quarter of the groceries put away when I started getting really hungry.  I made myself a cabbage salad (recipe below) to eat.

While I was eating and listening, John MacArthur made this statement, “Be content with little.”

I looked up at my kitchen and it was covered in food.  There was a speed rack* full of tomatoes and onions and peppers and potatoes from my garden.  There were all sorts of veggies and fruit. There were lots of spices and good olive oil and vinegars.  There were a variety of nuts and seeds.

It wasn’t “little”.  Instead, it was quite abundant.

Tomato Harvest

I finished eating and went into the school room/office to answer a few emails at my treadmill desk before finishing the food.  I looked at my bookshelves.  They’re covered in books.  It’s not “little”.  It’s quite abundant.

Let me be clear, there isn’t anything wrong with having a stocked pantry.  In fact, I think there is quite a lot of wisdom in keeping a full pantry.   There also isn’t anything wrong with having a lot of books for you and your children to read.  The right books encourage reading and growth.

School Room Bookshelf & Treadmill Desk

But that’s not the issue.  It’s not the items themselves; it’s your attitude about the items.

The main issue is could I be content without them.

I started thinking about everything I take for granted.  The list is quite long, but here are a few conveniences that came to mind:

  • running water
  • hot water
  • refrigeration
  • air conditioning
  • gas to run my vehicle
  • stocked grocery stores
  • electricity
  • lights
  • clothes I don’t have to make
  • sneakers

I’ll stop there, but you get my point.

In America, most of us are surrounded by plenty.  We’re used to it and we take it for granted.

My question is does our over-abundance of stuff cause us to be discontented?  More specifically, does an over-abundance of stuff cause my children to be discontented?  I don’t have any supporting data, but I believe it does.  I have always found that the more I have, the more I want.

So how do you become content with little?

Declutter.  If you ask my husband and my children, I’m notorious around here for getting rid of possessions whenever anybody isn’t looking.  I spent quite a lot of time podcasting about why I think clutter is such a negative influence on our lives.  The older I get, the more firmly I believe this.

Value simplicity. It takes constant effort to keep things simple because it is much harder to make a simple system than a complex one, and entropy is always working to introduce chaos. But I have learned to truly value simplicity.  Simple pleasures.  Simple meals.  Simple recreation. A game of watermelon football is a fun example of combining all three (simply, of course).

Watermelon Football

Value quality.  I would always rather spend more money on something that is high quality and will last for years than to fill my house with cheap junk that regularly breaks and needs to be fixed or replaced.  Jim and I have spent decades slowly purchasing high quality cutco knives*.  They aren’t cheap, but every year when we go on vacation, we send the knives in for resharpening.  They come back cutting like new (in fact, over the years, they’ve actually replaced a knife if they couldn’t sharpen it properly).

Value people more than stuff.  I have always found that I can spend my time on my things (whether purchasing or maintaining or shopping for more) or I can spend my time on people.  The older I get, the more time I want to invest in people.

Value experiences and memories more than possessions.  I do not get my children many (if any) birthday or Christmas presents.  Instead of focusing on items to unwrap, we focus on memories we can make.  We put together a video about our Christmas events one year.  You can watch it here:

I don’t want to make it sound like I could honestly say that I am content with little.  I’d like to be able to say it.  And I could say it more truthfully now than I could ten years ago.  But I’m not sure I’ll ever be at the place where I could say it and completely mean it.  But I have learned how unimportant my wants are.  And while I still have wants, I am learning to be content if they are never fulfilled.

What about you?  Do you struggle with being content with little?




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Cabbage Salad Recipe

Like most of my recipes, I don’t have any measurements for you because most of it comes out of my garden and I just use what I have.

  • Shred cabbage (I use a mix of purple and green cabbage.)
  • Dice peppers (I like to use colorful peppers if I have them. Approximately 2-4 peppers for 2 small heads of cabbage.)
  • Chop green onions (You can also use red, but the onion taste will be stronger.)
  • Toss with olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt, and pepper (To taste.)
  • When ready to serve, add sliced almonds and salted, hulled sunflower seeds (I use about 1/2 -1 cup of each for 2 small heads of cabbage.)

If you are trying to get somebody to eat it who isn’t a fan of cabbage, you can also sprinkle sugar on it.  I do this for the children, but I don’t eat mine with sugar.  You can serve it cold or at room temperature.  You could even add grilled chicken to it if you wanted to make it a more substantial meal.