Define: Opportunity Cost

UK Accounting Glossary

Definition: Opportunity Cost

Quick Summary of Opportunity Cost

A useful concept in evaluating alternate opportunities. If you choose alternative A, you cannot choose B, C, or D. What is the cost or loss of profit of not choosing B, C, or D? This cost or loss of profit is the opportunity cost of alternative A. In personal life, you may buy a car instead of taking a European vacation. The opportunity cost of buying the car is the loss of the enjoyment of the vacation.


Full Definition of Opportunity Cost

Opportunity cost denotes the value that is relinquished by an action that is chosen over the other alternative that is equally desirous. It is, therefore, a cost that is paid for choosing one action over the other. Opportunity cost also refers to the difference in return between the preferred investment and its alternative that was left out.

For example, on an investment in government bonds for a year, the investor receives a paltry return of 3%. To invest in government bonds, the investor gave up the opportunity of investing in mutual funds that would yield 6% per annum. Therefore, the opportunity cost of the investor is 3% (6% – 3%).

Opportunity cost is often used to calculate the cost and benefit of choices. In economics, it is often described as the relationship between choice and scarcity. Opportunity cost is primarily expressed in non-monetary terms.

Opportunity cost is different from accounting cost, which is another economic term frequently used. Opportunity cost is used to deduce the true cost of the chosen course of action. Frequently, the opportunity cost is concealed through the illusion that the chosen course of action has no benefits. This is the implicit hidden cost or the unseen opportunity cost.

Interpretation Of Opportunity Cost

Opportunity cost has different interpretations. The most common of all is that it is the cost that needs to be given up to perform an action that is preferred over the next best option. Alternatively, the opportunity cost is the benefit that could have been derived by pursuing the best possible alternative.

If a certain amount of capital asset is employed for a business operation, then the opportunity cost is the value that one could have been obtained by using that capital in the best alternative action.

Relative Price

Relative price is used to express the opportunity cost of performing a certain action. It is represented as the price of a commodity or service relative to that of the next best choice.

Transfer Earning

Transfer earning describes the wage that labour could have earned from being involved in an alternative profession.


Cite Term

To help you cite our definitions in your bibliography, here is the proper citation layout for the three major formatting styles, with all of the relevant information filled in.

Page URL
Modern Language Association (MLA):
Opportunity Cost. Payroll & Accounting Heaven Ltd. April 03, 2020
Chicago Manual of Style (CMS):
Opportunity Cost. Payroll & Accounting Heaven Ltd. (accessed: April 03, 2020).
American Psychological Association (APA):
Opportunity Cost. Retrieved April 03, 2020, from website:

Definition Sources

Definitions for Opportunity Cost are sourced/syndicated and enhanced from:

  • A Dictionary of Economics (Oxford Quick Reference)
  • Oxford Dictionary Of Accounting
  • Oxford Dictionary Of Business & Management

This glossary post was last updated: 25th March 2020.