3.05.2009

On "Opportunity Cost"

I'm back!

I just took a more-than-10,000-mile round trip, and the jet lag is finally wearing off! Since getting back, I've been thinking about the implications of our vacation. We went to Hawaii- a huge, once-in-a-lifetime vacation by most people's standards. For us, it was our "big trip" before we have kids, knowing that a trip like it won't happen again for a very, very long time. We waited until we were out of debt before we even started to save up for it. While we were there, we budgeted carefully, didn't really splurge on anything, and nothing went on the credit card. Only one attraction we visited cost anything at all, and it was $20. Looking back on what we ended up spending, we were hundreds of dollars under what we budgeted, and that "extra money" is going towards paying extra on the mortgage and building a 6-month emergency fund. All very responsible, right?

Then, I think of what else could have been done with the vacation funds. If we had forgone the vacation all together, lives could have been saved. The money budgeted for it could have bought medicine for many children suffering from AIDS, education for girls with no other future, or food for hungry families down the street. When I start to think of the opportunity cost of my choices, it gets overwhelming.

The opportunity cost of any aspect of my lifestyle choice is the same, though. If I go out to eat & spend $30 rather than the $5 it would cost at home, that's $25 that could have cared for an orphan, or bought a needy family 2 chickens. If I buy jeans at the mall for $40 rather than at the secondhand store for $4, that's $36 that could have done more good than it did for me- upgrading my pants.

So where's the line, for you? What's 'responsible'? Should we maintain a comfortable lifestyle and give a little, or take a knock on our own lifestyle for the sake of our neighbors'? Is 'opportunity cost' something that should even be taken into account?

In all honesty (because I'm all about honesty), if we hadn't taken the vacation, the money budgeted for it wouldn't have ended up buying AIDS medicines or farm animals for Africa. It probably would have gone toward completing our emergency fund, so we could stat paying down the mortgage more quickly. These are selfish choices, for my own security and comfort, and ones I am still wrestling with. Being "responsible" in an American-dream sense of the word is in conflict with "social responsibility" and responsibility to the "least of these." Balance is hard. And I'm not even sure "balance" is what is demanded of us- nothing about Jesus' teaching was balanced- "Sell everything and give to the poor." "Take nothing but your cloak & walking stick" "The widow is blessed for giving her last 2 coins"

Sorry, I don't have any answers. I'm still searching for where God wants us to be, and how he wants us to be stewards of His resources. How do you weigh the opportunity cost of your spending choices?

3 pennies for thoughts:

Prudent Homemaker said...

Paying a full tithe and paying fast offerings to help the hungry are a good way to help those in need, as well as giving to other charitable companies.

When we really ponder and pray on the best use of our stewardship over all that God has given us, we can really help others and also enjoy the blesings He has in store for each of us.



Anonymous said...

$800 per plane ticket....
$150 per hotel night....
$30 per meal...

***Trip to Hawaii to show your husband your childhood = Priceless***



CJ Sime said...

I've never heard the term opportunity cost but I do practice the thought process. I used to see every dollar bill as a bottle of Mt Dew (my vice) but now that I am married and coupon savvy I see the dollars as a pile of household items from CVS. It is all about perspective.



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