Monday, October 19, 2009

Opportunity Cost

My economist husband enjoys using terms like "sunk cost" and "economies of scale" in our regular conversations. Such language is usually met with a rolling of the eyes. Supply and demand curves don't thrill me, much to his chagrin.

But sometimes his economics jargon comes in handy. Every now and then one of his classroom concepts hits so close to home that I want to stand up and applaud.

In this case, the credit goes to John Start Mill, the classical economist who came up with the theory of opportunity cost. I'll explain in a minute. {Believe me it's all related.}

I haven't blogged in two or three weeks. My unintended bloggattical is merely a symptom of this season.

Between homeschooling and making sure Cupcake doesn't burn down the house while I teach, I am spent by 1:00. Too many people and too many tasks seem to require me for completion.

On any given day I want to pretend run away. When I leave for the store my husband says, "Call me when you get to Mexico." We laugh as I pull out of the driveway but we both know he's half-way serious.

I'm not alone of course. I'm simply one among the multitude giving voice to the struggle of the everyday.

Lately the simmer of trying to balance it all has cranked up to a rapid boil. I am often paralyzed by too much needing my attention all at once. The immediate takes precedence and anything that can wait does exactly that.

I want to paint the hutch, so desperately needed for inside storage, that sits in my garage. I want to put away summer clothes, clean out, give away, restore order, write a little, and help others. The chocolate drool stains on my furniture glare at me every time I walk past. I would flip the cushion but I already have.

The non-urgent simply has to wait.

I feel justified in my desires for order and peace. But when I survey the land with brutal honesty, I am left with one painful conclusion:

I want to own my time. I want to make time sit down and obey...but it won't listen, much like my 2-year-old. There is a time for everything but time itself is not mine to subdue.

And this brings us back to our economics lesson.

Opportunity cost: the value of the next best alternative forgone as the result of making a decision. (Webster's)

My example: The opportunity cost of homeschooling is that laundry doesn't always get done in a timely manner or at all. The opportunity cost of having young children at home is a less than orderly household. The opportunity cost of making ends meet means that economist husband teaches extra classes and is gone much of the week.

{And I am thankful. For employment in uncertain times, for the time with my children at home, for a million blessings I could list right now.}

We make decisions that we hope will benefit our family both now and in the long run but the opportunity costs are time and resources for other things that might bring about "visual peace," more room, time for ourselves, and time for others.

I used to work full-time outside the home. The opportunity cost of a fulfilling career and extra income was eventually {for me} too much stress and missing my kids. Now that I'm home full-time, the opportunity cost of being here is missing certain elements of my career and having far fewer dollars.

I doubt that John Stuart Mill ever considered opportunity cost for modern-day moms, both those in and out of the home. But I consider it every day.

There is a season, an opportunity for most everything. Seasons don't last though. A new one arrives and we celebrate. It persists for a time and we endure. It changes, finally, and we welcome another. Sometimes we're glad it's gone. Sometimes we grieve, forever, that it will never return.

Lately I've been less than celebratory over this particular season. I want endless opportunities and no cost. I begrudgingly endure, complaining my way through the laundry and the mess and the tantrums. I'm tired of my own whining.

My soul longs to trudge through with grace and gratitude.

Recently, I pondered a passage that I've heard a hundred times, ancient words considered anew as a welcome salve for this season's irritations.

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

a time to change diapers and a time to get a shower ,
a time to teach pronouns and a time to eat chocolate. {SAHM translation}

Words to live by. Apparently John Stuart Mill wasn't the first to articulate opportunity cost...

Class dismissed.


  1. Scooper,
    These are some of the challenges of the life we have chosen. Speaking from the perspective of a mom to teenagers and having homeschooled for the last 10 years -- it is most rewarding. The relationships we have our children is wonderful and looking back, worth the efforts.
    Please do not grow weary. You are right about the seasons. Each of us has a season for doing particular things.
    I will say that each one has its own challenges.
    Here's some hugs from a faraway friend.
    love ya!

  2. What an amazing post-and it hits me right where I live right now too! I feel you when you say you're spent by one, most days I have a hard time making it till noon! Thanks for sharing this perspective and thanks for the reminder that I'm not alone!

  3. I love how all your posts end up in the Bible. You inspire me. I know you know your work has eternal value. And sometimes you do need to stop and take an afternoon to finish a nagging project, for your own soul. Sometimes those things we have put off for so long end up taking almost no time at all to complete... and the payoff for spending time being creative is huge. And sometimes, the season just does not allow it. I will be praying for you, sweet friend. Blessings!

  4. You dear woman.

    I think that we speak the same language. Perhaps I flatter myself by thinking that.

    After reading this, I know that our husbands speak the same language. :) But I like the way you've related opportunity cost to the mundane, the everyday, the sometimes annoying sameness of our seasons of life.

    You're not alone in wanting to own your time; very many of us feel the same way. You are one in a million, though, in your ability to see the truth even through trying circumstances. I appreciation your sharing your vision with the rest of us.

  5. A time to stay up late blogging, and a time to go to bed with my wonderful husband . . .

    Time is so hard to manage. I'm choosing the latter tonight. :)

  6. ok, so i just posted this thought provoking wonderful and witty post and it disappeared like the morning fog.
    but to sum it of these days we'll be sipping coffee wondering where the time went and why we have so many wrinkles?

  7. I'm obviously not the only one who's been checking every day for your next post. I could read you forever.

    Right now, there will be time for writing(some). Right now, there will be time for investing prime time in the all-encompassing education of your precious children. This is the time for recognizing, and loving, the seasons. This is the time to remember that you can not have it all . . . in one season.

    The time will come when you have plenty of time for writing, the children will be gone (taking what you have poured into them with them . . . along with the chocolate stains on the furniture), you will have much less laundry and more time to do it, and you will find yourself in a season that allows ample opportunity for reflecting on the seasons that have come and gone. Each season has its purpose of fulfillment in our lives.

    Love you forever,

  8. I love reading your insightful posts AND your Mom's wonderful comments! Thanks to you both :)

  9. Your words are so what has been on my heart but didn't know how to articulate. Thanks you for sharing and pointing us back to God and His wonderful words!!!

  10. thought you'd get a kick out my post over on my blog.
    go check it out.

  11. You are doing your best, having your best day, and sharing in meaningful glorified way.
    Sorry, didn't mean for the cheesy rhyme.
    But I will add my been there ( i didn't homeschool but did a lot of daycare)

    Glad to read your thoughts , whenever you have a chance.

  12. Love it. I love reading what you write. It is so enlighting to me. The opportunity cost is nothing to read your blog usually. And there is lots of gain. (I'm not savy on Economics, so I'm not certain I said any of that correctly. Lol...) God Bless you and your family.

  13. I like this post!

    Since my husband writes about economics (or used to more than he has lately) and I have two sons who studied economics in college, I'm in the habit of hearing these principles too! And they do apply to a lot of things.

    And you are right: you can't do everything! So love what you are doing and know you will get to the rest in due season :)



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