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Intertemporal Choice


Intertemporal choice is a concept in economics that demonstrates how individuals make decisions about what and how much to consume over different periods. It involves the trade-off of benefits or costs occurring in different time periods. Decisions could range from spending versus saving income, or immediate versus delayed gratification.


The phonetics of the keyword “Intertemporal Choice” are: In-ter-tem-po-ral Chois

Key Takeaways

  • Present Bias: Intertemporal Choice reveals that individuals have a present-bias preference, meaning they tend to overvalue immediate rewards over future ones. This is why people sometimes make decisions that are harmful in the long run, like overspending or overeating.
  • Discounting Future Utility: This concept explains the “discounted utility approach” , which is the principle that people will generally prefer obtaining goods or services now rather than later, even if the value or benefit of them will be higher in the future. The further in the future the reward lies, the less preference is given to it – this is known as ‘discounting’.
  • Time inconsistency: Intertemporal choices could also lead to time inconsistency. This means that people’s preferences change over time and what might seem like the best choice today might not be in the future. This poses challenge for long-term decisions like investment or saving for retirement.
  • Importance

    Intertemporal choice is a crucial concept in business and finance as it pertains to the decision-making process involving the current and future trade-offs or consequences of your decisions. It forms the basis of time preference in economics, which implies that people value immediate rewards more than future rewards. This can significantly impact spending, saving, and investment decisions. Besides, it influences various key financial concepts such as interest rates, borrowing, and financial risk-taking. Understanding intertemporal choices thus provides a framework for businesses and individuals to make strategic decisions that balance present needs with future goals, ensuring long-term financial sustainability and growth.


    Intertemporal choice is a concept utilized in the financial and economic sectors to understand and analyze the decisions individuals or organizations make in relation to the allocation of resources over time. This method is primarily used to study how people make choices at different points in time, and how these choices impact their wealth or utility over the long term. Factors such as consumption spending, investment decisions, and savings play leading roles in defining intertemporal choices. By making decisions considering not just the present but also the future outcomes, one can strategize for maximum gain or minimum loss.The main purpose of intertemporal choice is to offer a systematic approach to decision-making where immediate rewards or outcomes are weighed against future benefits. For instance, a person may choose to spend less in the present to save for a secure financial future. Similarly, a company might refrain from extensive capital expenditure in the near term to ensure adequate liquidity and cash flow management for the future. On the flip side, an aggressive investment strategy might be adopted to leverage potential future gains. Therefore, intertemporal choice essentially serves as a critical decision-making tool in both personal finance and corporate strategy.


    Intertemporal choice refers to the decisions that an individual, household, or firm makes about how to allocate resources across different periods of time. Here are three real world examples:1. Retirement Savings: An individual might choose to save a portion of their current income for their retirement years. This entails sacrificing present consumption for the sake of future well-being. The decision on how much to save depends on a variety of factors, including the individual’s current income, expected future income, lifespan, and rate of return on savings.2. Loan Repayment: Borrowers have to make intertemporal decisions when deciding how quickly to repay a loan. Paying off a loan faster reduces the amount of interest paid over time, but it also requires higher payments in the short term. On the other hand, making smaller payments over a longer period of time might be more manageable in the short term, but it results in more interest paid over the life of the loan.3. Business Investment: Firms often need to decide whether to invest in costly projects that will increase their production capacity or improve efficiency in the future. This usually involves sacrificing short-term profits for potential long-term gains. They have to take into account various factors, such as the expected return on investment, the cost of capital, and their future production needs.

    Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

    What is Intertemporal Choice?

    Intertemporal Choice refers to the decision-making process where individuals, firms, or organizations must choose between outcomes available at different points in time. It’s primarily used in the fields of economics and psychology.

    How does Intertemporal Choice impact personal finance?

    Intertemporal Choice greatly affects personal finance, such as choosing when to spend or save money. For instance, understanding Intertemporal Choice can help in determining whether to use your income for immediate satisfaction or to save for future investments.

    How is the concept of Intertemporal Choice related to business decision-making?

    Businesses often have to decide whether to invest in projects that yield immediate profits or to engage in longer-term investments that might yield more significant benefits. Intertemporal Choice provides a framework for such decisions.

    What theories or models are related to Intertemporal Choice?

    The most famous model related to Intertemporal Choice is the Life-Cycle Hypothesis proposed by Franco Modigliani. It suggests that people plan their consumption and savings over their lifetime. Other theories include Time Preference Theory and Discounted Utility Model.

    What factors can influence Intertemporal Choices?

    Several factors can impact Intertemporal Choices. These include individual time preferences, interest rates, income levels, risk factors, the present and future value of an investment, and economic and market trends.

    How does the concept of ‘present value’ relate to Intertemporal Choice?

    Present value is an essential concept in Intertemporal Choice. It refers to the current worth of a future sum of money or stream of cash flows given a specified rate of return. It helps to determine whether the value of a future benefit outweighs the cost of investing resources in the present.

    How does one make optimal Intertemporal Choices?

    Making optimal Intertemporal Choices often involves understanding your personal or business goals, financial situation, risk tolerance, and market conditions. Economic and financial models can aid in decision making, but ultimately it requires personal judgment and foresight.

    Does behavioral economics apply to Intertemporal Choices?

    Yes, behavioral economics offers significant insights into how people make intertemporal choices. Behavioral economic studies have shown biases like procrastination and self-control issues can influence such decisions.

    Related Finance Terms

    • Discounting
    • Consumption Smoothing
    • Time Preference
    • Future Value
    • Risk and Uncertainty

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