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Sunk Cost


A sunk cost is an expense that has already been incurred and cannot be recovered. It’s a past investment that is no longer relevant for future decision-making. Economically speaking, people should not take sunk costs into account when making decisions, because it’s cost that will be incurred regardless of the outcome.


The phonetics for the keyword “Sunk Cost” is /sʌŋk kɒst/.

Key Takeaways


  1. Irrecoverable Nature: Sunk costs are expenses that have already been incurred and cannot be recovered. It’s an expenditure that is already made and cannot be undone, regardless of future outcomes.
  2. No Impact on Future Decisions: According to economic theory, sunk costs should not affect the rational decision-maker’s choices. Future actions should be based on how they will add to or subtract from value going forward, not on how much has been invested in the past.
  3. Sunk Cost Fallacy: Despite the economic model suggesting otherwise, individuals and businesses often fall into the ‘Sunk Cost Fallacy’. This fallacy occurs when a decision is made based on the cumulative prior investment (the sunk costs) rather than on the basis of what outcome would be the most beneficial going forward. The decision-making process is distorted by the emotional investment one puts into previous costs.



The term “Sunk Cost” is important in business/finance because it establishes a fundamental aspect of economic decision-making. A sunk cost is an expense that has already been incurred and cannot be recovered. The concept is crucial as it encourages the practice of making decisions based on future value rather than past investments. Acknowledging a cost as sunk prevents businesses from falling into the “sunk cost fallacy” , in which they continue a project or investment based on the resources already devoted rather than the potential for future returns. It prompts businesses to cut their losses when necessary, fostering more efficient allocation of resources. Understanding and appropriately responding to sunk costs can directly impact a company’s profitability and financial health.


Sunk costs refer to money that has already been spent and cannot be recovered—simply put, it’s money that’s already “sunk”. They play a pivotal role in decision-making, particularly in business and finance scenarios. Sunk costs can significantly affect a firm’s profitability, determining the future capital budgets and any decisions surrounding project continuation or cancellation. It’s critical to identify sunk costs and distinguish them from future costs to make strategic financial decisions for an organization. The concept of sunk costs assists in various strategic situations such as calculating net present value for a proposed investment or gauging the profitability of a project. In cost-benefit analysis, sunk costs are usually perceived as irrelevant as they cannot be changed. Yet, they can serve as a vital learning lesson to avoid future unnecessary expenditures, enabling businesses to manage their finances wisely. Moreover, awareness of sunk costs helps eliminate the cognitive bias towards justifying continued investment in an unsuccessful project, known as the ‘sunk cost fallacy’. Hence, the phenomenon of sunk costs informs more rational, financially sound decisions in business operations.


1. Investment in a Non-Profitable Business: X Company acquired a restaurant for $500,000. After two years, the business has not achieved expected profitability. Regardless of this, X Company continues to pump money into it hoping it will eventually turn profitable. Here, the original $500,000 investment is considered a sunk cost because it’s a past expense that cannot be recovered, and technically shouldn’t impact future investment decisions. 2. Movie Production: A media house spent $10 million on producing a movie. After completing half the project, they realize that the movie will not attract the anticipated audience. The $10 million already spent is a sunk cost and can’t be recovered, even if the movie is not completed.3. Manufacturing Equipment: A company spent $200,000 on a specific piece of manufacturing equipment. After using it for a year, a new model was released that increases productivity by 30%. The $200,000 the company spent on the initial equipment is a sunk cost – it can’t be regained by selling the old equipment, and it shouldn’t affect the decision on whether to invest in the newer, more efficient model.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

What is a sunk cost?

A sunk cost refers to any cost that has already been incurred and cannot be recovered.

Can you give an example of a sunk cost in a business context?

Sure! If a company invested $1 million into a new product line that failed to sell, that $1 million would be considered a sunk cost—it cannot be recovered.

Does a sunk cost affect decision making in business?

Technically, it should not. Sunk costs are past costs and are irrelevant to future business decisions. However, they may emotionally sway business owners and managers in their future decision-making, leading to the sunk cost fallacy.

What is the sunk cost fallacy?

The sunk cost fallacy is a common error in business decision-making where individuals or businesses continue investing in a losing proposition because of what they’ve already spent, ignoring any analysis of future costs and benefits.

Can sunk costs have any impact on a company’s financial statements?

No, sunk costs do not directly affect a company’s financial statements since they are a past expense. But, they could affect profits if the company continues to spend wastefully on a project or asset because of the incurred sunk costs.

How can businesses avoid or minimize sunk costs?

Businesses can minimize sunk costs by conducting thorough and detailed project and investment analyses before committing resources. This should include risk assessments and forecasting future returns. However, some sunk costs are simply unavoidable.

Is depreciation a type of sunk cost?

No, depreciation isn’t a sunk cost. It’s an accounting method used to allocate the cost of a tangible asset over its useful life. However, the original amount spent to acquire the asset is a sunk cost.

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