The Costs and Benefits of Choices
We are presently in Costa Rica. We find the people, the countryside, and the atmosphere much more in tune with our beliefs and our values in life. Jill gets to work while sitting by the pool or ocean and I get to learn Spanish or spend time taking gorgeous photographs.
As you’ve probably noticed in my other articles, I mention costs and benefits a lot. It is something I often think about as I try to plan out my day, my week and my life.
What are the costs and benefits of choices I’m about to make?
I tend to look at the costs first since, like most people, I tend to overestimate the benefits when making a choice and downplay the costs.
After years of working with clients, it seems this is an automatic reaction and we are conditioned to think this way. Maybe this is only Western Culture, but even when I lived in China and Japan, it seemed people always thought the grass was greener on the other side of the fence.
This made for some foolhardy decisions, by my clients and by me, and so I realized it is important to look at the costs before the benefits. When doing the costs first you want to write them down, then go the benefits, and then go back to the costs. This allows a more honest and realistic view of the costs for any choice I make.
Using the Cost Benefit Analysis (CBA)
I use a formal process called the Cost Benefit Analysis to pull this all together.
In addition to costs and benefits in my CBA, I also add a short term/long term indicator after the statement because that makes a difference in how the cost or benefit is viewed since length of time can influence a decision. If it is short term, then it may not be that important. If it is long term, it tends to influence my decision more powerfully.
An example of the costs and benefits would be our move to Costa Rica. The benefits were many so I’ll focus on the costs first, so as not to ignore the negative aspects. I will use the indicators of “ST” for Short term and “LT” for long term.
- Far away from family and friends (ST and LT)
- Must learn a new language (even though this is also a positive, it is work and makes life more difficult) ST as I will be bilingual and able to converse with more people around the world.
- Cognitive discomfort/out of my comfort zone (ST).
- Possibly spotty internet (seems to be of limited importance but I want all possible costs) (ST as the country keeps advancing).
- Visa runs every 3 months. There is always a chance we won’t be allowed back in (LT).
- Harder to get supplies if needed. This includes computer, phones, and, depending where we are living food and basic necessities (This could be broken down into each and every thing if you to do that. Being specific is very important) (ST).
- Food in Costa Rica is almost the same cost as in the USA (ST and LT).
I couldn’t think of any more at this point so next, I’ll look at the benefits. After doing the benefits, I will return to the costs so that I can see if I missed any important facts.
I’ve found that that costs can sometimes turn into benefits and benefits can become costs. Also, when one writes down the costs, it may help you think of ways to overcome the problem and change your way of thinking.
- Much cheaper cost of living other than food (ST and LT).
- Cheap and easily available mass transportation (ST and LT).
- Living new experiences. (ST and LT).
- Living by a warm ocean (ST and LT) as I love the ocean and the ability to swim in it would be amazing.
- Visa runs every 3 months (ST and LT). This was a cost but it is also a short term benefit as I get to go to Nicaragua and experience that culture. I might like it better than Costa Rica and that makes it a long term benefit also.
- Slower pace of life. (ST and LT)
- Cheaper dental care that is just as good as the Bay Area (my fiancee needs a new tooth implant, so this is important to us). (ST)
- Consistently warm weather throughout the year. (LT)
- No need for heavy winter clothing. (LT)
If you noticed, #3 is very vague. This is something you want to avoid when doing a CBA. The best thing to do is to break it down into very specific costs and benefits. An example of “Living New Experiences” would actually be as such:
Learning a new language (ST and LT).
Meeting new people (ST and LT).
Learning more about myself (ST and LT).
As you can see, there are many more benefits and I’m guessing you could figure out a lot that I wouldn’t even think of!
The CBA above shows the benefits outweigh the costs.
At that point, I realized the only cost that truly matters to me would be missing my family and friends. That was very important and could have a significant emotional impact on my decision.
I thought about this issue and came to a realization: At any second, someone I care about could die. I wouldn’t be beside them and would miss seeing them. If I wanted to go home, I’m still just a relatively short flight away. This is true even when I’m living in the USA. After living in China, which is an 11 hour flight home, a 6 hour flight doesn’t sound that long.
As for staying in contact, I always have Skype, email and Facebook. To be honest about that cost, Jill and I don’t see a lot of our friends and family when we are back in the states. They, as are we, are quite busy and so our time is limited.
If one thinks of it in that frame of mind, is it really that different if we are on the road? Instead of being somewhere in the USA, which would probably still require transport to see them, we just happen to be somewhere else in the world. Since airports are always close by it means it is only a monetary issue.
From looking at our list of benefits, since we are saving money, we could use that on flights home to see family and friends. An added benefit is that we are now able to see them more often since have more disposable income than we would living in the San Francisco Bay Area. When you consider a 1 bedroom apartment in SF now rents for $4,000 US a month, compared to $700 US a month in Costa Rica, it makes the cost of travelling much less important.
In reality, there was almost no negative costs to our move to Costa Rica. Without question, the benefits have far outweighed them. The original cost of being away from family has turned into an actual benefit.
Weighing the Costs and Benefits
I find it useful to weigh the costs vs. benefits using percentages when you are finished. This allows you to have a more definite reference point for likely you are to make a change.
Imagine a scale with a balance in the middle. You will have percentages on both sides of the scale. When you add up the percentages, from both sides, it has to be a total of 100%. So, you can have 70% costs, and 30% benefits. Or maybe 25% costs and 75% benefits. However, you can’t have 30% costs or 90% benefits since that would add up to 120%.
After you figure out what your costs vs. benefits balance out to, then you want to think about what the percentages mean to you.
From what I’ve observed, if your costs are over 50%, there is very little chance you’ll decide to make the change. The benefits are just not important enough for you.
I’ve also found that is you are right around 50%, most people also won’t make a change.
From my experience, people seem to like the benefits to be around 70% or higher before they decide it is worth the costs to make the move forward.
In regards to my CBA above, it balanced out at 95% benefits and only 5% costs. Even though the number of costs vs. benefits were somewhat similar in number, the emotional balance of moving to Costa Rica, and what it afforded us, outweighed the costs by a huge margin.
It is up to you to decide what percentage will allow you to make a change in your life. It also doesn’t mean you have to make a change just because the scale is highly weighed towards benefits. This is where the emotional importance of your CBA comes into play.
By the way, you have every right not to make any changes at all. This may surprise you but doing a cost benefit analysis is not about forcing you to change. It is about allowing yourself to understand your choice and knowing what is right for you.
Sometimes, people even have benefits of over 70% and realize it is not the right time to make a change.
The CBA usually does allow them to figure out when the change is right for them and what would allow it to start. I often find asking a few pertinent questions will help the person figure out what those issues are and how to work through them. They are listed below:
- What is holding me back. Write down the #1 reason from your list and then go into detail about how that one problem will affect you, positively and negatively. In other words, you are being very specific and you are going to do a cost benefit analysis on that one reason.
- If you made this change, how would you think about yourself differently? Remember, you are thinking of both positive and negative here.
- What would the person you love most in the world advise you to do? Sometimes it helps to get advice from someone else. If you are open to asking that person, do it. If not, imagine them sitting beside you and giving you guidance.
- If you aren’t too afraid, ask other people you trust. I’ve found that crowd sourcing choices is useful as long as you ask the right people. Heck, you could do a cost benefit analysis on who you should ask, and why, before doing it!
- Imagine you made this change. How would your life be different in 1 year? 5 years? 10 years? These are important questions and may help you envision what you, and your world, would be like.
Now it is time for you to do a cost benefit analysis and decide the costs and benefits of choices you think are important to you.
Feel free to ask questions, or give suggestions that might help others, in the comments below.
Other articles you might enjoy:
The New Normal
Understanding the Difference Between Needs and Wants