Thoughtful Thursday: Sunk Costs

April 21, 2011

Thoughtful ThursdayJumping off from the Dollars and $ense of Family Building (and by the way, if you haven’t checked out the blog hop yet, please do — and if you want to contribute your own post, even better!)…

One theme I’ve seen come up over and over again in the Dollars and $ense posts is money spent on failed cycles and other efforts that didn’t pan out. Some people seem to accept it as a necessary part of the process. Other people seem to lament the waste. I’ve referred to it in my own post and in a blog post years ago as water-under-the-bridge money, and for the most part that’s how I’ve approached it.

Some people are prudent in their approach to sunk costs, cutting their losses and moving on. Others keep going because of the resources already invested, even when it doesn’t make any sense to keep going.

Eating something that tastes horrible?
Halfway through watching a terrible movie?
Paid thousands of dollars in repairs for your crappy car?
Invested a couple of years in a bad relationship?
Spent tens of thousands of dollars and years of your life trying to have a baby?

With the little things, eating something yucky or watching a bad movie, I’m likely to just finish, even though it would be wiser not to. When it really counts — relationships, big ticket items — I think I’ve been good about cutting my losses. With infertility, though, I was in between: I accepted the losses as water under the bridge, but I couldn’t ever bear to cut my losses and move on. The hard part is that during infertility, you don’t know whether you’re showing perseverance necessary for achieving your goal, or whether you’re succumbing to the sunk cost fallacy and throwing good money after bad. Of all of the awful things about infertility, that part — not knowing if you will ultimately succeed if you just keep going or if everything you put in will ultimately be wasted — is, to me, the very worst.

When there are sunk costs, do you move on or try to stick it out? How does your typical sunk cost approach relate to your family building efforts?

14 Responses to “Thoughtful Thursday: Sunk Costs”

  1. I dont spend money without considering the consequences. It was true in our fertility treatments too. Thankfully we had insurance and our out of pocket, per treatment (of which we had 7) was about $400 (including meds, etc). $2800… 2 miscarriages, 5 birthed babies… 2 living children. I dont know how to even reason it.

  2. Kymberli Says:

    Sunk costs. Hmm. Well, I’ve definitely cut my losses and moved on in the surrogacy front. But for a while there, I was convinced that if I kept plugging along the tides would turn.

    Bad movies – I have to keep watching them. Otherwise, wondering what happened if I quit watching would annoy me far more than continuing to watch.

  3. a Says:

    I stick it out for far too long. Sigh. It’s taking me way too long in life to learn to cut my losses and move on.

  4. strongblonde Says:

    i hate to spend money. i’m pretty frugal. i think that i tended to view the failed cycle money more like the cost of learning. maybe it’s my field, but i was really able to look at it clinically. each cycle we learned something else about how i responded to treatment. we made progress each cycle. each one was kind of responsible for helping me get two little babies! does that mean it was fun or enjoyable? absolutely not!! and i would have preferred to do everything the old fashioned way, but some of us don’t have that luxury! we were also in a weird place where insurance payed for a lot of our cycles. all in all we had 6 IUIs and 2 IVFs and ultimately paid somewhere between 10 and 15k. total. for everything. blood, US, tests, meds, procedures. that’s pretty good, if you ask me. and because of my job’s FSA, we got all of that kind of tax free.

    i’m honestly not sure how long i would have gone on. probably until we didn’t learn something. or until the numbers started looking bad. or until i felt like i couldn’t take it anymore.

    movies? i’m here and there. most of the time i’ll try to do something else and half watch. food? if i don’t like it i try not to eat it 🙂

  5. Carrie Says:


    Great, thought-provoking questions. Honestly, I tend to be a “in for a penny, in for a pound” kind of girl on most things. IF was absolutely no exception, and I think we would have persevered until we were emotionally and financially toast. As you pointed out, though, it is hard to know during the process if you are being wise, or stubborn until the beta comes back.

    I am so excited for more Thoughtful Thursdays!!! YAY for being back in the bloggy world.

  6. I think one of the things I did well (although who knows about the road not taken, really?) was to know when to stop.

    I remember taking a budgeting class in grad school, the professor proving what a poor decision it is to throw good money after bad.

    It wasn’t until this blog hop that I realized how much that class influenced how I made IF decisions.

    Nowadays I don’t even bother finishing a blah book.

    You put your finger on it when you said that with IF, you just don’t know if you are persevering on your way to success or hanging on past all reasonable hope.

  7. Brenna Says:

    I’ll quit a bad book and just last week I stopped a movie midway through because it just wasn’t going anywhere and I didn’t want to waste my time. But with ART, I’m always thinking in percentages. If XX% of treatments work, and this one didn’t pan out for us, then chances are the NEXT one will.

    Great questions!

  8. celia Says:

    I will NOT ever finish a crappy book, there are too many good books. I hate to finish a bad movie, but sometimes I am stuck because my husband with watch the worst movie clear through to the credits. We did spend a lot of money and many years trying to have our son. We were only three cycles away from our emotional end point. We could not take TTC any longer. I had actually given up and was planning my mini cooper convertible and trip to Ireland the month we got pregnant. After all the dragged out trying, FINALLY getting some drugs and an iui was exciting but all torturous. Because we were just…done.

    My car is paid off, but I would not put more than 2500 hundred into it to repair it, since that is what it is worth. We would just scrap it and have one car till we could afford a second one.

  9. St. Elsewhere Says:

    When there are sunk costs (especially money), I am likely to wait it out. Likely because I will eventually want to pursue till the end, and get ‘something’ from the cost gone in. I may decide to leap out if I do not find the outcome appealing enough.

    Like Celia, I will not want to finish a boring book even if I have spent a couple of days/money on it already. For a movie, if DH has the remote, I will have to bear it till the end, and if I have the remote, I will stake out of it too.

    Infertility treatments? We have already spent more on TTC than what others spend on pregnancy care + birthing costs for two kids. And I am not getting out of this till I have what I want.

    I really wish we had not been spending so much money or time or other resources in getting this done, but I am in the thick of it already, and coming out of it now will guarantee that the sunk cost will remain ‘sunk’ with nothing to show.

  10. Elana Kahn Says:

    We didn’t really have too much cost in terms of fertility treatments, because we live in Massachusetts. There were some drug costs and office visit costs in our failed Clomid and IUI cycles, but it wasn’t nearly so much as some people pay. I basically paid it and forgot about it. The IVF was more expensive ($500 out of pocket for the procedure and about another $100 for drugs, since a Jewish organization also put in $500) but still, I paid the bill and then promptly put it out of my mind. I prayed it would finally work, and we got a two-fer. 🙂 Definitely worth the money and the wait!

  11. Hmm, don’t really know how to answer this. With small things (bad movies, books, food) I’m easily able to stop and move on. With other, bigger, items, I’m still pretty good about cutting my losses. With IF financially it’s not really been an issue, as everything is covered, but emotionally I might continue longer than is healthy? Only time will tell.

  12. Tara (TIMO) Says:

    I tend to be a finish-it-through kind of gal. I hate to waste money. When we sold our house in Tucson, we had a near 6 figure amount loss. We were lucky to recoup most of the loss via the military homeowner’s assistance program. I look at the ~$20k final loss as money not well spent and it still bugs me that we spent so much and have nothing to show for it.

    We were lucky that we didn’t have to spend money on treatments (2 clomid cycles and then a spontaneous pregnancy). I’m not sure what the breaking point would have been had we needed more intervention. We were advised to jump straight into DE IVF. There certainly would have been a financial aspect but I’m not sure how that would have played into treatments.

  13. Mel Says:

    I am terrible at moving on and cutting my losses — much to my detriment most of the time. It is rare that I stick something out and feel like it was worth it in the end. I can think of only one time where I cut my losses (leaving another graduate program) and am thrilled that I did so. Other people ask me if I have regrets, but I can’t even explain how freeing it was to dump all my research out (okay, I freaked out a bit right after the moment) and how happy I am that I DON’T have that degree.

    That said, I still read books that I’m not happy with until I get to the last page. I have a lot of trouble walking away from things.

  14. jill Says:

    I usually stick it out I think. If I’ve paid the money, spent the effort, I follow through with the activity/goal/whatever. This doesn’t really apply to me in the family building aspect because at this time, and maybe ever, I’m unwilling to spend so much money (among other things) on such a small chance. ART beyond testing has not been on the table for me at all so far and in the future I can only see doing a small amount. If I end up doing ART procedures, I would unfortunately (or maybe fortunately?) have a set amount to spend and then it would be over. Baby or not.

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