How do You Conduct a Cost/Benefit Analysis of Growing Your Story?

Many of us have been called on to do a “cost/benefit analysis” of something work related. Somehow, we have to show our self or our boss the benefit of the extra cost of a person or piece of equipment. But what about when looking at life choices? How do you conduct a cost/benefit analysis of growing your story?

What is a cost/benefit analysis?

At its most basic, a cost/benefit analysis will assign a dollar figure – as firm as possible – to all scenarios:

cost/benefit analysis

Independence Monument, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 1963

  • Cost of making a change: both physical resources and human effort
  • Benefits of the change
  • Other areas the change will affect, in success or failure
  • Costs of failing, if the change doesn’t work

The resulting dollar figures can give you an answer that casts light on your decision.

In my post, Chasing Christmas: Or the Tinfoil Christmas Tree, I mentioned a political crisis in 1963 forcing my family to leave Cambodia with very little notice. Before my father applied for the position that took us overseas, our family had had long talks about moving. Among all the “benefits” we saw in the move (e.g., immersion in a different culture), we also assessed “costs” (my brother and I needing to change schools – again). We knew that Southeast Asia had had its share of instability – the First Indochina War had ended less than a decade before. But in those pre-Internet days, we had little information on Cambodia’s current political steadiness. Nor could we foresee the death of President Kennedy later that year and the resulting turmoil in America’s diplomatic dealings with Cambodia.

We got out safely, and in spite of the upheaval, we valued every day we had spent in that country. So would it have made a difference if we could have predicted these events? How do we assess every variable that can affect us? We can’t, of course. All we can do is our best, whether it’s in an area easy to quantify, like a major purchase, or more difficult, like a move or job change.

8 Questions in a Cost/Benefit Analysis of Growing Your Story

But in making life decisions, how do we quantify the choices that have an emotional component? (For a discussion of the costs and benefits of disowned emotion, see neuropsychologist Dr. Diane Engelman’s post, What are the Costs and Benefits of Disowned Anger?)

Here are some steps to think about as one form of cost/benefit analysis when growing your story. It won’t give you a dollar figure, but it will help you to quantify the life impact. We’ll use my family’s move to Cambodia as example:

  • List one or more answers in each category, 1 through 8.
  • Assign a 1-5 number to each of your answers (1 means the cost or benefit is low; 5 means the cost or benefit is high).


1. What are the Tangible Costs? (for example, the dollar cost of moving)
2. What are the Less Tangible/ Emotional Costs to self, mate, children? (e.g., emotional impact of moving far away from your present home and friends)
3. What are the Tangible Costs of having it not work out (e.g., dollar cost of another move)
4. What are the Less Tangible/ Emotional Costs of having it not work out (e.g., sense of failure)

Total Costs ____


5. What are the Tangible Benefits? (e.g., lower cost of living)
6. What are the Less Tangible/ Emotional Benefits to self, mate, children? (e.g., adding second or third language to everyday experiences; observing/ experiencing an alternate culture)
7. What are the Tangible Benefits of having it not work out (e.g., job experience is an impressive addition to resume)
8. What are the Less Tangible/ Emotional benefits of having it not work out (e.g., “At least we can say we tried it”)

Total Benefits _____

When through listing and rating your answers, add up Costs and Benefits separately. The higher total may weight it toward one or the other.

Ideally, you will look for a higher Benefits score and a lower Costs score. And if the totals are close together, that too, is a piece of information. Close scores may tell you that either direction you choose may be “right.”

Finally, we can recognize that we can’t know every variable in advance – such as my family’s unexpected encounter with an international diplomatic crisis. Sometimes a cost/ benefit analysis of growing your story is most valuable after the fact. Only then can we see the extent of the impact on our lives and try to use it to refine any future decisions.

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