You probably read this sign and have concluded not to donate a can. In fact, you may be thinking: “I don’t have time,” or, “I can barely get myself to campus on time, much less remember a can,” or “how on earth am I going to carry cans on my moped?...,” and so forth. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. This is simply a reflection of what behavioral economists refer to as “rational self-interest.” Note that this is not synonymous with being selfish; rather, it entails that your behavior is “purposeful.” You’re always on a mission!
Simply put – you have considered your limited resources (time, money, and energy) and the opportunity costs you incur (i.e. what you would have to sacrifice or forgo if you decided to donate a can in this case): more study time, finishing that Netflix or Korean soap episode, lunch, etc. Thus, you have concluded your opportunity cost is too great, and this effort will not provide you with enough “utility” (pleasure, satisfaction, or happiness) to justify bringing some cans.
What if we told you that there is a certain number of cans that you could bring that would yield an amount of utility greater than what you would sacrifice in order to make it happen? Unfortunately, in a world with limited resources we always incur opportunity costs (whether it’s donating a can, studying, or going to the beach) and there is no way around it. We simply learn to pursue opportunities that will maximize our utility instead.
More specifically, the economic perspective focuses on this purposeful behavior and describes our processing as a cost-benefit analysis, or marginal benefit (MB)-marginal cost (MC) analysis. Businesses, firms, and even the government apply this analysis to figure out what to produce and how much of it to produce.
With that being said, the only way you can effectively weigh the benefits against the costs of an action is if you have all (or as much) of the information possible! Below is a list of benefits you may have not known that might alter the result of your analysis, and perhaps you will change your previous decision about not donating cans:
1. Helping others is associated with higher levels of mental health, above and beyond the benefits of receiving help and other known psychospiritual, stress, and demographic factors. (Satisfaction from donating the can of beans vs. the satisfaction from eating the can of beans.)
2. The canned food will be donated to the Hawaii Food Bank. Just to give you an idea of where your can would go, and who would receive it:
Based on numbers 1 and 2, if you have cans that are simply sitting on the shelf at home you are incurring the opportunity costs of increasing your mental health (benefit) by donating those cans to someone who would truly benefit from the food and nutrition!
Also, the EBC is making an attempt to further engage the KCC student body and its current members by offering community service opportunities so others can also increase their mental health! By donating and allowing other students/members to participate in the RIO Food Drive you are unintentionally (but nonetheless) increasing someone else’s utility (increased mental health for others)!
Thank you for taking the time to read this, and now you know some Economics 101 jargon that you can use the next time you are trying to explain to your friend why you are drawing MB-MC curves to decide whether to watch one more movie!
More importantly, hopefully you will help the EBC, KCC, and the Hawaii Food Bank to collect canned food to share with those who will truly benefit from them!
 Schwartz, S., Meisenhelder, D., Ma, M., & Reed, P. (2003). Altruistic Social Interest Behaviors Are Associated With Better Mental Health. Psychosomatic Medicine, 65(5), 778-785. Retrieved March 26, 2015, from http://journals.lww.com/psychosomaticmedicine/Abstract/2003/09000/Altruistic_Social_Interest_Behaviors_Are.9.aspx
 *Image from the Hawaiifoodbank.org