Microeconomics is the study of how individuals and businesses make choices regarding the best use of limited resources. Its principles can be usefully applied to decision-making in everyday life—for example, when you rent an apartment. Most people, after all, have a limited amount of time and money. They cannot buy or do everything they want, so they make calculated microeconomic decisions on how to use their limited resources to maximize personal satisfaction.
Similarly, a business also has limited time and money. Businesses also make decisions that result in the best outcome for the business, which may be to maximize profit.
The field of microeconomics interests investors because individual consumer spending accounts for roughly 68%, or about two-thirds, of the U.S. economy. Microeconomics and macroeconomics (the study of the larger aggregate economy) together make up the two main branches of economics.
- Microeconomics uses a set of fundamental principles to make predictions about how individuals behave in certain situations involving economic or financial transactions.
- These principles include the law of supply and demand, opportunity costs, and utility maximization.
- Microeconomics also applies to businesses.
Some Principles of Microeconomics
Before using microeconomics to understand its use in renting an apartment, it helps to understand some fundamentals. Microeconomics uses certain basic principles to explain how individuals and businesses make decisions. These are:
- Maximizing utility—Maximizing utility means that individuals make decisions to maximize their satisfaction.
- Opportunity cost—When an individual makes a decision, they also calculate the cost of forgoing the next best alternative. If, for instance, you use your frequent flier miles to take a trip to the Bahamas, you will no longer be able to redeem the miles for cash. The missed cash is an opportunity cost.
- Diminishing marginal utility—Diminishing marginal utility, another economic input, describes the general consumer experience that the more you consume of something, the lower the satisfaction you get from it. When you eat a burger, for example, you may feel very satisfied, but if you eat a second burger, you may feel less satisfaction than you experienced with the first burger.
- Supply and demand—Two other important economic principles are supply and demand as they appear in the market. Market supply refers to the total amount of a certain good or service available on the market to consumers, while market demand refers to the total demand for that good or service. The interplay of supply and demand helps determine prices for a product or service, with higher demand and limited supply typically making for higher prices.
The amount of the U.S. economy accounted for by consumer spending
Applying Microeconomics to Renting an Apartment
To help understand how microeconomics affects everyday life, let’s study the process of renting an apartment. In New York City there is a limited supply of housing and high demand. This explains why housing costs in New York are high, according to the principles of microeconomics just outlined.
To rent an apartment, first you must determine a budget. For this you will have to take into account your income and how much money you are looking to spend on housing, in such a way as to maximize your utility or satisfaction. If you allocate too much of your income to rent, you will limit the money you have left for other expenses. Thus, you will have to decide what amount of money is the maximum you are willing to part with for rent, what amenities you must have in your apartment, and which neighborhoods are acceptable to you. All of these decisions and calculations are about maximizing utility.
Based on all the above factors, you set a budget to get the most satisfaction for the least possible rent. You will not pay more than you have to in order to get what you want. Given that in this supply-constrained market there are others also interested in renting the more in-demand apartments, you might find that you will have to increase your budget. To do this you will have to cut down on spending in another area, such as entertainment, travel, or eating out. That is the opportunity cost of finding the right apartment.
Supply and demand
Similarly, a landlord will seek to rent an apartment at the highest price possible, as their motivation generally is to get the best return from renting out the apartment. In setting the rent, the landlord would have to take into account the demand for the apartment in that specific neighborhood. If there are enough potential renters interested in the apartment, the landlord would set a higher rent. If the rent is set too high, compared with what other landlords in the neighborhood are charging for comparable apartments, renters will not be interested. Thus the business owner, in this case the landlord, also makes decisions based on supply and demand.
And while the landlord would attract a larger pool of prospective renters by setting a rent that is lower than what other neighborhood landlords are charging for comparable apartments, they would be missing out on some rental income, which will not maximize their utility. Thus, both you and the landlord will make decisions to get the best outcome for yourselves given the constraints you face.
The Bottom Line
In a capitalist economy, both consumers and businesses make thousands of big and small decisions each year guided by microeconomic issues. Consumers seek to maximize their satisfaction when they go out and shop for anything from paper towels to apartments, houses, and cars. Businesses set prices and make other decisions based on microeconomics. The prices that consumers will pay depends on the supply of a specific good, such as an apartment, as well as how much others are willing to pay for it.