Anesthesiologists, like all other specialists, need to examine carefully their clinical practices so that excessive costs and waste can be reduced without compromising patient care or safety. While costs of drugs used for anesthesia constitute only a small fraction of total health care cost, they are highly visible costs which are easy for administrators to scrutinize. Although cost savings in an individual case may be small, the total savings may be impressive because of the large volume of cases performed. In a recent analysis of strategies to decrease PACU costs, Dexter and Tinker found that anesthesiologists have "little control over PACU economics via the choice of anesthetic drugs". Greater savings could be achieved by timing the arrival of patients into the PACU to reduce the peak requirement of nursing personnel. Hospital and operating room management would be better served by concentrating on these simple measures to improve efficiency rather than forcing anesthesiologists to base drug usage on acquisition costs. Even in countries that have nationalized health services, salaries make up the largest part of the costs, and the expenses in delaying an operation by 30 min exceeds the costs of a 2 h propofol infusion. It is becoming increasingly apparent that attempts at better scheduling of cases, more efficient processing of patients in the PACU to optimize admission rates, and reduced wastage of anesthetic and surgical supplies lead to greater savings than reducing anesthetic-related drug costs. Nevertheless, it is still important for anesthesiologists to participate in the ongoing effort to reduce medical costs without affecting the quality of patient care. Quality care and fiscally sound decision-making are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Simple, effective cost containment measures that all anesthesiologists can practice include using low fresh gas flow rates with inhalation agents and opening sterile packages and drug ampules only if the contents will be used. The choice of an anesthetic agent for routine use depends not only on its demonstrated efficacy and side effect profile, but also on economic factors. It is important to perform careful pharmacoeconomic evaluations of these newer drugs, including assessing all associated costs and benefits for subsets of patients undergoing different types of surgical procedures. These evaluations should also include input from patients regarding their personal preferences. Excessive emphasis on the acquisition costs of drugs may lead to blanket bans on the use of new drugs because of their higher costs rather than permitting physicians to individualize therapy according to their clinical experience and the perceived needs of a given patient. Institutional and individual variations in clinical practices, their associated costs and outcomes may alter conclusions about acceptability and economic evaluation of a particular drug or technique. The information in this review can be used to provide a rational basis for incorporating cost considerations into the decision-making process regarding the drugs, devices and techniques used in anesthesiology.