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Variable Cost Definition

October 17, 2023
Bill Kimball

Susan Ward wrote about small businesses for The Balance Small Business for 18 years. She has run an IT consulting firm and designed and presented courses on how to promote small businesses. Rosemary Carlson is an expert in finance who writes for The Balance Small Business.

  • It is because companies can simply explain price increases as a consequence of rising production charges.
  • Common examples of variable costs include costs of goods sold , raw materials and inputs to production, packaging, wages, and commissions, and certain utilities .
  • Your fixed costs are around $1,800 per month, which includes your building lease, utility bills, and coffee roaster loan payment.
  • Marginal cost refers to how much it costs to produce one additional unit.
  • Understanding the difference between fixed costs and variable costs is important for making rational decisions about the business expenses which have a direct impact on profitability.
  • These costs are likely attributed to your food truck monthly payment, auto insurance, legal permits, and vehicle fuel.

It also negates any risk of loss due to inefficient price setting. Thus, variable cost-plus pricing allows producers to make super-normal profits in the market. In a competitive market, in the long run, no company is able to charge a price greater than the variable cost of production, which also happens to be the marginal production cost. Let’s assume that it costs a bakery $15 to make a cake—$5 for raw materials such as sugar, milk, and flour, and $10 for the direct labor involved in making one cake. The table below shows how the variable costs change as the number of cakes baked vary. Variable costs stand in contrast to fixed costs, which do not change in proportion to production or sales volume.

Learn The Difference Between Fixed And Variable Costs

The markup is expected to meet all or a given percentage of the fixed cost of production, and then generate a given level of profit revenue. The variable cost-plus pricing method is suitable for companies where a high percentage of the total costs are variable. In such a situation, the company can be certain that the predetermined markup will cover its per-unit fixed costs. In a situation where the percentage of variable costs from total costs is low, such a method of pricing may be inaccurate. It is because there may be significant fixed costs that can increase as the number of units produced rises. Variable costs are directly related to the cost of production of goods or services, while fixed costs do not vary with the level of production. Variable costs are commonly designated as COGS, whereas fixed costs are not usually included in COGS.

Using variable cost-plus pricing makes it easier to lock revenues with contracts. It is because suppliers generally prefer contracts that guarantee sales with a set profit level and an assurance that all production costs will be covered.

A common example of variable costs is operational expenses that may increase or decrease based on the business activity. A growing business may incur more operating costs such as the wages of part-time staff hired for specific projects or a rise in the cost of utilities – such as electricity, gas or water. The variable cost per unit is the amount of labor, materials, and other resources required to produce your product. For example, if your company sells sets of kitchen knives for $300 but each set requires $200 to create, test, package, and market, your variable cost per unit is $200. The company has fixed costs that are allocated at $6 per unit, which results in a total cost of $26. Since the price is $28, the company earns a $2 profit on the sale of each unit.

Variable Cost Formula

On the other hand, even though your variable costs rise with sales volume increases, your unit costs may decline. If, for instance, you’re buying production materials in greater volume you may be able to buy them at lower price points. Both fixed costs and variable costs contribute to providing a clear picture of the overall cost structure of the business. Understanding the difference between fixed costs and variable costs is important for making rational decisions about the business expenses which have a direct impact on profitability.

Costs are fixed for a set level of production or consumption and become variable after this production level is exceeded. A variable cost is a corporate expense that changes in proportion to how much a company produces or sells.

For example, the rent of a building is a fixed cost that a small business owner negotiates with the landlord based the square footage needed for its operations. If the owner rents 10,000 square feet of space at $40 a square foot for ten years, the rent will be $40,000 per month for the next ten years, regardless of the profits or losses. To accurately forecast corporate expenses, you need to learn how to calculate variable costs. But what are variable costs and how do they compare to fixed expenses? Over a six-month horizon, the factory will be better able to change the amount of labor to fit the desired output, either by using overtime hours, laying off employees, or hiring new employees.

In many instances, reducing variable costs are easier to manage without major disruptions than changing fixed costs. Your average variable cost uses your total variable cost to determine how much, on average, it costs to produce one unit of your product. That markup should include a portion of the profit that the company wants to earn, as well as a portion of fixed costs.

variable cost pricing

If you already have your business up and running, the break-even point will help you find areas to improve your business and profitability. Merchants Accept payments from anywhere—at your brick-and-mortar store, on your website, or even from a mobile phone or tablet.

Variable Cost

Examples of variable costs are sales commissions, direct labor costs, cost of raw materials used in production, and utility costs. If your monthly fixed costs are $5,000 and you’re able to do 1,000 oil changes, then your average fixed cost per unit is $5 per oil change. If you’re able to increase oil changes up to 2,000, your average fixed cost per unit will be cut in half to $2.50. Other examples of variable costs are delivery charges, shipping charges, salaries,​ and wages. Performance bonuses to employees are also considered variable costs.

If companies ramp up production to meet demand, their variable costs will increase as well. If these costs increase at a rate that exceeds the profits generated from new units produced, it may not make sense to expand. A company in such a case will need to evaluate why it cannot achieve economies of scale. In economies of scale, variable costs as a percentage of overall cost per unit decrease as the scale of production ramps up. Common examples of variable costs include costs of goods sold , raw materials and inputs to production, packaging, wages, and commissions, and certain utilities .

Variable Vs Fixed Cost

A company that seeks to increase its profit by decreasing variable costs may need to cut down on fluctuating costs for raw materials, direct labor, and advertising. However, the cost cut should not affect product or service quality as this would have an adverse effect on sales. By reducing its variable costs, a business increases its gross profit margin or contribution margin. You simply divide your total variable costs from the accounting period in question by the total number of units produced.

Fixed cost vs variable cost is the difference in categorizing business costs as either static or fluctuating when there is a change in the activity and sales volume. Variable cost-plus pricing is a system for developing prices that adds a markup to the total amount of variable costs incurred. Examples of the variable costs incurred are direct materials and direct labor. Essentially, any cost that changes in relation to production output should be considered a variable cost. A breakeven analysis determines the sales volume your business needs to start making a profit, based on your fixed costs, variable costs, and selling price. It often is used in conjunction with a sales forecast when developing a pricing strategy, either as part of a marketing plan or a business plan. Variable cost-plus pricing is a type of pricing method wherein the selling price of a given product is determined by adding a markup over the total variable cost of production of that product.

Variable cost pricing allows for a company to set the price directly from the variable cost. The variable cost is the cost of producing that one extra unit or a cost that varies based on quantity. This is then added to the markup, which accounts for recouping any fixed costs in addition to the profit a company hopes to make. In this lesson, see how variable cost pricing is calculated and look at an example of it in action.

These can include parts, cloth, and even food ingredients required to make your final product. Stay up to date with the latest marketing, sales, and service tips and news. Talus Pay Advantage Our cash discount program passes the cost of acceptance, in most cases 3.99%, back to customers who choose to pay with a credit or debit card.

As the production output of cakes increases, the bakery’s variable costs also increase. When the bakery does not bake any cake, its variable costs drop to zero. It’s in your best interest to spread out your fixed costs by producing more units or serving more customers. You should also be aware of how many units you need to sell if you want to break even and become profitable. This will help you determine how much your business must pay for every unit before you factor in your variable costs for each unit produced. Your variable costs are $2.20 for materials, $4 for labor, and $0.80 for overhead for a total of $7.

Fixed costs are predetermined expenses that remain the same throughout a specific period. These overhead costs do not vary with output or how the business is performing. To determine your fixed costs, consider the expenses you would incur if you temporarily closed your business. You would still continue to pay for rent, insurance and other overhead expenses. If the average variable cost of one unit is found using your total variable cost, don’t you already know how much one unit of your product costs to develop? Can’t you work backward, and simply divide your total variable cost by the number of units you have?

And, because each unit requires a certain amount of resources, a higher number of units will raise the variable costs needed to produce them. Variable costs include expenses that are subject to changes with production output. A variable cost is an expense that changes in proportion to production output or sales. It might not be fun, but calculating your fixed costs on a regular basis will benefit your business in the long run.

The business can decide to shut down and sell off its buildings and equipment, or to expand and increase the amount of both of them. It can change its entire labor force, managerial as well as line workers. For example, if you have 10 units of Product A at a variable cost of $60/unit, and 15 units of Product B at a variable cost of $30/unit, you have two different variable costs — $60 and $30. Your average variable cost crunches these two variable costs down to one manageable figure. For example, if it costs $60 to make one unit of your product and you’ve made 20 units, your total variable cost is $60 x 20, or $1,200.

At the same time, the employee might receive a sales commission directly tied to production, making it variable. Examples of variable costs can include the raw materials required to produce each product, sales commissions for each sale made, or shipping fees for each unit.