# Variable Cost: What It Is and How to Calculate It

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Whether a firm makes sales or not, it must pay its fixed costs, as these costs are independent of output. While it usually makes little sense to compare variable costs across industries, they can be very meaningful when comparing companies operating in the same industry. They denote the amount of money spent on the production of a product or service and are among the most important analyses a business (or consultant) can run. Without understanding these costs, you can’t understand which product/service is most profitable.

Your average variable cost uses your total variable cost to determine how much, on average, it costs to produce one unit of your product. 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.

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As more incremental revenue is produced, the growth in the variable expenses can offset the monetary benefits from the increase in revenue (and place downward pressure on the company’s profit margins). Watch this short video to quickly understand the main concepts covered in this guide, including what variable costs are, the common types of variable costs, the formula, and break-even analysis. If this number becomes negative, you’ve passed the break-even point and will start losing money on every sale.

1. If the tires cost \$50 each, the tire costs for each manufactured car are \$200.
2. Since fixed costs are static, however, the weight of fixed costs will decline as production scales up.
3. Even in the top business schools we teach at, there is some confusion over what exactly is defined as a variable cost.
4. For example, Amy is quite concerned about her bakery as the revenue generated from sales are below the total costs of running the bakery.

A company may also use this information to shut down a plan if it determines its AVC is higher than its. The number of units produced is exactly what you might expect — it’s the total number of items produced by your company. So in our knife example above,if you’ve made and sold 100 knife sets your total number of units produced is 100, each of which carries a \$200 variable cost and a \$100 potential profit. The variable cost per unit is the amount of labor, materials, and other resources required to produce your product.

## Variable Cost Examples

Because the manufacturer only pays this cost for each unit produced, this is a variable cost. And, because each unit requires a certain amount of resources, a higher number of units will raise the variable costs needed to produce them. The higher the percentage of fixed costs, the higher the bar for minimum revenue before the company can meet its break-even point. More specifically, a company’s VCs equals the total cost of materials plus the total cost of labor, which are the two main types. These costs aren’t static — meaning, your rent may increase year over year.

As a consultant, you’ll be spending most of your time dealing with a company’s P&L (or the income statement). Because your job is to identify revenue or savings that will drop to the bottom line. And as we’ve already established, cutting variable costs (i.e. outsourcing, replacing parts, optimizing processes) is much easier than cutting fixed costs. You’ll be dealing a lot with these costs throughout your time as a consultant. So get familiar now with how these costs impact a business, and how a variable-cost-based business model differs from a fixed-cost-based business model.

## How Do Variable Costs Affect Operating Leverage?

Variable costs earn the name because they can increase and decrease as you make more or less of your product. The more units you sell, the more money you’ll make, but some of this money will need to pay for the production of more units. Put simply, it all comes down to the fact that the more you sell, the more money you need to spend. This includes marketing and sales campaigns to reach more customers, the production costs of more goods, and the time and money required for new product development.

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Unlike fixed costs, these types of costs fluctuate depending on the production output (i.e. the volume) in a given period. Since costs of variable nature are output-dependent, the costs incurred increase (or decrease) given varying production volumes. If your variable costs are \$20 on a \$200 item and your fixed costs account for \$100, your total costs now account for 60% of the item’s sale value, leaving you with 40%. While total variable cost shows how much you’re paying to develop every unit of your product, you might also have to account for products that have different variable costs per unit.

These can include parts, cloth, and even food ingredients required to make your final product.

Overall, variable costs are directly incurred from each unit of production, while fixed costs rise in a step function and are not based on each individual unit. Variable cost is one of the two major cost categories that you’ll find in nearly every business endeavor. Together with fixed costs, they form the foundation of all corporate expenses.

Even in the top business schools we teach at, there is some confusion over what exactly is defined as a variable cost. Our goal is to provide an overview of these costs, how to calculate them, and what they are used for. The variable cost ratio allows businesses to pinpoint the relationship between variable costs and net sales. Calculating this ratio helps them account for both the increasing revenue as well as increasing production costs, so that the company can continue to grow at a steady pace.

## Variable Cost vs. Average Variable Cost

As a company strives to produce more output, it is likely this additional effort will require additional power or energy, resulting in increased variable utility costs. The break-even point refers to the minimum output level in order for a company’s sales to be equal to its total costs. Combining variable and fixed costs, meanwhile, can help you calculate your break-even point — the point at which producing and selling goods is zeroed out by the combination of variable and fixed costs. Variable cost and average variable cost may not always be equal due to price increase or pricing discounts.