Cost Behavior: Introduction to Fixed and Variable Costs

The interplay between all of the different costs emphasizes the importance of good planning. The trick is to synchronize operations so that the benefits of each fixed cost are maximized, and variable cost patterns are established in the most economic position. All of this must be weighed against revenue opportunities; one must be able to sell what is produced. Examples of discretionary fixed costs include advertising, employee training, and so forth. Committed fixed costs relate to the desired long-run positioning of the firm; whereas, discretionary fixed costs have a short-term orientation.

  • For example, Carolina Yachts has production supervisors who oversee the manufacturing process but do not actively participate in the construction of the boats.
  • These costs are directly related to the capacity and services provided by the organization.
  • If the company pays $12,000 per month for rent, it does not matter if the company produces no units or is at maximum capacity.
  • If Bert wants to save money and control his cost of goods sold, he can order an 11th bike and drop his shipping cost by $2 per bike.
  • In contrast, capacity costs tend to continue regardless of the current rate of activity as long as the same capacity is maintained.

Cost behavior refers to how the total cost of a product or service changes as the volume or activity level changes. In other words, it is the study of how costs behave as output or activity levels change. Understanding cost behavior is essential for businesses to make informed decisions regarding pricing, profitability, and cost management. This means that certain efficiencies are achieved as production levels rise.

Figure 2.26 shows the relationships of the various costs, based on the number of participants. As you have learned, much of the power of managerial accounting is its ability to break costs down into the smallest possible trackable unit. In many cases, businesses have a need to further refine their overhead costs and will track indirect labor and indirect materials. If the company hires a second quality inspector, they would be stepping up their fixed costs.

No matter what happens during that time, the cost stays the same. If the company pays $12,000 per month for rent, it does not matter if the company produces no units or is at maximum capacity. Assume that GoSound leases the manufacturing facility where the portable music players are assembled. The rent is said to be a “fixed” cost, because total rent will not change as output rises and falls. The table at right reveals the factory rent incurred at different levels of production and the resulting “per unit” rent amount. The following graphs show how the fixed cost per unit will decline with increases in production.

This method appears to be imposingly complex, but it is not nearly so complex as it seems. In the content above, we examined two methods of analyzing cost behaviors. However, many companies often examine the relationship between multiple independent variables and a single dependent variable.

Variable cost

The food and lift ticket expenses are examples of variable costs, since they fluctuate based upon the number of participants and the number of days of activities. Committed fixed costs are fixed costs that typically cannot be eliminated if the company is going to continue to function. An example would be the lease of factory equipment for a production company. A cost behavior analysis shows how a particular cost responds to changing levels of business activity. As commonly observed, some costs vary while others stay the same. The high-low method provides an easy way to split a composite cost’s fixed and variable components in a few formula steps.

Looking at this analysis, it is clear that, if there is an activity that you think that you cannot afford, it can become less expensive if you are creative in your cost-sharing techniques. Watch the video from Khan Academy that uses the scenario of computer programming to teach fixed, variable, and marginal cost to learn more. One approach would be to “eyeball the points” and draw a line through them.

To calculate the per unit cost, take the total cost and divide it by the number of units. In any business setup, processes change overtime and the best way to overcome any unprecedented changes in the most appropriate way is to be well prepared in advance about the future outcomes. One such aspect which gets impacted with changes is cost behaviour. “Profitability is just around the corner.” This is a common expression in the business world.

A good understanding of cost behavior is important for managers for several reasons. First, managers can conduct evaluations, estimate the project’s value, and determine if the project or business is worth working on or letting go of. In mixed situations, costs are fixed at a point in time and may change depending on the activity involved. Analysts use this function to make important forecasts about the market and perform various decision-making tasks. In that case, it is beneficial to understand the different types of cost behavior to develop a stable cost structure and find the best path to profitability. Cost behavior indicates how a cost will change when an activity changes.

Examples of cost behaviour

The R-Square value is a statistical calculation that characterizes how well a particular line fits a set of data. For the illustration, note (in cell B17) an R2 of .798; meaning that almost 80% of the variation in cost can be explained by volume fluctuations. As a general rule, the closer R2 is to 1.00 the better; as this would represent a perfect fit where every point fell exactly on the resulting line. Importantly, the defined line is the one that minimizes the summed squared values! This line is deemed to be the best fit line, hopefully giving the clearest indication of the fixed portion (the intercept) and the variable portion (the slope) of the observed data. In the diagram at right, observe the red line starting at the Y axis (at the “intercept” value of 2).


For this reason, it is important that Bert be able to identify his period costs and then determine which of them are fixed and which are variable. Remember that fixed costs are fixed over the relevant range, but variable costs change with the level of activity. If Bert wants to control his costs to make his bike business more profitable, he must be able to differentiate between the costs he can and cannot control. It takes more than materials for Carolina Yachts to build a boat.

These classifications are generally used for long-range planning purposes and are covered in upper-level managerial accounting courses, so they are only briefly described here. Graphically, the total fixed cost looks like a straight horizontal line while the total variable cost line slopes upward. The company should calculate the variable cost of its products and compare them with competitors that produce the same product. This calculation helps the company determine if it needs to reduce its variable costs further.

Production volume affects mixed costs but is not proportionate to the volume change. Therefore, as performance increases, the cost per unit falls. In our planning and decision making calculations, we assume that the variable rate stays the same.

Level of Activity Method

For example, many auto mechanics are now paid a flat weekly or monthly salary. In each of the examples, managers are able to trace the cost of the materials directly to a specific unit (cake, car, or chair) produced. Since the amount of direct materials required will change based on the number of units produced, direct materials are almost always classified as a variable cost. They remain top down vs bottom up forecasting fixed per unit of production but change in total based on the level of activity within the business. Cost behavior analysis refers to management’s attempt to understand how operating costs change in relation to a change in an organization’s level of activity. These costs may include direct materials, direct labor, and overhead costs that are incurred from developing a product.

Least Square Method

Business is tough, profits are illusive, and competition has a habit of moving into areas where profits are available. Sometimes revenue growth only seems to bring on waves of additional expenses. With the graphical method, we draw the graphic line of semi-variable cost by taking output on the x-axis and total semi-variable cost at the y-axis. Fixed cost is the cost that accrues about the passage of time and which, within certain limits, tends to be unaffected by fluctuations in the level of activity. Regression analysis or the method of least squares is ideally suited to cost behavior analysis.

At certain levels of activity, new machines might be needed, which results in more depreciation, or overtime may be required of existing employees, resulting in higher per hour direct labor costs. The definitions of fixed cost and variable cost assumes the company is operating or selling within the relevant range (the shaded area in the graphs) so additional costs will not be incurred. Fixed costs are those that stay the same in total regardless of the number of units produced or sold. Although total fixed costs are the same, fixed costs per unit changes as fewer or more units are produced. Understanding the cost behavior helps TechGadget make better decisions about production levels, pricing, and resource allocation.

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