# Variable Cost Explained in 200 Words & How to Calculate It

Costs like rent and administrative salaries are fixed costs, which remain the same no matter how much a business is producing. Imagine a factory that produces pencils — the cost of renting the factory building will remain the same, month after month, no matter how many pencils the company actually produces. Variable costs are directly tied to a company’s production output, so the costs incurred fluctuate based on sales performance (and volume). 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.

1. A company will pay more to its sales staff as sales rise and less as sales fall.
2. Can’t you work backward, and simply divide your total variable cost by the number of units you have?
3. You might pay to package and ship your product by the unit, and therefore more or fewer shipped units will cause these costs to vary.
4. In general, it can often be specifically calculated as the sum of the types of variable costs discussed below.

Variable cost examples include direct labor, energy and raw materials costs. Taken together, these are commonly referred to as the Cost of Goods Sold, or COGS. Variable costs are typically much easier to modify than fixed costs, which makes it very important for business leaders to pay attention to them on a regular basis. 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.

## Variable vs. Fixed Cost

If you divide the total variable cost by the total output produced, then you receive the average variable cost (AVC). Profit-maximizing manufacturing companies use the AVC to help them decide at which time they should end the production for a specific good. If the price they receive for the product is higher than the AVC, it is one indicator of a profitable product. The average variable cost, or “variable cost per unit,” equals the total variable costs incurred by a company divided by the total output (i.e. the number of units produced). One of those cost profiles is a variable cost that only increases if the quantity of output also increases.

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.

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? There are many expenses that need to be paid out by your company on both a regular and irregular basis — and these are part of your company’s variable and fixed costs. Make your payment easier by choosing a simplified and smart solution to handle payments. The current variable cost will be \$ 1000 higher than before, but the average variable costs won’t fluctuate that much, as it’s divided by the total output of the company. Variable costs are important when determining a specific product’s contribution margin and are used to calculate your company’s profit.

## Variable Cost Per Unit Formula

Our goal is to provide an overview of these costs, how to calculate them, and what they are used for. If Amy were to shut down the business, Amy must still pay monthly fixed costs of \$1,700. If Amy were to continue operating despite losing money, she would only lose \$1,000 per month (\$3,000 in revenue – \$4,000 in total costs).

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. Other variable expenses might include commissions for sales representatives or anyone else on staff who is paid based on productivity. A company will pay more to its sales staff as sales rise and less as sales fall. Variable expense ratio — also called the variable cost ratio — is a means of understanding how variable costs impact a business’s net profits. The following list contains common examples of variable expenses incurred by companies.

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Essentially, if a cost varies depending on the volume of activity, it is a variable cost. For example, piece rate labour — where workers are paid based on the number of units they make or pack. Another example is employees who are paid on an hourly basis or paid based on billable hours. This is when a company bills a client for only the hours its employees work. Revenue is gained from selling products to recover the cost of manufacturing.

## Variable Cost Definition

Some common examples include lease and rent expenses, property tax, salaries, business insurance, depreciation and interest payments. To calculate the variable expense ratio, simply divide the company’s total variable expenses by the company’s total net sales. Since fixed costs are more challenging to bring down (for example, reducing rent may entail the company moving to a cheaper location), most businesses seek to reduce their variable costs. 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.

## Example of a Variable Cost

Variable costs are the sum of all labor and materials required to produce a unit of your product. Your total variable cost is equal to the variable cost per unit, multiplied by the number of units produced. Your average variable cost is equal to your total variable cost, divided by the number of units produced.

Additionally, she’s already committed to paying for one year of rent, electricity, and employee salaries. Variable costs are expenses that vary in proportion to the volume of goods or services that a business produces. In other words, they are costs that vary depending on the volume of activity. The costs increase as the volume of activities increases and decrease as the volume of activities decreases. Therefore, a company can use average variable costing to analyze the most efficient point of manufacturing by calculating when to shut down production in the short-term.

Find out more about variable costs, some examples, and how you can calculate your variable cost using a formula. It’s also possible to calculate the variable expense ratio over a period of time. Imagine that the same sporting goods company is selling a line of tennis rackets. A fixed expense does not change based on a business’s other activities.

Business expenses can be classified as either fixed (invariable) or variable. Now, there are unicorn businesses that can charge a premium price and drive volume (think Apple). But, for the most part, businesses fall into one of these two camps. In effect, a company with low operating leverage can be at an advantage during economic downturns or periods of underperformance.