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What Is A Variable Cost Ratio?

Skylar Williams

Jul 20, 2022 14:23

The variable cost ratio is calculated by dividing the entire variable costs by the total revenues of a business. It is a representation of the variable production costs of a firm expressed as a percentage of sales. A company's variable expenses are compared to its net sales in the variable cost ratio, which expresses this comparison as a percentage. This is an important metric that might be of use to companies when it comes to pricing and scheduling production. This article offers a definition of the variable expense ratio, provides an explanation of how it may be calculated, and investigates the relevance of the variable expense ratio.

What are variable costs?

Variable costs are proportional to sales volume.

As sales increase, so do variable costs. As sales decline, variable costs decline as well. Labor and raw materials costs are variable since they fluctuate with sales, and a corporation can save money by decreasing its variable costs.

The following are examples of variable costs:

Direct Materials – the raw materials used to manufacture your goods.

Production Supplies - the supplies that are essential for the machinery that aids in the production of your goods, such as maintenance supplies.

Sales Commissions - the portion of a worker's compensation that is contingent only on their sales volume.

Credit Card Fees - the costs incurred by the business in order to offer credit card services to their clients.

Other examples of variable costs are shipping and delivery fees, salaries, and wages. Employee performance incentives are also considered variable costs. In many cases, it is simpler to reduce variable costs without substantial interruptions than it is to reduce fixed costs.

Characteristics of Variable Costs

  • Total variable costs are proportional to volume.

  • Per unit variable cost remains fixed.

  • Variable costs can be appropriately attributed to operational divisions.

  • It is the responsibility of department leaders to control variable costs.

Variable costs and sales

If your company's sales increase, variable costs will also rise. Your variable costs will fall if your company's sales decline.

Increasing variable costs are not necessarily negative for a company. When sales increase, you must produce more goods or prepare to provide more services. The amount spent on variable costs rises. However, the increase in sales also increases your company's revenue.

As revenue grows, variable costs also increase. However, your revenue should grow quicker than your expenses, and if your variable costs increase more rapidly than your revenue, you will not generate a profit.

For instance, your variable costs were $3,000 last month, whereas your revenue was $5,000.

This month, variable costs quadrupled while revenue grew by only 10 percent. The variable costs are $6000, whilst the revenue is $5500. Since variable costs rise faster than revenue, you incur a financial loss.

What is the variable cost ratio?

The ratio of variable costs to sales is the variable cost ratio. It equals total variable costs divided by total sales; variable unit costs divided by unit pricing or one minus the contribution margin ratio.

Variable costs are costs that fluctuate with production, such as the cost of raw materials, direct labor, and variable manufacturing overheads, among others. The variable cost ratio indicates the percentage of each sale allocated to the extra cost of producing the unit sold.

A high variable cost ratio indicates that only a limited part of sales revenue may be allocated to fixed costs and profit. When the variable cost ratio is large, sales growth leads to a slower profit gain. Additionally, when the variable cost ratio is large, the contribution margin ratio and breakeven threshold are both low, and vice versa.

How to calculate the variable cost ratio

There are two distinct methods for computing the variable cost ratio. The first technique divides variable costs by net sales, whereas the second way subtracts the contribution margin from one. Here are some descriptions of how to implement each method:

Method 1

The first technique uses the formula:

Variable cost ratio = variable costs / net sales

Before applying this strategy, you must first determine the variable expenses for the product in issue. Once this amount has been obtained, you may divide it by your company's net sales to obtain the variable cost ratio. Here is an example of how a business may employ this formula:

A business estimates its variable costs to be $100, whereas its total sales are $1,000. After dividing 100 by 1,000, accountants arrive at a variable expense ratio of 0.1%, or 0.1. This indicates that variable costs account for 10% of the company's net income.

Method 2

The second technique uses the formula:

Variable cost ratio = 1 - contribution margin

The contribution margin is the difference between a product's sale cost and its variable production costs. This is a percentage. Before using the aforementioned calculation, it is necessary to establish the product's contribution margin by removing variable costs from the selling price. Subtract this value from one in order to calculate the variable cost ratio. For instance:

A product's unit sales price is $100, and its variable unit costs are $10, yielding a contribution margin of 90 percent, or 0.9. An accountant deducts 0.90 from 1 to obtain 0.10, or 10%, to get the variable cost ratio.

The significance of the variable cost ratio

The variable cost ratio is a key determinant of a company's total profitability. It reveals if the company can attain a good balance of revenue streams in which an increase in revenues exceeds an increase in expenses. It is used to represent quantitatively the link between a company's sales and the specific production costs connected with the revenues under consideration.

The ratio is a valuable assessment statistic for a company's management in determining break-even or minimum profit margins, making profit estimates, and determining the ideal selling price for its items. When a company's variable costs as a percentage of its net sales are high, it is likely that it does not have to cover a large number of fixed costs each month.

This indicates that the corporation must earn sufficient revenue to pay the fixed costs associated with the production process. It only permits the organization to continue operations without making significant revenues from sales.

The ratio aids in determining the required break-even point, making it simpler to identify the ideal selling price and forecast profits.

In enterprises manufacturing a single product, the CM ratio applies to total sales dollars and contribution margin dollars or to per-unit sales dollars and contribution margin dollars.

In businesses that manufacture a variety of items, each product has its unique cm ratio. Only total contribution margin dollars as a percentage of total sales dollars are used when calculating the CM for the entire organization.

When firms have a high proportion of variable costs to net sales, they typically do not have a great deal of monthly fixed costs. It indicates that a firm must earn sufficient revenue to pay its fixed production costs to function without generating a big profit from sales. With high ratios, a corporation may generate profits with relatively little sales since its fixed costs are minimal.

When businesses have a low variable expenditure ratio, the breakeven threshold is high because a significant volume of fixed costs must be covered by income. Due to this, a high sales volume is required to generate a profit.

Fixed costs vs. variable costs

In order to comprehend the variable cost ratio, it is necessary to comprehend the various forms of production costs. These include both fixed and variable expenses, and here are explanations of each:

Fixed costs

Fixed costs are expenses that stay constant regardless of output levels. This may involve the following:

  • Rent or lease expenses

  • Insurance

  • Utilities

  • Salaries

  • Taxes

Variable costs

Variable expenses are costs that vary depending on the amount of output. Variable costs rise whenever a business decides to produce more items of a particular sort. The following are instances of variable expenses:

  • Packaging supplies

  • Unprocessed materials

  • Transport and distribution costs

  • Wages and costs of work

When should you choose between fixed and variable costs?

Throughout your organization's life, fixed and variable costs will be utilized. Even when establishing the budget for the following year or calculating the present running expenses, you must evaluate both cost kinds to ensure accuracy.

Although deciding whether to utilize fixed or variable costs is typically clear, there are situations when it might be difficult to determine which category should be applied. Here are a few instances:

When selecting a new employee, it is important to consider

Your expenses will be set or variable depending on how the new employee is paid. If you hire an administrative employee, the costs will be constant; however, if you hire an hourly worker, the cost will be variable, based on the number of hours worked and any overtime that must be paid.

When determining commissions on sales

Sales commissions are always proportional to output or sales and are, therefore, always a variable cost. You may need to predict potential sales for the upcoming year, although sales commissions will constantly fluctuate based on output.

When renting property

The rent is always fixed and will never vary unless a new lease is executed.

When acquiring primary materials

Costs of raw materials will always be related to production, and when output declines, material costs will decrease and then rise again.

When transporting goods

This can go either way, depending on the item being transported. Manufacturing organizations would always consider shipping or freight costs to be variable and connected to the output, but service companies who send monthly advertisements to their consumers may consider their shipping costs to be set.

Calculating utility costs

Even while utility costs might vary, the variance is often minor. However, suppose you operate a manufacturing facility and need to run equipment around-the-clock. In that case, the cost of the additional power will be deemed variable because it is directly proportional to output levels.

What does the variable expense ratio indicate about profits?

The variable expense ratio reflects the rising production-related costs. A high value indicates that the firm can generate profits on fewer sales since its fixed costs are not prohibitive. A low number indicates that the company's fixed costs are exorbitantly high and that it must pay these costs before turning a profit.

Total variable cost vs. average variable cost

If the average variable cost per unit is calculated using the total variable cost, don't you already know how much it costs to develop one unit of your product? Can't you simply divide the total variable cost by the number of units? Perhaps not necessarily.

While total variable cost indicates how much you're spending to develop each unit of your product, you may also need to account for items with varying variable unit costs. Here comes the average variable cost into play.

For instance, if you have ten units of Product A with a variable cost of $60 per unit and 15 units of Product B with a variable cost of $30 per unit, you have two variable costs: $60 and $30. The average variable cost reduces these two variable costs to a manageable amount.

In the above example, the average variable cost may be determined by combining the total variable cost of Product A ($60 x 10 units, or $600) and the total variable cost of Product B ($30 x 15 units, or $450), and then dividing this amount by the total number of units produced (10 + 25, or 25).

Your average variable cost is ($600 + $450) ÷ 25, or $42 per unit.

Variable costs and break-even point

The break-even point is the least amount of output required for a company's sales to equal its overall costs.

Break-Even Point Formula:

Break-Even Point = Fixed Costs ÷ Contribution Margin

If variable costs dominate a company's cost structure, the inflection point at which it begins to generate a profit will be lower (i.e., compared to those with higher fixed costs).

The larger the percentage of fixed costs, the higher the required minimum revenue for a business to achieve break-even.

High operating leverage may be advantageous for businesses since each extra dollar of revenue generated beyond breakeven yields more earnings. However, beyond the break-even point, such organizations' capacity to decrease costs becomes increasingly constrained (since fixed costs generally cannot be cut as quickly or as easily as variable costs).


Accounting-wise, fixed and variable costs will have an effect on your financial results. For example, without including these expenses, you cannot compute cash flow or income before taxes. As a business owner, it is essential to comprehend fixed and variable expenses as components of overall business expenses in order to build long-term financial goals.

Continuously analyze revenue statements, balance sheets, and other financial documents to make the required changes and guarantee that you are always acting in your firm's best interest.


Why are variable costs so essential for managers?

To optimize earnings, managers must be able to effectively manage variable costs. They are simply and precisely assignable to operational departments, and they are the responsibility of department leaders.

How do you determine variable vs. fixed costs for a product?

A product's variable cost may be determined by dividing the total variable expenses by the number of units sold. To get the fixed cost per unit, divide the total fixed cost by the number of units available for sale.

How is the variable cost ratio calculated?

The variable cost ratio is the ratio of variable expenses to deals. It considers absolute variable costs segregated by total deals, variable expense per unit segregated by cost per unit, or a single short-term commitment advantage ratio.

Which costs more, variable or fixed interest?

If you wish to limit risk while taking out loans, stable interest rates are typically preferable to variable interest rates. This is due to the fact that variable interest rates might fluctuate monthly or quarterly based on economic conditions, which can alter without warning. In contrast, fixed interest rates remain constant throughout the life of the loan.

What is a high variable cost ratio?

A high variable cost ratio indicates that a firm may generate a profit at a relatively low level of sales since it has few fixed costs to cover. A low variable cost ratio indicates that the breakeven sales level must be high to cover the big fixed cost base.