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What Is a Contribution Margin?

Chime Team • July 11, 2024

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Contribution Margin

Have you ever wondered how businesses figure out their profitability and financial health? Every company must have a clear understanding of how profitable the business is. One key metric business leaders use is the contribution margin.

This fundamental concept in the accounting and finance field sheds light on a business’s profitability and financial health. It represents the amount by which the sale of a specific product or service exceeds variable costs, indicating how much a specific product contributes to fixed costs and generates profit.¹

How to calculate the contribution margin

The contribution margin is the amount by which sales revenue exceeds variable costs. It’s calculated using a straightforward formula: sales revenue minus variable costs. The remaining amount contributes to covering fixed costs, and any surplus goes towards generating profit.

For example, if a company sells a product for $100, and the variable cost per unit is $60, the contribution margin per unit is $40. This $40 must then contribute to fixed costs like rent, utilities, and salaries, with any remaining amount representing profit.

Understanding variable costs vs. fixed costs

Variable costs are expenses that fluctuate directly with the level of production or sales volume, like raw materials, direct labor, and sales commissions.¹ They vary in total but remain constant per unit. For example, if a company manufactures bicycles, the cost of the materials used to build each bike (like metal, tires, and chains) is a variable cost. The more bikes produced, the higher the total variable costs.

Fixed costs, on the other hand, are expenses that remain unchanged regardless of the production or sales volume, like rent, salaries, and insurance.¹ For example, a company must pay rent for its factory space and salaries for its administrative staff, regardless of how many products it manufactures.

Gross margin and contribution margin are both essential metrics in financial analysis, but they serve different purposes.

The gross margin measures the overall profitability of a company by comparing net income to total revenue, providing a broad view of financial health. It indicates how much of every dollar earned translates into profit after all expenses, including fixed and variable costs, are deducted.²

The contribution margin focuses specifically on the relationship between sales revenue of individual products and variable costs. It highlights how much revenue remains after covering variable costs to contribute towards fixed costs and profit.

Related financial metrics

The contribution margin is closely related to other financial metrics, like break-even analysis and cost-volume-profit (CVP) analysis. Break-even analysis helps determine the amount of revenue needed to cover total costs,³ while CVP analysis explores how changes in costs, sales volume, and prices affect profit.

By analyzing the contribution margin, businesses can understand how changes in sales volume, costs, and prices impact overall profit and identify the break-even point where total revenue equals total costs.

For businesses, the contribution margin is a powerful tool for strategic planning and operational management. It provides insights into which products or services are most profitable and helps identify areas where cost control measures can be implemented.

For example, a higher contribution margin indicates that a product is significantly contributing to covering fixed costs and generating profit, making it a potential focus for increased production or marketing efforts.

The importance of the contribution margin extends beyond just businesses and into personal finance, where people can apply similar financial literacy principles to manage their budgets. They can make better decisions about their spending and savings, focusing on reducing variable costs to increase their ‘personal contribution margin’ towards fixed expenses and savings goals.

The contribution margin is a vital metric that measures the profitability and efficiency of a product or service by quantifying how much revenue is contributing to fixed costs and profits after variable costs are covered.

Whether you’re a business owner or managing personal finances, understanding how to calculate and interpret the contribution margin can lead to better financial decisions, enhanced cost control, and, ultimately, greater profitability and financial success.

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1 Information from Corporate Finance Institute’s “Contribution Margin” as of June 28, 2024: https://corporatefinanceinstitute.com/resources/accounting/contribution-margin-overview/

2 Information from NetSuite’s “Contribution Margin: What It Is, How to Calculate It, and Examples” as of June 28, 2024: https://www.netsuite.com/portal/resource/articles/accounting/contribution-margin.shtml

3 Information from Corporate Finance Institute’s “Break Even Analysis” as of June 28, 2024: https://corporatefinanceinstitute.com/resources/accounting/break-even-analysis/

4 Information from Corporate Finance Institute’s “CVP Analysis Guide” as of June 28, 2024: https://corporatefinanceinstitute.com/resources/accounting/cvp-analysis-guide/

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