Variable Costs

True Tamplin

Written by True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®
Updated on November 16, 2021

Variable Costs: Definition

Variable costs are total costs that vary in direct proportion to changes in productive output or activity. Examples of common variable costs include direct materials, direct labor, and sales commissions.

Variable Costs: Explanation

Variable costs change with rises or falls in production. For example, if production increases, a variable cost may also increase, and vice versa. Variable costs vary in total but the unit cost remains fixed.

Variable costs assume that a linear relationship exists between cost and volume of activity. The diagram below illustrates this relationship. Thus, fixed costs are constant in total, whereas variable costs are constant per unit.
Visualization of Variable Cost


Examples of variable costs are direct materials, direct labor, factory supplies, fuel, power, small tools, royalties, and freight.

Characteristics of Variable Costs

  1. Variable costs vary in total in direct proportion to volume
  2. Per unit variable cost remains fixed
  3. Variable costs can be assigned easily and accurately to operating departments
  4. The heads of departments are responsible for controlling variable costs
True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®

About the Author
True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®

True Tamplin is a published author, public speaker, CEO of UpDigital, and founder of Finance Strategists.

True contributes to his own finance dictionary, Finance Strategists, and has spoken to various financial communities such as the CFA Institute, as well as university students like his Alma mater, Biola University, where he received a bachelor of science in business and data analytics.

To learn more about True, visit his personal website, view his author profile on Amazon, his interview on CBS, or check out his speaker profile on the CFA Institute website.

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