How to calculate and use the total cost formula
Blog //14-11-2023

How to calculate and use the total cost formula

by Ben Franklin, Senior Content Executive

In the world of finance, data is everything. Comprehending the total cost involved in your business’s operations forms the backbone of astute decision-making, effective expense management, and sustained profitability. 

In this article, we’ll explore the entire concept of total cost. This will involve giving you the tools needed to accurately calculate this critical figure, while also illuminating its profound impact on the tactics of your business.

What is total cost?

Total cost is a financial metric that represents the overall expenditure spent by businesses in their quest to produce goods or services. It is a critical component of financial analysis, enabling them to evaluate their performance, manage costs effectively, and make strategic decisions. Total cost formula offers a comprehensive view of a company's financial condition. This data helps decision-makers to grasp their company's cost framework, pinpoint potential areas for cost reduction, and formulate strategies that enhance profitability and facilitate growth.

What is the purpose of total cost in business?

In relation to a business’s financial performance, the total cost number plays an instrumental role. Firstly, it helps to determine the break-even point (a critical juncture at which total revenue equals total cost). This benchmark signifies that a company has covered all its costs without incurring a loss or a profit. Understanding the break-even point is pivotal as it can highlight the volume of production or sales required to cover all costs.

Total cost is also integral for product pricing. By having a clear understanding of the product production sum, organisations can set competitive prices that still cover the desired profit margins.

It serves as an important indicator of overall profitability too. With this data, companies can gauge their financial health, measure operational efficiency, and evaluate the return on investment for different projects.

Is total expenditure the same as total cost?

When finance teams are seeking this number, it’s key that they’re able to differentiate between total expenditure and total cost. While they might appear synonymous at first glance, they represent distinct concepts.

Total expenditure refers to the aggregate sum of money that a business spends on goods or services. This could encompass expenses such as the purchase of raw materials, payment of wages, marketing costs, and more. It is a straightforward financial metric that quantifies the outflow of cash for operational activities.

In contrast, the concept of total cost, as we’ve touched upon, carries a broader scope. It not only includes explicit costs, which align with total expenditure, but also takes into account implicit costs. Explicit costs pertain to the direct, tangible expenses accrued, which are typically documented in the company's financial records.

Whereas implicit costs denote the opportunity cost incurred when resources are allocated in one manner rather than another. For instance, when a business owner invests time in their enterprise, there exists an implicit cost in terms of potential earnings foregone by not using that time elsewhere. These costs may not involve a direct monetary outlay, yet they represent genuine expenditure which warrants consideration.

The importance of calculating total spend

Aside from the benefits already highlighted, the total spend calculation also serves as a critical tool for financial budgeting and forecasting.

Total spend can illuminate previously unseen spending patterns, offering detailed insights into where resources are being allocated. This level of scrutiny can help reveal areas of overspending so that corrective measures can be taken. On the flip side, it can also highlight areas of potential savings through optimisation.

By understanding your total spend, you can create accurate and realistic plans that are aligned with both your needs and objectives

It can also help CFOs to avoid cost reduction mistakes while also prioritising the areas that generate the highest return on investment.

How do you calculate the total cost?

Calculating the total cost involves the summation of both fixed and variable costs related to the production of a good or service. This combined figure helps companies to have a full view of their expenditures.

Fixed costs are outgoings that do not change regardless of the level of output. They remain constant irrespective of the volume of goods or services produced. Examples of fixed costs include rent, salaries, insurance, and depreciation.

Variable costs, however, change depending on the level of production. In other words, they increase as more goods or services are produced and decrease when production levels fall. Examples of variable costs include raw materials, direct labour costs, and utilities like electricity and water used in the production process.

Total cost formula

The formula used to calculate the total cost figure is most commonly expressed in the following way:

TC (Total Cost)= TFC (Total Fixed Costs) + TVC (Total Variable Costs)

How to calculate the average total cost

The calculation of the average total cost (ATC) is slightly different It provides insight into the per-unit production cost, equipping companies to establish prices that not only encompass costs but also yield an appropriate profit margin.

The formula for this calculation is as follows:

ATC (Average Total Cost)= TC (Total Cost) / Q (Quantity of Output)

How often should finance teams use the total cost formula?

For any finance team, regular use of the total cost formula is paramount. This knowledge is essential regardless of the size of an organisation. However, it becomes increasingly complex and challenging for larger companies. This is due to their varied and extensive portfolios of products/services, as well as the sheer volume and diversity of costs involved.

The frequency of total cost analysis typically aligns with the financial reporting cycle of a company, which is usually quarterly. However, this can vary depending on their specific needs and circumstances. 

When confronted with a substantial operational shift, there may be a heightened need for more frequent cost analysis in order to fulfil timely and informed decision-making.

Consider a manufacturing enterprise, for instance. They might find it essential to regularly compute total manufacturing costs, so they can manage factors such as raw material inventory, labour expenses, and overhead outlays. In the event of a sudden surge in raw material prices or labour costs, they must promptly recalibrate their pricing strategy to sustain profitability. This requires a grasp of costs.

Similarly, a large organisation with a diverse product portfolio may conduct weekly or even daily total cost analyses for different product lines. This enables them to specifically monitor and manage the profitability of each product.

Optimise business operations with total cost management

Understanding and managing the total cost is key to optimising business operations and maintaining profitability. Implementing effective total cost management strategies can help streamline this process and provide valuable insights for decision-making.

One of the key advantages of using a Cloud-based accounting software, like Advanced Financials, is that it provides clear visibility of financial performance with current/accurate financial data all held in a single location. It also facilitates the automation of mundane accounting tasks, so the finance team can focus on more strategic and value-adding activities.

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Ben Franklin

Ben Franklin


Senior Content Executive

Ben joined Advanced in February 2021, bringing a wealth of research and writing experience with him. He is responsible for creating thought-provoking and insightful content for those in the finance space. Ben has become a financial sector expert through his extensive research, interactions with customers, and exposure to our accounting solutions.

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