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Limitations of contribution costing

Business Studies Notes and

Related Essays

Approaches to Costing

 A Level/AS Level/O Level

Your Burning Questions Answered!

Critically evaluate the different approaches to costing, highlighting the advantages and limitations of each one.

Discuss the limitations of contribution costing and explain how these limitations can impact financial decision-making.

Compare and contrast absorption costing and variable costing, identifying the key differences between these two costing methods.

Analyze the role of activity-based costing in addressing the limitations of traditional costing systems.

Discuss the implications of the limitations of contribution costing for budgeting, planning, and performance evaluation within organizations.

Approaches to Costing

Costing is the process of determining the cost of producing a good or service. It's essential for businesses to understand their costs so they can set prices, make informed decisions about production, and ultimately, ensure profitability. There are different approaches to costing, each with its own strengths and weaknesses.

1. Absorption Costing


Absorption costing, also known as full costing, includes all manufacturing costs (direct materials, direct labor, and manufacturing overhead) in the cost of a product. This means both fixed and variable costs are allocated to the product.


Let's say a bakery makes cakes. The cost of flour (direct materials), the baker's salary (direct labor), and the rent for the bakery (manufacturing overhead) would all be included in the cost of each cake under absorption costing.


  • Provides a more comprehensive view of product costs by reflecting all costs involved.
  • It is required for external reporting under GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles).


  • Can be misleading when used for decision-making, especially in the short term.
  • Can lead to overproduction, as businesses may be tempted to produce more units to spread fixed costs over a larger volume.

2. Contribution Costing


Contribution costing, also known as marginal costing, only includes variable costs in the cost of a product. Fixed costs are not allocated to products and are treated as a period cost.


For the bakery, the cost of flour and the baker's wages would be included in the cost of each cake under contribution costing. The rent for the bakery would be treated as a period cost and not allocated to individual cakes.


  • Provides a clear picture of the profit contribution of each product.
  • Useful for short-term decision-making, such as pricing, accepting special orders, and determining the optimal production level.


  • Doesn't reflect the full cost of the product, as fixed costs are ignored.
  • Not suitable for external reporting.

3. Activity-Based Costing (ABC)


Activity-based costing (ABC) is a more refined approach to costing that seeks to identify and track the costs of specific activities that drive costs. This allows for a more accurate allocation of costs to products and services.


A car manufacturer might use ABC to identify the costs associated with different activities like design, manufacturing, and delivery. They might find that certain car models require more design time or more complex manufacturing processes, leading to higher costs.


  • More accurate allocation of costs, especially for companies with a diverse product mix.
  • Provides valuable information for cost management and efficiency improvements.


  • Can be complex and costly to implement.
  • Requires a lot of data collection and analysis.

Limitations of Contribution Costing

Despite its advantages, contribution costing has several limitations:

1. Ignores Fixed Costs:

By excluding fixed costs, contribution costing may present an incomplete picture of the true cost of a product. This can lead to poor decision-making, especially in the long term.

2. Not Suitable for External Reporting:

Contribution costing doesn't comply with GAAP standards, making it unsuitable for external financial reporting.

3. Oversimplification:

While contribution costing is useful for short-term decision-making, it can oversimplify complex cost structures. It may not be appropriate for companies with a wide range of products or services.

4. Can Lead to Over-Emphasis on Short-Term Profits:

Focusing solely on variable costs can lead companies to make decisions that maximize short-term profits at the expense of long-term sustainability.

Real-World Examples:

  • Start-up Businesses: Contribution costing is often used by start-ups to determine their breakeven point and understand the profitability of their products.
  • Manufacturing Companies: Companies with a high volume of production can benefit from using contribution costing to analyze the profitability of different product lines.
  • Service Industries: Companies offering services, such as consulting or software development, may use contribution costing to track the cost of providing each service.

In conclusion,

choosing the right costing approach depends on the specific circumstances of the business. Absorption costing provides a comprehensive picture of costs but may not be ideal for short-term decisions. Contribution costing offers valuable insights into contribution margins but ignores fixed costs. Activity-based costing provides a more detailed and accurate view of costs but can be complex and costly to implement. Each approach has its advantages and limitations, and understanding these differences is essential for making informed decisions about pricing, production, and profitability.

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