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A Step-by-Step Guide to Absorption Costing

Shawn Coultice
Posted by Shawn Coultice on Sep 18, 2023 12:05:35 PM

Absorption costing is viewed as the cornerstone of cost accounting in manufacturing businesses and plays a pivotal role in financial decision-making and performance evaluation.  

For accountants in the manufacturing sector, understanding absorption costing is more than just a prerequisite - it guides them through the complexities of:  

  • Allocating costs 
  • Pricing products 
  • Assessing profitability 

In this article, we’ll explore the fundamental concept of absorption costing for accounting in manufacturing. 

Absorption Costing Explained 

Absorption costing, also known as full costing, is a comprehensive managerial accounting method aimed at allocating all costs associated with manufacturing a product, including both fixed and variable expenses.  

Unlike variable costing, which considers only variable costs, absorption costing encompasses all expenses linked to production, such as: 

  • Direct materials 
  • Direct labor 
  • Variable overhead 
  • Fixed overhead 

This inclusive approach ensures that indirect and fixed costs like rent, depreciation, and supervisory salaries are properly incorporated into the product's cost structure, providing a more realistic assessment of manufacturing expenses. 

Common Absorption Costs Found in Manufacturing Businesses 

Direct Materials Cost 

This includes the cost of all materials that are directly used in the manufacturing process. These materials can be easily traced to a specific product, such as raw materials and components. 

Direct Labor Cost 

Direct labor costs are the wages and benefits paid to employees who are directly involved in the production of a product. These are individuals whose efforts can be directly attributed to a specific product's manufacturing. 

Variable Manufacturing Overhead 

Variable manufacturing overhead costs are indirect costs that fluctuate with changes in production levels. Examples include costs related to electricity, water, and supplies used in the manufacturing process. 

Fixed Manufacturing Overhead 

Fixed manufacturing overhead costs remain constant regardless of the level of production. These include expenses like rent for the manufacturing facility, depreciation on machinery, and salaries of supervisors. 

Indirect Materials Cost 

These are materials that are not directly traceable to a specific product but are still essential for the manufacturing process. A few things that fall into this category include:  

  • Lubricants 
  • Cleaning supplies 
  • Safety equipment 

Indirect Labor Cost 

Indirect labor costs are associated with employees who do not directly engage in the production of a particular product. Examples include: 

  • Maintenance staff 
  • Quality control inspectors 
  • Janitors 


This is the allocation of the cost of machinery and equipment over their useful life. Depreciation is considered a fixed cost in absorption costing because it remains constant regardless of production levels. 

Utilities and Rent 

Costs associated with the manufacturing facility, such as rent, electricity, water, and heating, are included in absorption costing as part of the fixed manufacturing overhead. 

Property Taxes and Insurance 

These are expenses related to the manufacturing facility, and they are considered fixed costs. 

Production Supervision 

The salaries and benefits of supervisors and managers overseeing the production process are classified as fixed manufacturing overhead. 

Quality Control Costs 

Expenses incurred to ensure the quality of the products being manufactured, such as inspections and testing, are included in the absorption cost. 

Materials Handling 

Costs associated with the movement and storage of materials within the manufacturing facility are considered indirect costs and are part of absorption costing. 

Calculating Absorption Cost For Manufacturing Businesses 

Calculating absorption cost involves summing up all the direct and indirect costs associated with the production of a specific product. 

The formula for absorption costing is: 


Total Cost of a Product = Direct Materials Cost + Direct Labor Cost + Variable Manufacturing Overhead + Fixed Manufacturing Overhead


Absorption Costing Example 

Let's walk through an example of absorption costing to illustrate how it works. Suppose we have a fictional company called XYZ Manufacturing that produces a single product, Widget X. 

Cost Components: 

  • Direct Materials Cost: $10 per unit 
  • Direct Labor Cost: $5 per unit 
  • Variable Manufacturing Overhead: $3 per unit 
  • Fixed Manufacturing Overhead: $20,000 per month (for the entire production facility)

Now, let's calculate the total cost of manufacturing one unit of Widget X using absorption costing: 


Total Cost of Widget X = Direct Materials Cost + Direct Labor Cost + Variable Manufacturing Overhead + Fixed Manufacturing Overhead 


Total Cost of Widget X = $10 + $5 + $3 + ($20,000 / Number of Units Produced) 

Suppose XYZ Manufacturing produces 2,000 units of Widget X in a month. 

Total Cost of Widget X = $10 + $5 + $3 + ($20,000 / 2,000) 

Total Cost of Widget X = $10 + $5 + $3 + $10 

Total Cost of Widget X = $28 per unit 

In this example, using absorption costing, the total cost of manufacturing one unit of Widget X is $28. This cost includes both variable costs (direct materials, direct labor, and variable manufacturing overhead) and a portion of the fixed manufacturing overhead (which is allocated based on the number of units produced). 

It's important to note that even if XYZ Manufacturing doesn't sell all 2,000 units produced in a given month and some units remain in inventory, the full $20,000 of fixed manufacturing overhead is still allocated to the units produced during that month.  

This characteristic of absorption costing can lead to differences in reported profits compared to variable costing, especially when there are changes in production levels and inventory levels. 

Why Use the Absorption Costing Method?  

The key advantage of absorption costing is that it provides businesses with a precise understanding of product costs, aiding in: 

  • Pricing strategies 
  • Profitability assessments 
  • Production decisions 

This is important for financial reporting and decision-making because it takes into account both variable and fixed production costs.  

It facilitates the evaluation of production efficiency, cost-cutting opportunities, and the financial consequences of production volume changes. Additionally, absorption costing aligns with generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP), making it the preferred method for: 

  • External financial reporting 
  • Promoting transparency 
  • Ensuring compliance with regulatory standards 

Absorption costing serves as a vital tool for manufacturing companies, enabling them to make well-informed financial decisions, manage costs efficiently, and maintain financial transparency, ultimately contributing to optimized performance and profitability. 

Need Help with Proper Absorption Costing?  

Absorption costing has some limitations, and it can be challenging to assess the impact of changes in production levels on profitability since fixed overhead costs remain constant.  

Additionally, when there is unsold inventory, absorption costing can result in higher reported profits because fixed overhead costs are deferred into inventory until the products are sold.

Tools like Katana help address these challenges, providing real-time insights into inventory, assisting with inventory optimization, offering scenario analysis tools, and automating cost tracking.  

This enables businesses to make informed decisions and maintain accurate financial records in a complex manufacturing environment. 

Topics: Inventory


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