What Is Contribution Margin?

Team of business associates monthly meeting to plan a loan to buy real estate. And movable property to calculate and budget appropriately and save the most money.


      In the world of business, profitability is the ultimate goal. To achieve this, companies need to understand their costs and revenue streams to make informed decisions about pricing, product mix, and production levels. One metric that helps companies analyze their financial performance is contribution margin.

      In this article, we will be talking about what is a contribution margin, how do you calculate it and why it’s important for businesses to regularly monitor it.

      Contribution Margin – What Is It

      Team of business associates monthly meeting to plan a loan to buy real estate. And movable property to calculate and budget appropriately and save the most money.

      Contribution margin is a financial metric that represents the amount of money a company has left over after deducting all variable costs associated with producing and selling a product or service. In other words, it is the amount of revenue that remains to cover the company’s fixed costs and generate profit.

      Contribution Margin Formula – How to Calculate Contribution Margin and Contribution Margin Ratio

      So, how does contribution margin calculation look like? What is contribution margin ratio? How to find contribution margin ratio?

      The formula for calculating the contribution margin is as follows:

      Contribution Margin = Total Sales Revenue – Total Variable Costs


      • Total revenue is the total amount of money earned from the sale of a product or service
      • Total variable costs are the costs that vary with the level of production or sales, such as direct materials, direct labor, and variable overhead.

      If you want to calculate the contribution margin per unit, you can use this formula:

      Contribution Margin Per Unit = Selling Price Per Unit – Variable Cost Per Unit

      The contribution margin ratio shows the contribution margin as a percentage of sales revenue. It indicates what percentage of each dollar of revenue contributes to covering fixed costs and generating profit.

      The formula for calculating the contribution margin ratio is:

      Contribution Margin Ratio = (Contribution Margin / Sales Revenue) * 100

      By calculating the contribution margin ratio, businesses can better understand the relationship between their variable expenses and sales revenue, allowing them to make informed decisions about pricing, production levels, and resource allocation to maximize profitability.

      What Is a Good Contribution Margin

      We can talk about a good or satisfactory contribution margin ratio when it covers all of a company’s variable costs and contributes a sufficient amount toward covering its fixed costs and generating a profit.

      So, to put it simply, to have good contribution margin you need to have enough of the remaining revenue left to at least cover fixed expenses of your company.

      Why Is Contribution Margin Important for Businesses

      Calculating the company’s contribution margin is important for several reasons:

      1. Profitability Analysis: By calculating the contribution margin, companies can determine the profitability of individual products or services. This information helps managers make informed decisions about product pricing, production levels, and resource allocation to maximize profits.
      2. Break-even Analysis: Contribution margin is useful for determining the breakeven point, which is the level of sales required to cover all fixed and variable costs. Understanding the break-even point helps businesses set realistic sales targets, assess the viability of their operations, and evaluate the impact of changes in cost structures or pricing strategies.
      3. Cost Structure Insights: Analyzing contribution margin allows companies to better understand their cost structure, identifying the variable costs associated with each product or service. This information can help businesses identify areas for cost reduction and optimize their production processes.
      4. Decision-Making: Contribution margin is a valuable tool for evaluating potential business decisions, such as expanding product lines, entering new markets, or discontinuing underperforming products. By comparing the contribution margins of different products or services, managers can prioritize their resources and focus on the most profitable offerings.
      5. Sales Mix Optimization: Calculating the contribution margin of each product or service helps businesses determine the optimal sales mix to maximize overall profitability. Companies can use this information to promote high-margin products, adjust pricing strategies, or reallocate marketing resources to boost sales of more profitable items.
      6. Performance Evaluation: Contribution margin can be used as a key performance indicator (KPI) to evaluate the effectiveness of sales and marketing initiatives, as well as the efficiency of the production process. It allows businesses to compare the performance of different products, services, or divisions, and identify areas where improvements can be made.
      7. Scenario Analysis and Forecasting: Contribution margin can be used to conduct scenario analyses and create financial forecasts. By adjusting variables such as sales volume, price, or cost structure, companies can assess the potential impact of different scenarios on their profitability and make better-informed strategic decisions.
      8. Monitoring Business Health: Regularly calculating and tracking contribution margin helps businesses monitor their financial health. A declining contribution margin may indicate increased competition, rising variable costs, or other issues that need to be addressed to maintain profitability.
      9. Pricing Strategy: Understanding the contribution margin can inform pricing decisions. By knowing how much each product or service contributes to covering fixed costs and generating profit, businesses can develop pricing strategies that balance competitiveness with profitability.

      In short, calculating contribution margin offers numerous benefits for businesses, enabling them to analyze the company’s profitability, optimize resources, evaluate performance, and make informed strategic decisions. By regularly monitoring and using the contribution margin as a key metric, companies can better understand their cost structures and improve their overall financial performance.

      What Does Negative Contribution Margin Mean 

      Break Even Point - Kreidezeichnung

      A negative or low contribution margin occurs when the variable costs associated with producing a product or providing a service exceed the sales revenue generated by that product or service. In other words, the business is not generating enough revenue to cover the variable costs, resulting in a loss for each unit sold or service provided.

      A negative contribution margin can have several implications:

      • Pricing issues: The product or service may be underpriced, causing the business to lose money on each sale. A review of the pricing strategy might be necessary to ensure that prices are set at a level that covers variable costs and contributes to covering fixed costs and generating profit.
      • High variable costs: The business might be facing high variable costs, such as increased raw material costs or labor expenses. In this case, it may be necessary to explore cost reduction strategies, renegotiate contracts with suppliers, or improve production efficiency to lower variable costs.
      • Low sales volume: The negative contribution margin may be a result of low sales volume, which is not generating enough revenue to cover variable costs. This might require reassessing marketing strategies, improving product quality, or exploring new sales channels to boost sales.
      • Unprofitable product or service: A consistently negative contribution margin for a specific product, product line or service may indicate that it is inherently unprofitable. In this situation, businesses may need to consider discontinuing the product or service or significantly altering its cost structure or pricing strategy.

      It is important for businesses to identify the cause of a negative contribution margin and take appropriate action to address the issue. Continuously operating with a negative contribution margin is unsustainable, as it will eventually lead to financial losses and potentially threaten the viability of the business. That’s why businesses should aim to always have a positive contribution margin.

      What Is the Difference Between Contribution Margin and Gross Margin 

      The difference between the contribution margin and gross margin lies in the costs considered when calculating each metric:

      1. Contribution Margin: As mentioned earlier, this metric focuses on the difference between sales revenue and variable costs. Variable costs are expenses that change with the level of production or service provision, such as raw materials, direct labor, packaging and shipping expenses. The more products you manufacture, the higher variable costs.
      2. Gross Margin: This metric represents the difference between sales revenue and the cost of goods sold (COGS). Gross margin takes into account both variable and fixed expenses related to production, such as manufacturing overhead, but it does not include other fixed costs such as marketing, administrative, or research and development expenses. Gross margin is typically expressed as a percentage, and the formula to calculate it is:
        Gross Margin = (Sales Revenue – Cost of Goods Sold) / Sales Revenue * 100
        In summary, the main differences between contribution margin and gross margin are:

        1. Cost considerations: Contribution margin focuses on variable costs, while gross margin takes into account both variable and fixed costs related to production.
        2. Purpose: Contribution margin is used to assess the profitability of individual products or services and to determine the break-even point. Gross margin, on the other hand, is a broader measure of profitability that considers the efficiency of the production process.
        3. Financial reporting: Gross margin is more commonly reported on financial statements, such as the income statement, while contribution margin is usually used for internal analysis and decision-making purposes.
      3. Both metrics have their unique applications and provide valuable insights into a company’s financial health and operational efficiency. Businesses often use both metrics to make informed decisions about pricing, resource allocation, and overall business strategy.

      The Bottom Line

      Whether you’re a business owner, manager, or investor, understanding contribution margin can help you make better financial decisions and improve your bottom line. By regularly monitoring and making contribution margin analysis, you can optimize your operations and stay ahead of the competition in today’s dynamic business environment.

      Hopefully, after reading this article you’re more aware of why high contribution margin should be one of your company’s main goals. Simply put – the higher contribution margins, the higher operating profit and the more money a business has to cover fixed expenses. It’s as simple as that.

      Chad Deatherage

      Chad Deatherage

      Chad is a serial entrepreneur and founded Payment Savvy in 2011 armed with the goal of providing high-risk establishments with a pioneering and tailored payment processing solution that allows them to flourish. Having decades of knowledge in the financial services and debt recovery industries, he ensures every client receives the same level of expertise, resourcefulness, and strategic vision no matter the size of the organization. Always willing to push the envelope, Chad’s forward-thinking and leadership skills are responsible for Payment Savvy being on the map as an industry-leading payment processor.