What is Contribution Margin: Definition, Calculation, and Applications

Understanding the concept of contribution margin is crucial for businesses to analyze their financial performance and make informed decisions. This comprehensive lesson will cover the definition of contribution margin, how to calculate it, and its applications in various aspects of business operations.

Lesson Objectives:

By the end of this lesson, you will be able to:

  1. Define contribution margin and understand its significance in business.
  2. Calculate the contribution margin for a product or service.
  3. Analyze the contribution margin ratio.
  4. Apply the contribution margin concept in various business situations.

Part 1: Definition of Contribution Margin

Contribution margin refers to the revenue remaining after deducting the variable costs associated with producing a product or delivering a service. This remaining revenue contributes to covering fixed costs and generating profit. It is an important metric in cost-volume-profit (CVP) analysis and helps businesses assess their financial performance and make strategic decisions.

Part 2: Calculating Contribution Margin

To calculate the contribution margin, follow these steps:

  1. Identify variable costs: Variable costs are expenses that change in direct proportion to the production volume or the number of units sold. Examples include raw materials, direct labor, and sales commissions.
  2. Determine the selling price per unit: Find the selling price of each product or service.
  3. Calculate the contribution margin per unit: Subtract the variable cost per unit from the selling price per unit.

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

  1. Calculate the total contribution margin: Multiply the contribution margin per unit by the number of units sold.

Total Contribution Margin = Contribution Margin Per Unit × Number of Units Sold

Part 3: Contribution Margin Ratio

The contribution margin ratio is the percentage of each sales dollar that remains after covering variable costs. It is calculated as follows:

Contribution Margin Ratio = (Contribution Margin Per Unit / Selling Price Per Unit) × 100

A higher contribution margin ratio indicates that a larger portion of each sales dollar contributes to covering fixed costs and generating profit.

Part 4: Applications of Contribution Margin

Understanding and applying the concept of contribution margin can help businesses in various aspects of their operations, such as:

  1. Pricing decisions: By analyzing the contribution margin, businesses can set optimal prices for their products or services to maximize profitability.
  2. Break-even analysis: Contribution margin can be used to determine the break-even point, which is the number of units that must be sold to cover all costs (fixed and variable). This information is vital for setting sales targets and evaluating the feasibility of business plans.
  3. Product mix decisions: Contribution margin can help businesses decide which products or services to prioritize or discontinue by comparing their respective contribution margins. Products with higher contribution margins are generally more desirable, as they contribute more to covering fixed costs and generating profit.
  4. Cost control: Contribution margin analysis can help businesses identify areas with high variable costs and implement cost reduction strategies to improve overall profitability.


The contribution margin is a crucial financial metric that helps businesses assess their financial performance, make strategic decisions, and optimize profitability. By understanding its definition, calculation, and applications, businesses can make informed decisions related to pricing, product mix, break-even points, and cost control.

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