Cost Allocation

Cost allocation is the process by which the indirect costs are distributed among different cost objects such as a project, a department, a branch, a customer, etc. It involves identifying the cost object, identifying and accumulating the costs that are incurred and assigning them to the cost object on some reasonable basis.

Cost allocation is important for both pricing and planning and control decisions. If costs are not accurately calculated, a business might never know which products are making money and which ones are losing money. If cost are mis-allocated, a business may be charging wrong price to its customers and/or it might be wasting resources on products that are wrongly categorized as profitable.

Cost allocation is a sub-process of cost assignment, which is the overall process of finding total cost of a cost object. Cost assignment involves both cost tracing and cost allocation. Cost tracing encompasses finding direct costs of a cost object while the cost allocation is concerned with indirect cost charge.

Steps in cost allocation process

Typical cost allocation mechanism involves:

  • Identifying the object to which the costs have to be assigned,
  • Accumulating the costs in different pools,
  • Identifying the most appropriate basis/method for allocating the cost.

Cost object

A cost object is an item for which a business need to separately estimate cost.

Examples of cost object include a branch, a product line, a service line, a customer, a department, a brand, a project, etc.

Cost pool

A cost pool is the account head in which costs are accumulated for further assignment to cost objects.

Examples of cost pools include factory rent, insurance, machine maintenance cost, factory fuel, etc. Selection of cost pool depends on the cost allocation base used. For example if a company uses just one allocation base say direct labor hours, it might use a broad cost pool such as fixed manufacturing overheads. However, if it uses more specific cost allocation bases, for example labor hours, machine hours, etc. it might define narrower cost pools.

Cost driver

A cost driver is any variable that ‘drives’ some cost. If increase or decrease in a variable causes an increase or decrease is a cost that variable is a cost driver for that cost.

Examples of cost driver include:

  • Number of payments processed can be a good cost driver for salaries of Accounts Payable section of accounting department,
  • Number of purchase orders can be a good cost driver for cost of purchasing department,
  • Number of invoices sent can be a good cost driver for cost of billing department,
  • Number of units shipped can be a good cost driver for cost of distribution department, etc.

While direct costs are easily traced to cost objects, indirect costs are allocated using some systematic approach.

Cost allocation base

Cost allocation base is the variable that is used for allocating/assigning costs in different cost pools to different cost objects. A good cost allocation base is something which is an appropriate cost driver for a particular cost pool.


T2F is a university café owned an operated by a student. While it has plans for expansion it currently offers two products: (a) tea & coffee and (b) shakes. It employs 2 people: Mr. A, who looks after tea & coffee and Mr. B who prepares and serves shakes & desserts.

Its costs for the first quarter are as follows:

Mr. A salary16,000
Mr. B salary12,000
Direct materials consumed in making tea & coffee7,000
Direct raw materials for shakes6,000
Music rentals paid800
Internet & wi-fi subscription500

Total tea and coffee sales and shakes sales were $50,000 & $60,000 respectively. Number of customers who ordered tea or coffee were 10,000 while those ordering shakes were 8,000.

The owner is interested in finding out which product performed better.


Salaries of Mr. A & B and direct materials consumed are direct costs which do not need any allocation. They are traced directly to the products. The rest of the costs are indirect costs and need some basis for allocation.

Cost objects in this situation are the products: hot beverages (i.e. tea & coffee) & shakes. Cost pools include rent, electricity, music, internet and wi-fi subscription and magazines.

Appropriate cost drivers for the indirect costs are as follows:

Rent10,000Number of customers
Electricity8,000United consumed by each product
Music rentals paid800Number of customers
Internet & wifi subscription500Number of customers
Magazines400Number of customers

Since number of customers is a good cost driver for almost all the costs, the costs can be accumulated together to form one cost pool called manufacturing overheads. This would simply the cost allocation.

Total manufacturing overheads for the first quarter are $19,700. Total number of customers who ordered either product are 18,000. This gives us a cost allocation base of $1.1 per customer ($19,700/18,000).

A detailed cost assignment is as follows:

Tea & CoffeeShakes
  Direct materials7,0006,000
  Manufacturing overheads allocated11,0008,800
Total costs34,00026,800
Profit earned16,00033,200

Manufacturing overheads allocated to Tea & Cofee = $1.1×10,000

Manufacturing overheads allocated to Shakes = $1.1×8,000

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