The difference between the two cost classifications is that prime costs only relate to direct material and direct labor costs, while conversion costs only include direct labor costs and factory overhead costs. Conversion costs can be considered to layer on top of prime costs, where they are needed to convert raw materials into finished goods. Prime costs do not, however, include any indirect costs like factory overhead or administrative expenses.

The production of goods and services involves many different kinds of expenses. A prime cost refers to an entity’s expense directly related to the materials and labor used in production. The word prime stems from the Latin word  ‘prôtos’, which means first in existence, or the first in order. Just as prime numbers are indivisible, prime costs refer to the direct costs of raw materials and labor that are essential to manufacturing a product. Conversion costs are the expenses to turn, or convert, your raw materials into finished goods. Management tends to use prime costs to focus on improving the overall production process and making cost objects more efficient.

One reason why indirect costs are excluded from the prime cost calculation is that they can be difficult to quantify and allocate. Overhead costs impact prime cost analysis by increasing the total cost of production, thus influencing a product or service’s final profitability and pricing decisions. Breaking down the direct expenses of raw materials and labor helps organizations identify which production components cost more than anticipated. It enables management to make informed decisions, optimize resource allocation, and eliminate wasteful practices.

  1. A woodworker manufacturing a chair would count lumber and fabric as direct materials.
  2. A positive contribution margin suggests sales and production generate profits, whereas a negative contribution margin indicates the opposite.
  3. Rather, such expenses are considered as indirect labor which goes to the entity’s total manufacturing overhead cost (discussed later in this article).
  4. Businesses allocate overhead costs among their products based on the amount of indirect resources used to manufacture them.
  5. A key focus of a company’s product design staff is to reduce the prime cost per unit sold, so that the business can realize a larger profit.
  6. Because prime cost only considers direct costs, it does not capture the total cost of production.

Prime cost calculation does not include the indirect cost, so it is incomplete. It will not provide a complete picture of the cost in the production process. Many overheads are excluded, such as electricity bill, manager salary, and other costs which keep the factory running. Prime Cost excludes the other indirect material and labor, which will consider as the overhead. It refers to the main costs of production that have a huge impact on the final product. For example, a woodworker’s wages are considered direct labor, but a supervisor’s pay is indirect labor and would be part of manufacturing overhead.

Yes, prime cost analysis can be used in service-based industries by considering direct expenses related to delivering services, such as labor and materials, to assess cost efficiency and pricing strategies. No, the prime cost can vary across industries depending on the nature of their production processes and the composition of direct expenses involved in manufacturing goods or providing services. You can create budgets with a detailed breakdown of direct material costs, direct labor expenses, and other direct production costs, helping companies set realistic targets and allocate resources efficiently. Compared to direct costs, indirect costs are not included in the calculation of prime costs.

All businesses require prime cost analysis to understand the direct expenses of producing goods or services and set competitive pricing. Even service-based businesses can benefit from prime cost analysis when calculating the direct costs of delivering their services, enabling them to better manage and control costs. Prime costs do not include indirect costs, such as allocated factory overhead. Administrative costs are generally not included in the prime cost category. In many businesses, this means that the majority of all costs incurred are not prime costs. Prime costs are the direct costs involved in production, including raw materials and labor.

Chemicals, paints, supplies, and other materials used by this department all go into its prime costs. Management can analyze the amount of direct costs stemming from this department and target ways to improve processes to decrease consumption. Each cost object has different costs that management can use to analyze processes.

By contrast, overhead costs refer to costs that are indirectly related to production, which include electricity, rent, or salaries, among others. Direct labor costs include the salaries, wages, and benefits paid to employees who work on the finished products. Compensation paid to machinists, painters, or welders is common in calculating prime costs. By calculating the prime cost, businesses can accurately determine the cost of each production unit, which can then be used to set prices for their products or services. Additionally, knowing the prime cost can help businesses identify areas where they can reduce costs to increase profitability. More indirect costs such as utilities, manager salaries, and delivery costs are also excluded from prime costs.

Businesses in the restaurant industry need to strike a balance between profitability and the need to create unique, mouth-watering meals with high-quality ingredients. In this industry, the various food and beverage items that a restaurant uses to build its menu are its raw materials. In manufacturing, raw materials might include metals, plastics, hardware, fabric, and paint. For a furniture manufacturer, the raw materials might be lumber, hardware, paint, and varnish.

Prime Costs Vs. Conversion Costs – What are the Key Difference?

Businesses calculate prime costs when analyzing manufacturing expenses, efficiency, and profitability. Prime cost includes direct expenses like raw materials and direct labor, while conversion cost comprises direct labor and manufacturing overhead expenses, business phone plans excluding raw materials. These other expenses are considered manufacturing overhead expenses and are included in the calculation of the conversion cost. The conversion cost takes labor and overhead expenses into account, but not the cost of materials.

Factor impact Prime Cost

The main difference between prime cost and variable cost is that prime cost includes all of the company’s fixed expenses, while variable cost only includes the costs that fluctuate with production. Additionally, prime cost is more stable and easier to predict than variable cost. This formula shows that prime cost is the sum of all the production costs (those that are directly incurred) relative to the manufacture of goods. Any direct expenses other than material and labor are included in the prime cost, irrespective of whether they are variable, semi-variable, or stepped fixed. Then, you will also need to know the total direct labor incurred and directly contributing to the products.

Challenges in managing and calculating prime cost

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Formula for Calculating Prime Costs

The two components of prime cost formula are direct materials and direct labor. Prime costs are the costs directly incurred to create a product or service. These costs are useful for determining the contribution margin of a product or service, as well as for calculating the absolute minimum price at which a product should be sold. However, since prime costs do not include overhead costs, they are not good for calculating prices that will ensure long-term profitability. Prime costs are all of the costs that are directly attributed to the production of each product.


After almost a decade of experience in public accounting, he created to help people learn accounting & finance, pass the CPA exam, and start their career. Harold Averkamp (CPA, MBA) has worked as a university accounting instructor, accountant, and consultant for more than 25 years. At Finance Strategists, we partner with financial experts to ensure the accuracy of our financial content. The company is allowed to allocate the cost of building, machines, computers, innovations, and other assets that qualify as capital assets over a period of time through the systematic way called depreciation.

This cost will be excluded from the profit mark up by the supplier or contractor. Snack Shack’s direct labor cost is $70,000 ($15,000 Rhonda’s wages + $15,000 Jose’s wages + $40,000 Amelia’s wages). Since James doesn’t cook or serve, his earnings don’t count in the direct labor calculation.

These costs are considered conversion costs because they are required to covert raw materials into finished goods. You might be thinking that direct labor also helps convert materials into salable products. Examples of these costs include expenses on raw materials and direct labor. In contrast, total production cost encompasses all costs incurred in the production process, including direct expenses and factory overhead costs. Prime costs are a firm’s expenses directly related to the materials and labor used in production.

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