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High-Low Method


The High-Low Method is a cost estimation technique used in managerial accounting. It involves determining the fixed and variable costs associated with a business activity by examining the costs at both the highest and lowest levels of activity. The difference in cost between the highest and lowest activity levels is the variable cost, while the cost that remains constant is the fixed cost.


The phonetic spelling of “High-Low Method” is: /haɪ-loʊ ˈmɛθəd/

Key Takeaways

<ol><li>The High-Low Method is a straightforward cost estimation approach in managerial economics. It is used for separating a company’s mixed costs into fixed and variable components.</li><li>This method uses extreme values (highest and lowest) in available data set to calculate variable cost per unit and total fixed cost. Though easy to calculate, it may lack accuracy if the highest and lowest points are not representative of the overall data pattern.</li><li>Once the variable cost per unit and fixed costs are identified using the High-Low Method, these cost components can then be used for various financial forecasting and budgeting within the business.</li></ol>


The High-Low Method is an important business and finance term as it provides a simple approach for understanding cost behavior and estimating the variable and fixed components of a mixed cost. Businesses often deal with costs that have both fixed and variable elements, for instance, utility bills that include a constant base fee and a varying fee related to usage. By examining the highest and lowest levels of activity and the total costs at each level, the High-Low Method allows for the calculation of variable costs per unit and total fixed costs. This knowledge aids in business planning, budgeting, and cost control, ultimately supporting management decision-making and profitability.


The high-low method is a tool used in finance and business largely for the purpose of cost-estimating. It assists in estimating fixed and variable costs in a company based on the highest and lowest levels of activity during a certain period. The high-low method is particularly helpful in creating a cost function, which is instrumental in making budgetary projections, understanding cost relationships, and developing pricing strategies. Moreover, it is often used when it’s challenging to clearly distinguish between fixed and variable costs or when there’s no access to more sophisticated cost allocation methods. By accurately identifying and separating these costs, businesses can make informed decisions related to cost control, optimization, and revealing any patterns in business expenses that can be leveraged to enhance financial performance. Thereby, the high-low method plays a vital role in financial planning and analysis.


The high-low method is used in managerial accounting to determine a company’s variable and fixed costs. It’s a technique used to split mixed costs into either variable or fixed costs. Here are three real world examples:1. Utility Costs: A company may want to analyze its utility costs over a year to see if they can budget their expenses more efficiently. In some months, their utility bills may spike due to increased production (increased usage of power, heat, etc.), while in other months, the costs may be lower. By employing the high-low method here, a company can separate these utility costs into fixed costs (those that do not change despite changes in activity) and variable costs (those that increase or decrease based on the level of activity), which aids in more accurate forecasting.2. Telecommunication Expenses: Telecommunication companies often have mixed costs, which are a combination of fixed and variable costs. Using the high-low method, they can determine how much of their costs are fixed (such as salary of permanent employees, rental of office space, etc.) and how much are variable (like overtime pay, additional headcount during peak seasons, etc.), thus ensuring a more precise budgeting and prediction for future expenses.3. Retail Industry: In a clothing retail store, for example, the company has a mixed cost pertaining to sales personnel. They pay a fixed base salary to their employees but also a variable commission based on sales volume. By using the high-low method, they can separate these total labor costs into fixed (base salary) and variable (commission) portions for better planning and decision making.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

What is the High-Low Method in business?

The High-Low Method is a cost estimation technique used in managerial accounting. It’s used to determine the fixed and variable elements of a company’s costs.

How does the High-Low Method work?

The High-Low Method works by taking into consideration the highest and lowest levels of activity during a period. By comparing the total costs at both activity levels, companies can estimate the amount of fixed and variable costs.

What are the steps in the High-Low Method?

The first step is to identify the highest and lowest levels of activity during a period. Next, determine the total costs associated with the highest and lowest activities. Finally, by comparing these two points, calculate the variable cost per unit and fixed costs.

Why is the High-Low Method used?

The High-Low Method is used as it’s a straightforward and easy technique to separate a company’s fixed and variable costs. This understanding helps businesses in planning, controlling costs, and making strategic decisions.

What are the limitations of the High-Low Method?

The High-Low Method only considers two points, the highest and lowest levels of activity, which may not represent the typical cost behavior. External factors affecting the highest and lowest points may not be accounted for, causing skewed results.

How is the variable cost per unit calculated using the High-Low Method?

The variable cost per unit in the High-Low Method is calculated by subtracting the total cost at the lowest activity level from the total cost at the highest activity level. Then, divide the difference by the change in units between the high and low activities.

What type of businesses can use the High-Low Method?

Any business that seeks to understand its cost behavior, primarily those with production or operations, can use the High-Low Method. This includes industries like manufacturing, food, services, automotive, and more.

Does the High-Low Method account for semi-variable costs?

Yes, the High-Low Method can account for semi-variable costs. These costs have both a fixed and variable component, so this method helps distinguish between these two elements.

What is an example of the High-Low Method in use?

For example, a company incurs $20,000 in costs at its lowest activity level of 200 units and $30,000 at its highest level of 500 units. The difference in total cost is $10,000, and the difference in activity level is 300 units. So, the variable cost per unit is $10,000 divided by 300 units, which equals $33.33. The fixed cost can then be calculated by subtracting the total variable costs from total costs at either activity level.

Related Finance Terms

  • Variable Cost Per Unit
  • Fixed Costs
  • Cost Behavior Analysis
  • Total Mixed Costs
  • Cost Estimation

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