What is standard costing?

Definition of Standard Costing

Standard costing is an accounting system used by some manufacturers to identify the differences or variances between:

  • The actual costs of the goods that were produced, and
  • The costs that should have occurred for the actual goods produced

The costs that should have occurred for the actual good output are known as standard costs, which are likely integrated with a manufacturer's budgets, profit plan, master budget, etc. The standard costs involve the product costs, namely, direct materials, direct labor, and manufacturing overhead.

With standard costing, the general ledger accounts for inventories and the cost of goods sold contain the standard costs of the inputs that should have been used to make the actual good output. Differences between the actual costs and the standard costs will appear as variances, which can be investigated.

If the company spends more for the direct materials, direct labor, and/or manufacturing overhead than should have been spent, the company will not meet its projected net income. In other words, analysis of variances will direct management's attention to the production inefficiencies or higher input costs. In turn, management can take action to correct the problems, seek higher selling prices, etc.

Since the company's external financial statements must reflect the historical cost principle, the standard costs in the inventories and the cost of goods sold will need to be adjusted for the variances. Since most of the goods manufactured will have been sold, most of the variances will end up as part of the cost of goods sold.