Incremental Cost Vs. Marginal Cost

by Tony Oldhand; Updated September 26, 2017
Incremental and marginal costs are similar.

Every business has costs. These include the fixed costs, such as the electric bill, and variable costs, such as the cost of raw materials. Other costs are harder to define, such as the cost of expansion or the cost of warehousing extra products. Economists study these "hazy" costs in detail, and report on how the closely related incremental costs and marginal costs affect a business.

Understanding Incremental Cost

According to "The Free Dictionary," incremental cost is the cost of adding or subtracting one extra unit of product or output. For example, a restaurant is only allowed to seat 100 people, per the fire department regulations. The restaurant is doing well, and wants to seat 101 people or more. The owners will have to build an addition with extra fire escape doors. The restaurant will have to incur thousands of dollars of building costs for the addition, just to seat one extra person.

Understanding Marginal Cost

A marginal cost is slightly different from an incremental cost. According to the National Productivity Council of India, or NPCI, marginal cost is the original cost plus the extra cost of producing an extra unit of output, resulting in a total cost. In the restaurant example, the original pre-existing building costs are added in to the new cost of building the addition, resulting in a total cost.

Inter-Relationship of Costs

Both incremental and marginal costs are strongly interrelated -- they are almost the same. The overall understanding is that the total cost is affected by increasing or decreasing the output. Every time a company changes its output, both marginal and incremental costs parallel each other accordingly.

Differences of Costs

The NPCI notes that a small difference does exist between the two costs. This difference is more philosophical in nature than in "hard numbers." Marginal costs deal with adding or subtracting output. Incremental costs are based on the decision to add or subtract output. In the restaurant example, the owners calculate the cost of building the addition. The question, however, is to whether build the addition or not.

About the Author

Tony Oldhand has been technical writing since 1995. He has worked in the skilled trades and diversified into Human Services in 1998, working with the developmentally disabled. He is also heavily involved in auto restoration and in the do-it-yourself sector of craftsman trades. Oldhand has an associate degree in electronics and has studied management at the State University of New York.

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