What is Step Cost Budgeting?

Step Cost Budgeting

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Step Cost Budgeting

“Step cost budgeting” isn’t a standard term in the same way that “step costs” are recognized in accounting and managerial contexts. However, the concept can be extrapolated from the understanding of step costs.

Step cost budgeting would involve planning and allocating financial resources in a manner that takes into consideration the nature of step costs in an organization’s cost structure.

Example of Step Cost Budgeting

Let’s use an example involving a school to illustrate the concept of step cost budgeting.


Imagine you manage a growing private school. As the number of students increases, you have to hire additional teachers. Each classroom can accommodate up to 30 students, and you hire one teacher for every classroom. Furthermore, when the number of students exceeds 500, you will need to build an additional facility.

Cost Structure:

  1. Salary for each teacher: $40,000/year.
  2. Construction and operational cost of an additional facility: $500,000/year.

Step Cost Budgeting Process:

1. Identify Step Cost Areas:

  • Salaries for teachers are step costs because they increase with every additional group of 30 students.
  • Construction and operational costs for new facilities are step costs because they increase every time student numbers exceed another multiple of 500.

2. Forecast Activity Levels: You expect student enrollment to increase to 560 students in the next academic year.

3. Calculate Costs for Each Step:

  • You will need 19 classrooms (560 ÷ 30 = 18.67, rounded up to 19).
  • This translates to 19 teachers, costing a total of 19 x $40,000 = $760,000 in salaries.
  • Since your student count exceeds 500, you’ll also need a new facility, adding an additional cost of $500,000.

4. Plan for Thresholds: You know that if the number of students approaches 600 (20 classrooms worth), you will need to hire an additional teacher. Moreover, if student enrollment approaches 1,000, you will need another facility. It’s essential to recognize these thresholds in your budgeting process to plan for potential cost increases.

5. Build Flexibility: Suppose there’s a sudden spike in applications due to the school’s rising reputation. You might need a contingency fund or flexible arrangements with temporary teaching staff until permanent hiring can be arranged.

6. Review and Adjust: Midway through the year, you find that the actual student enrollment is 585. Given this number, you’d need to hire another teacher, bringing the total cost of salaries to $800,000. However, the additional students’ tuition might offset this cost.


With step cost budgeting, the school is well-prepared to manage its resources. By understanding the thresholds at which costs will increase, they can budget effectively, ensuring they have the necessary funds to maintain the quality of education and infrastructure as the school grows.

The school might also make strategic decisions based on this budgeting method. For instance, they might consider ways to optimize the use of facilities or look into alternative teaching arrangements to mitigate the step costs associated with rapid growth.

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