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What Is Break Even Analysis? 

Break even analysis is a calculation of the quantity sold which generates enough revenues to equal expenses. In securities trading, it is the point at which gains are equal to losses. 

In other words, break-even analysis examines and calculates the margin of safety that’s based on a company’s revenue – as well as related costs of running the organization.

What Is Break Even Analysis Used for?

A break-even analysis helps business owners determine when they'll begin to turn a profit, and can help them price their products with that in mind. Usually, management looks at this metric to help guide strategic decisions to grow or maintain the business.

Break-Even Analysis vs. Break-Even Point

Break-even analysis uses a calculation called the break even point (BEP) which provides a dynamic overview of the relationships among revenues, costs, and profits. More specifically, it looks at a company’s fixed costs in relation to profits that are earned from each unit sold. 

Break Even Analysis Varies Among Industries 

Typical variable and fixed costs differ widely among industries. This is why comparison of break-even points is generally most meaningful among companies within the same industry. The definition of a "high" or "low" break-even point should be made within this context.

Break Even Analysis Formula 

To calculate the number of unites a business needs to sell in order to break even, the formula is as follows:

To help you get a better idea of what everything means – and before we calculate a break-even analysis example – let’s take a look at each component:

Fixed Costs

Fixed costs are costs that do not change with the quantity of output. In other words, they’re not affected by sales. Examples include rent and insurance premiums, as well as fees paid for marketing or loan payments. 

Variable costs change depending on the amount of output. Examples include raw materials and labor that’s directly involved in a company's manufacturing process. 

Contribution Margin

The contribution margin is the amount left over (ie. the excess) after total variable costs are deducted from a product’s selling price.

Say that an item sells for $5,000 and your total variable costs are $3,000 per unit. Your contribution margin would be $2,000 (after subtracting $3,000 from $5,000). This amount is revenue that’ll be used to cover your fixed costs, which isn’t considered when calculating the contribution margin.

Earned Profit

Earned profit is the amount a business earns after taking into account all expenses. You can calculate this number by subtracting the costs that go into your company’s operations from your sales. 

Break Even Analysis Example

Marissa’s Restaurant only sells pepperoni pizza. Her variable expenses for each pizza include:

  • Flour: $0.50

  • Yeast: $0.05

  • Water: $0.01

  • Cheese: $3.00

  • Pepperoni: $2.00

Adding all of these costs together, we determine that she has $5.56 in variable costs per pizza. Based on the total variable expenses per pizza, Marissa must price her pizzas at $5.56 or higher to cover those costs. 

Her fixed expenses per month include:

  • Labor: $1,500

  • Rent: $3,000

  • Insurance: $200

  • Advertising: $500

  • Utilities: $450

In total, Marissa’s fixed costs are $5,650.

Let’s say that each pizza is sold for $10.00. Therefore the contribution margin is $4.44 ($10.00 - $5.56). 

To figure out how many pizzas (or units) Marissa needs to sell, take her fixed costs and divide them by the contribution margin:

$5,650 ÷ $4.44 = 1,272.5

This means the restaurant needs to sell at least 1,272.53 pizzas (rounded up to 1,273 whole pizzas), to cover their monthly fixed costs. (Note: If your product must be sold as whole units, you should always round up to find the break-even point.) Or, the restaurant needs to have at least $12,730 in sales (1,272.5 x $10) to reach the break-even point. 

Note: Some fixed costs increase after a certain level of revenue is reached. For example, if Marissa’s Restaurant begins selling 5,000 pizzas per month rather than 2,000, it might need to hire a second manager, thus increasing labor costs.

How to Calculate Break Even Analysis in Excel

Excel users can utilize Goal Seek (a tool that’s built into Excel itself) to calculate a break-even rate.  To do this, you’ll need to have an Excel break-even calculator set up. 

Step 1: Find Goal Seek 

Go to DATA → What-if Analysis → Goal Seek

Step 2: Enter Your Numbers Into the Break Even Point

In the inputs, enter: 

  • Set Cell = Contribution Margin Per Unit($I$12); 

  • To Value = 0; 

  • By Changing Sells = $B$30 i.e. How many units do you want to sell (see blue arrows). 

This tells Excel that you want to find the number of units that you will need to sell to break even. Click “Ok” and Excel will do the work for you.

Step 3: Review the Number of Units Required to Break Even 

Excel will automatically populate the required number of units to ensure that Contribution Margin is $0. 

If you are ok with the result, then click "ok" in the Goal Seek Status box and Excel will leave the breakeven number of units in place. If you click 'Cancel', Excel will revert back to what you had previously in those cells. 

Optional: Create A Scenario Simulator for Multiple Units of Sale 

If you want to see profitability based on many sales figures, then a scenario simulator may be helpful. 

To do this, In Excel, go to: DATA → What-if Scenario → Scenario Manager. Here, you can input multiple scenarios with different sales units. 

IA has recreated 3 scenarios as a starting point(Recession = 1000 Units; Normal = 1500 Units; Boom= 2000 Units)


To add a scenario, click “ADD,” provide a name (in this instance, “Example”), and make sure that the changing cell includes the number of units you want to change. Click “Ok.” 
Excel will then ask you to enter how many units you want this scenario to contain. In this instance, it is 3000 units. Click “Ok.”

If you click on a scenario and click “SHOW,” Excel will automatically update the expected sales figure and calculate the contribution margin. In the following screenshot, the chosen Example scenario has 3000 units.To view all your scenarios simultaneously, click on “Summary.” Excel will ask you which resulting cell you want to see. In order to see “Contribution Margin Per Unit,” our example set that to cell $I$12 and Excel inserted a new tab which shows the scenarios ($B$30 is our units of expected sale) plus the associated Contribution Margin Per Unit ($I1$12).

Biggest Benefits of Break-Even Analysis 

A break-even analysis is a great way to determine profitability in your business. In other words, it can show business owners and management how many units need to be sold in order to cover both fixed and variable expenses. It provides a specific benchmark or goal so businesses not only survive, but also remain profitable for years to come. 

Ask an Expert about Break-Even Analysis
At InvestingAnswers, all of our content is verified for accuracy by Rachel Siegel, CFA and our team of certified financial experts. We pride ourselves on quality, research, and transparency, and we value your feedback. Below you'll find answers to some of the most common reader questions about Break-Even Analysis.

How Can Break Even Analysis Help a Business? 

While a break-even analysis shows you how to find a break-even point, it’s useful to see whether your business plan is realistic. Assuming the product is successful, is it realistic to sell this many units each month to break even? 

Break-even analysis is usually done before starting a business or launching a product in order to determine the type of risk involved. It’s a useful way to determine whether or not the costs are worth launching your new business or product line. If you need to make an unrealistic volume of sales, you’ll either need to increase prices or lower variable and fixed costs. 

Break-Even Analysis vs. Contribution Margin

The contribution margin is used to calculate the break-even analysis (ie. the number of sales or units sold in order for a business to cover its costs). The purpose of calculating the contribution margin is to separate fixed costs from variable costs. It can help you determine how to price your product, and the amount of revenue/profit that can be generated from sales.

Rachel Siegel, CFA
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Rachel Siegel, CFA is one of the nation's leading experts at ensuring the accuracy of financial and economic text.  Her prestigious background includes over 10 years of experience in creating professional financial certification exams and another 20 years of college-level teaching.

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