19 Describe and Identify the Three Major Components of Product Costs under Job Order Costing

In order to set an appropriate sales price for a product, companies need to know how much it costs to produce an item. Just as a company provides financial statement information to external stakeholders for decision-making, they must provide costing information to internal managerial decision makers. Virtually every tangible product has direct materials, direct labor, and overhead costs that can include indirect materials and indirect labor, along with other costs, such as utilities and depreciation on production equipment. To account for these and inform managers making decisions, the costs are tracked in a cost accounting system.

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While the flow of costs is generally the same for all costing systems, the difference is in the details: Product costs have material, labor, and overhead costs, which may be assessed differently. In most production facilities, the raw materials are moved from the raw materials inventory into the work in process inventory. The work in process involves one or more production departments and is where labor and overhead convert the raw materials into finished goods. The movement of these costs through the work in process inventory is shown in (Figure).


The three general categories of costs included in manufacturing processes are direct materials, direct labor, and overhead. Note that there are a few exceptions, since some service industries do not have direct material costs, and some automated manufacturing companies do not have direct labor costs. For example, a tax accountant could use a job order costing system during tax season to trace costs. The one major difference between the home builder example and this one is that the tax accountant will not have direct material costs to track. The few assets used will typically be categorized as overhead.

A benefit of knowing the production costs for each job in a job order costing system is the ability to set appropriate sales prices based on all the production costs, including direct materials, direct labor, and overhead. The unique nature of the products manufactured in a job order costing system makes setting a price even more difficult. For each job, management typically wants to set the price higher than its production cost. Even if management is willing to price the product as a loss leader, they still need to know how much money will be lost on each product. To achieve this, management needs an accounting system that can accurately assign and document the costs for each product.

If you’re not familiar with the concept of a loss leader, a simple example might help clarify the concept. A loss leader is a product that is sold at a price that is often less than the cost of producing it in order to entice you to buy accessories that are necessary for its use. For example, you might pay $50 or $60 for a printer (for which the producer probably does not make any profit) in order to then sell you extremely expensive printer cartridges that only print a few pages before they have to be replaced. However, even pricing a product as a loss leader requires analysis of the three categories of costs: direct materials, direct labor, and overhead.

Direct Materials

Direct materials are those materials that can be directly traced to the manufacturing of the product. Some examples of direct materials for different industries are shown in (Figure). In order to respond quickly to production needs, companies need raw materials inventory on hand. While production volume might change, management does not want to stop production to wait for raw materials to be delivered. Further, a company needs raw materials on hand for future jobs as well as for the current job. The materials are sent to the production department as it is needed for production of the products.

Common Direct Materials by IndustryIndustryDirect Materials
AutomotiveIron, aluminum, glass, rubber
Cell phonesGlass, various metals, plastic
FurnitureWood, leather, vinyl
JewelryGold, silver, diamonds, rubies
PharmaceuticalsNatural or synthetic biological ingredients

Each job begins when raw materials are put into the work in process inventory. When the materials are requested for production, a materials requisition slip is completed and shows the exact items and quantity requested, along with the associated cost. The completed form is signed by the requestor and approved by the manager responsible for the budget.

Returning to the example of Dinosaur Vinyl’s order for Macs & Cheese’s stadium sign, (Figure) shows the materials requisition form for Job MAC001. This form indicates the quantity and specific items to be put into the work in process. It also transfers the cost of those items to the work in process inventory and decreases the raw materials inventory by the same amount. The raw materials inventory department maintains a copy to document the change in inventory levels, and the accounting department maintains a copy to properly assign the costs to the particular job.


Traditional billboards with the design printed on vinyl include direct materials of vinyl and printing ink, plus the framing materials, which consist of wood and grommets. The typical billboard sign is 14 feet high by 48 feet wide, and Dinosaur Vinyl incurs a vinyl cost of $300 per billboard. The price for the ink varies by color. For this job, Dinosaur Vinyl needs two units of black ink at a cost of $50 each, one unit of red ink and one unit of gold ink at a cost of $60 each, twelve grommets at a cost of $10 each, and forty units of wood at a cost of $1.50 per unit. The total cost of direct materials is $700, as shown in (Figure).

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For example, Dinosaur Vinyl determined that the direct labor cost is the appropriate driver to use when establishing an overhead rate. The estimated annual overhead cost for Dinosaur Vinyl is $250,000. The total direct labor cost is estimated to be $100,000, so the allocation rate is computed as shown:


(Figure) shows the journal entry to record the overhead allocation.