Difference Wiki

Activity-Based Costing vs. Traditional Costing: What's the Difference?

Edited by Harlon Moss || By Janet White || Published on December 13, 2023
Activity-Based Costing allocates costs based on activities, while Traditional Costing applies costs based on volume measures like labor or machine hours.

Key Differences

Activity-Based Costing (ABC) identifies and assigns costs to specific activities, offering a more accurate reflection of resource usage. Traditional Costing methods allocate overhead costs based on a single cost driver like machine hours, often leading to less precise cost allocation.
In ABC, costs are assigned based on the actual consumption of resources, allowing for better understanding of where and how costs are incurred. Traditional Costing, on the other hand, may oversimplify cost allocation, often ignoring the complexities of modern production processes.
ABC is particularly useful in complex environments with diverse products and services, as it highlights non-value adding activities. Traditional Costing tends to work best in simpler, more homogeneous production settings where overhead costs are relatively uniform across products.
The implementation of ABC can be more costly and time-consuming due to its detailed approach to tracking activities. Traditional Costing is simpler and less expensive to implement, making it a feasible option for smaller businesses with limited resources.
ABC provides detailed insight into the cost structure of a company, aiding in strategic decision-making, while Traditional Costing might lead to less informed decisions due to its less detailed nature.

Comparison Chart

Cost Allocation Basis

Activities performed
Volume measures like labor or machine hours


Higher, reflects actual resource usage
Lower, can oversimplify cost allocation


More complex and detailed
Simpler and more general

Implementation Cost

Higher, due to detailed tracking
Lower, easier to implement


Better for complex, diverse environments
Better for simpler, homogeneous environments

Activity-Based Costing and Traditional Costing Definitions

Activity-Based Costing

Activity-Based Costing is a method where costs are allocated to products and services based on the activities they require.
Implementing activity-based costing helped the company identify inefficient processes.

Traditional Costing

This method tends to work best in less complex production environments with uniform products.
Their small-scale operation benefited from the simplicity of traditional costing.

Activity-Based Costing

Activity-Based Costing focuses on identifying cost drivers and tracing overhead costs to specific activities.
The activity-based costing system helped in better budgeting and resource allocation.

Traditional Costing

It is simpler and less expensive to implement compared to activity-based costing.
The startup chose traditional costing due to its ease of implementation and lower cost.

Activity-Based Costing

ABC assigns costs based on the actual consumption of resources, promoting more accurate product costing.
Activity-based costing revealed the true cost of their flagship product.

Traditional Costing

Traditional Costing can result in inaccurate product costing in diverse and complex environments.
Traditional costing led to mispriced products in their varied product line.

Activity-Based Costing

Activity-Based Costing is ideal for complex environments with diverse products and indirect costs.
The diverse product range of the company necessitated a switch to activity-based costing.

Traditional Costing

Traditional Costing is less detailed and often applies a blanket rate across all products.
Using traditional costing, the company applied the same overhead rate to all its products.

Activity-Based Costing

ABC aids in uncovering non-value adding activities by allocating costs more precisely.
Activity-based costing showed areas where the company could cut costs without affecting quality.

Traditional Costing

Traditional Costing allocates overhead costs based on a single measure like labor or machine hours.
Traditional costing simplified the company's overhead allocation but lacked precision.


What is Activity-Based Costing?

A costing method that allocates costs based on the activities required to produce a product or service.

Why might a company choose ABC over Traditional Costing?

For more precise costing and uncovering of non-value adding activities.

What is Traditional Costing?

A cost allocation method that uses volume measures like labor or machine hours.

Is Traditional Costing suitable for complex businesses?

No, it’s better suited for simpler, less varied business models.

Can Traditional Costing lead to cost misallocation?

Yes, due to its oversimplified approach.

Is Traditional Costing still relevant today?

Yes, especially for businesses with limited complexity.

Can Traditional Costing be used in manufacturing?

Yes, particularly in less complex manufacturing environments.

Is ABC more expensive to implement than Traditional Costing?

Yes, due to its detailed and complex nature.

Is Traditional Costing easier to understand?

Yes, due to its simpler approach.

How does ABC differ in accuracy from Traditional Costing?

ABC is more accurate as it reflects actual resource usage, unlike Traditional Costing.

What type of businesses benefit most from Traditional Costing?

Smaller businesses or those with homogeneous products.

How do companies transition from Traditional to ABC?

By gradually implementing ABC for more detailed cost tracking.

Do industries with diverse products prefer ABC?

Yes, due to its ability to handle complexity and variety.

How does ABC impact strategic decision-making?

It provides detailed cost insights, aiding in more informed decisions.

Does ABC help in reducing unnecessary expenses?

Yes, by identifying and eliminating non-value adding activities.

Does ABC require more data collection than Traditional Costing?

Yes, it requires detailed tracking of activities.

How does ABC affect product pricing?

It can lead to more accurate pricing by reflecting true product costs.

Can Traditional Costing be integrated with modern accounting software?

Yes, though it may not provide as detailed insights as ABC.

Can Traditional Costing be misleading in some cases?

Yes, especially in businesses with a wide range of products.

Is ABC suitable for service industries?

Yes, as it accurately assigns costs to various service activities.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.

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