Fixed vs. Variable Expenses: Breaking it Down Simply

Ana Gotter on December 27, 2023

Ever wonder why some businesses, especially startups and subscription-based ones, struggle with cash flow? It turns out that managing expenses is super important, and a whopping 82% of small businesses that shut down cite cash flow problems as the culprit.

So, let's talk expenses, but let's keep it simple. We're diving into fixed and variable expenses, what they are, how they affect your business, and why knowing the difference can be a game-changer for your budget.

What Are Fixed Expenses?

Imagine expenses that are like your Netflix subscription; they don't change much from month to month. These are your fixed expenses. They’re pretty predictable, and you can usually set them on auto-pay and forget about them.
Some examples of fixed costs for SaaS business include:

  • Rent for your office space
  • Business insurance (like liability insurance)
  • Internet and phone bills
  • Salaries and benefits for your team
  • Loan repayments

What About Variable Expenses?

Variable expenses are more like your grocery bill; they change depending on what you need or use each month. If your business is selling more, these costs go up. If sales are slow, they go down. They’re generally tied to your business activity.

Some examples of variable costs for SaaS business include:

  • Transaction fees for credit cards or invoicing
  • SaaS tools or software that bill based on usage
  • Server space costs, which grow as more customers use your service
  • Commissions and bonuses for your sales team

Spotting the Difference

In short, fixed costs are steady and reliable. You know what they'll be regardless of how your business is doing. Variable costs, on the other hand, move up and down based on your sales or use of certain tools.

For instance, what you pay for your rent won’t change whether you sell a little or a lot. But your sales team's commissions can swing from a tiny amount to a whole lot, depending on your sales.

Calculating Fixed and Variable Expenses

Knowing your total expenses is great, but breaking them down into fixed and variable can help you manage your budget and avoid those dreaded cash flow issues.

  • To figure out your fixed expenses, just add up all the regular bills you pay
  • For variable expenses, calculate the cost per unit sold or produced, then multiply it by the total quantity you sold or produced

Maximizing Revenue

Let's dive a bit deeper and talk about how you can manage these costs. Smart cost management not only helps in avoiding cash flow problems but can also boost your overall profitability.

Managing Fixed Expenses

Fixed expenses are pretty consistent but there are ways to trim them down:

  1. Do you really need all those different subscriptions? Sometimes, one tool can do the job of three.
  2. If remote work is an option, consider downsizing your office to cut rent and utility bills.
  3. Whether it's with your landlord or service providers, there's often room to negotiate better rates with most services.
  4. Automating repetitive tasks can save lots of time and money in the long run.

Managing Variable Expenses

Variable expenses change with your business activity. Here's how to keep them in check:

  • Many SaaS companies spend a lot on cloud services, regular monitoring and optimization can cut costs significantly.
  • Refining your marketing strategy to target the right audience can reduce customer acquisition costs
  • Streamlining your operations can reduce waste and increase productivity, lowering production costs

General Cost-Reduction Strategies

Beyond fixed and variable expenses, here are some overall strategies for cost reduction:

  • Keep an eye on where every dollar goes and see if there are areas where you can cut back on decisions
  • Use data analytics to make informed decisions about where you can save money without impacting quality
  • It's cheaper to keep existing customers than to find new ones, so invest in keeping your current customers happy

Final Thoughts

In the world of SaaS businesses, balancing the books goes beyond just keeping track of overall expenses.

It's about making smart, strategic decisions on how to optimize your spending. Keeping a close eye on both fixed and variable expenses is crucial for managing your cash flow and maintaining healthy profits.

This is where Baremetrics can be a game changer. Our revenue analytics software is designed to help subscription businesses like yours track vital metrics, offering you a clear, up-to-date view of your financial performance.


Interested in taking control of your financial journey? Check out Baremetrics and discover how we can help you navigate the complexities of SaaS finances with ease.

Ana Gotter