Costs vs Expenses: Definitions and Examples

Most people think that cost and expense have the same meaning, and technically they do. However, when it comes to business, cost and expense have different meanings. Cost refers to the cost of production and operations. Expense refers to fixed monthly expenses such as rent, utilities, and other fixed expenses.

Financial Accounting – Lesson 9.2 – Cost vs Expense

Types of costs

There are two main categories of costs: “fixed” costs and “variable” costs. Even when changes occur within the company, a fixed cost remains constant in the short term. Instead, it is frequently tied to a fixed duration, like a rental lease or an employee’s salary. Monthly net income or revenue for a business is produced by deducting fixed costs from monthly gross income. In order to prevent business losses at year’s end, a high fixed-cost level necessitates a higher revenue level.

Fixed costs

Some examples of fixed costs include:

Variable costs

A variable cost is one that changes as the business changes. These costs are less noticeable in the short term because they depend on fluctuations in business activity. Businesses often start with more fixed costs than variable costs. By tying a fixed revenue target to the bottom line, the predictability that results from this setup can also help guarantee or boost a business’ profitability in its early stages. However, most costs will inevitably shift from being fixed to variable over time.

Examples of variable costs include:

What is a cost?

A cost is an amount paid to acquire an asset. It usually refers to a lump sum payment for the acquisition of a fixed asset or an asset acquired for long-term use and not easily convertible into cash, such as land, buildings, and equipment.

Prepaid expenses, like prepaying for insurance, can also be referred to as a cost. For instance, an insurance bill for a business that is paid over the course of six months continues to be a cost until it is consumed or expires at the end of its term. If the insurance is paid on a monthly basis, the monthly rate is viewed as an expense, and the prepaid insurance, which is viewed as an asset, will continue to decline in value in line with the monthly rate paid.

Types of expenses

There may be many or few expenses depending on the type and size of the business. As a result, expenses depend on a variety of factors that are related to how businesses operate, and vice versa.

Common expenses

Common expenses might include:

Operating and non-operating expenses are two additional divisions that can be made of expenses. Nevertheless, all costs associated with business operations are covered.

Operating expenses

Operating expenses might include:

Operating expenses can include costs for paying employees, running an office, and conducting sales and marketing. Examples of each are shown below:

Non-operating expenses

Non-operating expenses might include:

What is an expense?

An expense is best described as money spent consistently on continuing business operations, in contrast to costs, which are typically one-time payments. The ability of a company to generate revenues depends on these payments. Expenses have a direct impact on profitability ratios, or the margin by which revenues or profits outpace operating costs and expenses. As a result, expenses are useful in assessing the general performance of a company.

However, the business does not benefit in the long run from these payments. In other words, expenses are consistently “used up” or expire.

Costs and expenses in accounting

For accounting purposes, costs are reflected on the balance sheet. Each asset’s original cost is subtracted from accumulated depreciation to determine its “book value,” or value as of today. The purchase price, shipping, setup, and training costs associated with acquiring and using the asset can all be included in the asset’s total cost or cost basis. The balance sheet is then created by adding up all of the company’s assets.

Businesses that sell products will also total their costs of goods sold, which includes manufacturing, shipping, and storage expenses, at the end of the fiscal year. The profit-or-loss statement, which displays the company’s net income or profits/revenues, contrasts expenses with revenues. The expenses are deducted from the monthly gross income, which lowers the total revenue for the company.

A cost may occasionally turn into an expense, effectively moving from the balance sheet to the income statement of a company. This occurs when the cost of acquiring an asset to support business operations turns into a business expense.

Costs and expenses for tax purposes

Costs do not directly affect taxes. However, when calculating year-end depreciation expenses, an asset’s cost can be taken into account, lowering income for tax purposes. A company must allocate the cost of an asset or depreciate it to future financial periods if it anticipates that it will be in use for longer than 12 months or past the accounting end-of-year balance sheet date.

Depreciation is a non-cash expense. It is the cost of an asset spread over the period of time that it is anticipated to be used by the business, or its estimated “life.” It doesn’t matter how an asset was acquired, how it currently looks, or how long it will last using this accounting method.

However, expenses do have a direct impact on the amount of business income taxes owed. On a business tax return, expenses that are used to keep the business running and generating revenue are deductible. This implies that spending money can frequently result in tax savings.

Using tax deductions, you can outfit your company and reduce your tax liability by doing the following:

To maximize eligible business deductions, it is best to consult a qualified tax advisor.

Costs vs expenses

To distinguish between costs and expenses, there are a few straightforward comparisons that can be made. Key differences are highlighted below:


Financial statement


Effect on profitability

Current ratio

Capital structure



Do all costs become expenses?

But when we refer to costs, we mean the money spent on a product, a service, etc. Some costs, like the cost of land, are not expenses yet; others, like the cost of a new delivery van, will become expenses; and still others, like the cost of airing a television ad, will become expenses right away.

What is cost and expenses in accounting?

Since “cost” and “expense” have different meanings in accounting, it is crucial to understand the distinction between the two. Cost is the amount of money (cash) sacrificed to purchase an asset. An expense is a cost that has passed through time or been absorbed by actions that contribute to revenue generation.

Is salary a cost or expense?

Common expenses

Wages, salaries, commissions, other labor (i.e. per-piece contracts)

How does expense relate to cost?

An expense is a business’s operational cost incurred to produce revenue. “It costs money to make money,” goes the adage. Typical costs include payments to suppliers, employee salaries, factory leases, and depreciation of equipment.

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