📣 Discover Absolute Cash Flow Mastery with a Centralized AR Hub:
Join Our Exclusive Webinar on June 20 at 11 AM PDT.
Reserve Your Spot.

What are Operating Expenses?

What are Operating Expenses?

Operating Expenses Definition

Operating expenses (OPEX) are the costs associated with the operational activities of any business. These expenses include things like rent, utilities, salaries of employees, and costs for materials and supplies needed to provide the company’s goods or services. They do not include costs directly tied to the production of products, which are classified as the cost of goods sold (COGS).

Understanding Operating Expenses

Operating expenses are crucial in business finance as they directly impact a company’s profitability and financial health. They encompass the operating costs required for a business to perform its normal operations. These expenses are essential for maintaining the company’s operations and include a wide range of costs, such as:

  • Rent and Lease Payments: Costs for leasing or renting office space, retail locations, equipment, or vehicles necessary for business operations.
  • Utilities: Expenses for essential services such as electricity, water, gas, and the internet that keep the business premises operational.
  • Salaries and Wages: Payments to employees for their work, including salaries, wages, bonuses, and benefits. This category can also encompass payroll taxes and insurance for employees.
  • Supplies and Materials: Costs for items that are used in the daily business operations, such as office supplies, cleaning supplies, and raw materials for production.
  • Marketing and Advertising: Expenses related to promoting the business, its products, or services. This can include advertising costs, promotional materials, and digital marketing efforts.
  • Insurance: Premiums paid for various types of insurance policies that protect the business, including property insurance, liability insurance, and workers’ compensation insurance.
  • Maintenance and Repairs: Costs for maintaining and repairing business assets, such as equipment, vehicles, and facilities, to ensure they remain in working condition.
  • Professional Fees: Fees paid for services provided by outside professionals, such as lawyers, accountants, consultants, and auditors.
  • Travel and Entertainment: Expenses related to business travel and entertaining clients, including transportation, lodging, meals, and entertainment costs.
  • Depreciation and Amortization: Non-cash expenses that account for the gradual loss of value of business assets. Depreciation applies to tangible assets like equipment and vehicles, while amortization applies to intangible assets like patents and software.

Operating expenses, recorded on the income statement, are crucial for calculating a company’s operating income, which is a key indicator of a business’s profitability before interest and taxes. Unlike the cost of goods sold (COGS), which is directly tied to the production of products or services, operating expenses are incurred as part of the general business operations and are not directly linked to production volume.

Monitoring and managing operating expenses is vital for businesses as excessive OPEX can erode profits. Effective management involves analyzing these costs regularly to identify areas where the business can reduce expenses without compromising the quality of its products or services. This can include negotiating better terms with suppliers, optimizing energy usage, or streamlining processes to improve efficiency.

How to Calculate Operating Expenses?

Calculating operating expenses involves summing up all the costs associated with running the day-to-day business operations, excluding the cost of goods sold (COGS). Usually, these expenses are grouped into categories, such as selling, general, and administrative expenses (SG&A), depreciation and amortization, and other operational costs. Here’s a basic step-by-step process to calculate operating expenses:

  • Identify All Operating Expense Categories: Start by listing all the categories of expenses that qualify as operating expenses such as rent and utilities, salaries and wages, office supplies and equipment, marketing and advertising expenses, etc.
  • Gather Financial Documents: Collect all relevant financial documents that record your business expenses, such as invoices, receipts, financial statements, and accounting records.
  • Calculate Expenses for Each Category: For each category identified in step 1, add up all the expenses incurred during the period you are analyzing (e.g., monthly, quarterly, or annually).
  • Sum Up the Total Operating Expenses: After calculating the expenses for each category, sum them all up to get the total operating expenses for the period.
Formula: Total Operating Expenses = ∑(All individual operating expense categories)

It’s important to differentiate between operating expenses and the cost of goods sold (COGS). COGS includes the direct costs, which are related to the production of the goods sold by a company and are not included in the operating expenses. Operating expenses are concerned with the costs of running the business itself.

By accurately calculating operating expenses, businesses can analyze their operational efficiency, identify areas to reduce costs, and make informed decisions to improve profitability.

What is an Operating Expense Ratio?

The operating expense ratio (OER) is a financial metric used to assess the efficiency of a business in managing its operating expenses in relation to its income. It highlights the proportion of a company’s revenue consumed by the costs involved in running day-to-day operations. The OER is useful in industries like real estate, where it’s commonly applied to evaluate the operational performance of rental properties, but it can be relevant across various sectors.

To calculate the operating expense ratio, you divide the total operating expenses of a business by its gross income (or revenue).

Formula: Operating Expense Ratio = Total Operating Expenses / Gross


  • Total Operating Expenses include all costs associated with running the business, except for the cost of goods sold (COGS). This can include rent, utilities, salaries (not directly involved in production), marketing expenses, and more.
  • Gross Income (or revenue) refers to the total income generated from the business activities before deducting any expenses.

The resulting ratio is expressed as a percentage. A lower OER indicates that a company or property is more efficiently managing its operating expenses relative to its income, which is viewed positively as it suggests better profitability potential. Conversely, a higher OER suggests that a significant portion of the revenue is being consumed by operating expenses, which highlights the inefficiencies or high costs that could affect profitability.

What are Fixed Cost and Variable Cost?

Fixed cost and variable cost are essential components of operating expenses, but they behave differently in response to business activity levels. Understanding and managing these costs effectively is key to maintaining profitability and achieving long-term financial success.

Fixed Cost

Fixed cost is consistent and does not change with the level of production or sales activities within a certain range or period. Examples include rent, salaries of permanent employees, insurance premiums, and depreciation of equipment. The company incurs these costs regardless of how much it produces or sells. they provide stability in budgeting because it is predictable over the short term.

Variable Cost

The variable cost fluctuates in direct proportion to changes in levels of production or sales activities. As production increases, variable costs increase; similarly, they decrease when production declines. Examples include raw materials, direct labor costs (if paid per piece or hour), and utilities for manufacturing facilities that vary with production volume. Variable cost is tied to the operational efficiency and scalability of a business, as they directly affect the cost of goods sold and, consequently, the gross margin.

Difference between Operating Expenses and Non Operating Expenses

Operating expenses and non operating expenses are two distinct categories of costs that businesses incur. Operating expenses are the costs related to running business operations. Whereas, non operating expenses are costs that are not directly tied to the primary business operations. Examples of non operating expenses include interest payments on loans, losses from investments, or costs from lawsuits. 

While operating expenses are a regular part of doing business, non operating expenses are usually exceptional or occur outside of the normal business activities, affecting the company’s net income but not directly related to its primary operations.

Operating Expenses (OPEX) vs. Capital Expenses (CAPEX)

Operating expenses and capital expenses represent two main types of costs businesses incur, but they serve distinct purposes. Here are the key differences:

Operating Expenses

  • Relate to the daily costs of running a business.
  • Include items like rent, utilities, salaries, and marketing expenses.
  • Are used to maintain current business operations.
  • Are expenses on the income statement in the period incurred, reflecting the impact on the company’s operational profitability.
  • Affect the operating income of a business.

Capital Expenses 

  • Are investments in long-term assets that will benefit the business in the future.
  • Include costs for acquiring or upgrading physical assets like buildings, machinery, and equipment.
  • CapEx improve or extend the life of a business asset.
  • Are capitalized on the balance sheet and then depreciated or amortized over their useful life, spreading the cost over several years.
  • Impact the company’s long-term financial position rather than its immediate operational profitability.

Operating expenses play a pivotal role in the day-to-day management and financial health of a business. Grasping the full scope of operating expenses gives business owners and managers the insight needed to streamline operations, control costs, and enhance overall efficiency. The careful monitoring and managing of OPEX not only pave the way for improved operational performance but also significantly contributes to the strategic planning and long-term success of a company.

Growfin book a demo

Don't miss these stories: