Cost of goods sold definition

What is the Cost of Goods Sold?

Cost of goods sold is the total of all costs used to create a product or service, which has been sold. These costs fall into the general sub-categories of direct labor, materials, and overhead. Direct labor and direct materials are variable costs, while overhead is comprised of fixed costs (such as utilities, rent, and supervisory salaries). In a service business, the cost of goods sold is considered to be the labor, payroll taxes, and benefits of those people who generate billable hours (though the term may be changed to "cost of services"). In a retail or wholesale business, the cost of goods sold is likely to be merchandise that was bought from a manufacturer. It does not include any general, selling, or administrative costs of running a business.

How to Calculate the Cost of Goods Sold

The cost of goods sold is derived by adding together beginning inventory and all inventory purchases made during the reporting period, and then subtracting out the ending inventory balance. Beginning inventory is the value of the raw materials and finished goods in stock at the beginning of the reporting period. Purchases made during the reporting period include all raw materials, components, and merchandise acquired from other parties during the period. Ending inventory is the amount counted as being on hand at the end of the reporting period. The formula is:

Beginning inventory + Purchases - Ending inventory = Cost of goods sold

Example of Calculating the Cost of Goods Sold

A company has $10,000 of inventory on hand at the beginning of the month, expends $25,000 on various inventory items during the month, and has $8,000 of inventory on hand at the end of the month. What was its cost of goods sold during the month?  The answer is:

$10,000 Beginning inventory + $25,000 Purchases - $8,000 Ending inventory
= $27,000 Cost of goods sold

What is Included in the Cost of Goods Sold?

The costs included in the cost of goods sold are essentially any costs incurred to produce the goods being sold by a business. The most likely costs to be included within this category are direct labor, raw materials, freight-in costs, purchase allowances, and factory overhead. The factory overhead classification includes manufacturing and materials management salaries, as well as all utilities, rent, insurance, and other costs related to the production facility. Direct labor and direct materials are classified as variable costs, while factory overhead is mostly comprised of fixed costs.

Costs that are not included in the cost of goods sold are anything related to sales or general administration. These costs include administrative salaries, as well as all utilities, rent, insurance, legal, selling, and other costs related to selling and administration. In addition, the cost of any inventory items remaining in stock at the end of a reporting period are not charged to the cost of goods sold. Instead, they are reported as a current asset on the company’s balance sheet.

Presentation of the Cost of Goods Sold

In the income statement presentation, the cost of goods sold is subtracted from net sales to arrive at the gross margin of a business. This information appears near the top of the income statement.

Accounting for the Cost of Goods Sold

When accounting for the cost of goods sold, the main issue is the order in which inventory items are sold. This is important when individual inventory items have different costs. For example, a business has 10 widgets in stock, of which five cost $10 and the other five cost $20. If five units are sold and the company charges the first group of five to expense, then the cost of goods sold is $50. However, if the second group is charged to expense, then the cost of goods sold doubles, to $100. Depending on which method is used, the ending inventory balance will change. Because of this issue, several approaches have been developed to derive the cost of goods sold, as outlined below.

First In, First Out Method

Under the first in, first out method (FIFO), the cost of the first unit to enter inventory is charged to expense first. In an inflationary environment, the least expensive (oldest) inventory items are charged to expense first, which tends to inflate the reported profit level. It also means that the ending inventory level is at its highest. This approach typically reflects actual usage patterns.

Last In, First Out Method

Under the last in, first out method (LIFO), the cost of the last unit to enter inventory is charged to expense first. In an inflationary environment, this means that the most expensive (newest) inventory items are charged to expense first, which tends to minimize the reported profit level. It also means that the ending inventory level is kept as low as possible. This approach does no reflect actual usage patterns in most cases, and so is banned by the international financial reporting standards. It is allowed by the IRS for tax reporting purposes.

Weighted Average Method

Under the weighted average method, there is no inventory layering at all. Instead, the average cost of the units in stock is charged to expense when units are sold. This is a reasonable approach that tends to yield results midway between what would have been reported under the FIFO and LIFO methods.

Specific Identification Method

If a business can specifically identify individual items of inventory (such as an art gallery or a car dealership), then it can use the specific identification method. Under this approach, the costs of the specific items sold are charged to the cost of goods sold.

Cost of Goods Sold Best Practices

The cost of goods sold is usually the single largest expense line item on the income statement, and so is deserving of a substantial amount of analysis, to keep it from increasing as a proportion of sales. One way to do so is to record the constituent parts of the cost of goods sold in as many sub-accounts as possible. Doing so gives you a more fine-grained view of what causes this expense, and also makes it easier to identify cost control measures. Also, given the size of the cost of goods sold, even proportionally small cost reductions in this area can yield significant bottom-line improvements, so create a list of possible reductions and give them a higher priority than expense reductions elsewhere. However, only do so if the reduction will not impact the customer experience; after all, reducing costs that also lead to a decline in sales will worsen profits.

The Impact of Inventory Tracking Systems

In a periodic inventory system, the cost of goods sold is calculated as beginning inventory + purchases - ending inventory. The assumption is that the result, which represents costs no longer located in the warehouse, must be related to goods that were sold. Actually, this cost derivation also includes inventory that was scrapped, or declared obsolete and removed from stock, or inventory that was stolen. Thus, the calculation tends to assign too many expenses to goods that were sold, and which were actually costs that relate more to the current period.

In a perpetual inventory system the cost of goods sold is continually compiled over time as goods are sold to customers. This approach involves the recordation of a large number of separate transactions, such as for sales, scrap, obsolescence, and so forth. If cycle counting is used to maintain high levels of record accuracy, this approach tends to yield a higher degree of accuracy than a cost of goods sold calculation under the periodic inventory system.

The Impact of Cost Flow Assumptions

The cost of goods sold can also be impacted by the type of costing methodology used to derive the cost of ending inventory. For example, under the first, first out method, known as FIFO, the first unit added to inventory is assumed to be the first one used. Thus, in an inflationary environment where prices are increasing, this tends to result in lower-cost goods being charged to the cost of goods sold. The reverse approach is the last in, first out method, known as LIFO, where the last unit added to inventory is assumed to be the first one used. Thus, in an inflationary environment where prices are increasing, this tends to result in higher-cost goods being charged to the cost of goods sold.

Cost of Goods Sold vs. Operating Expenses

While conducting its operations, a business incurs expenses in the areas of both the cost of goods sold and operating expenses. As we have just described, the cost of goods sold relates to those expenses used to create a product or service, which has been sold. Operating expenses are incurred to run all non-production activities, such as selling, general and administrative activities. The cost of goods sold is presented immediately after the revenue line items in the income statement, after which operating expenses are presented. Examples of cost of goods sold expenses are direct materials and direct labor, while examples of operating expenses are administrative staff compensation, rent, office supplies, travel, insurance, and training expenses.

Fraud in the Cost of Goods Sold

The cost of goods sold can be fraudulently altered in order to change reported profit levels, such as by altering the bill of materials and/or labor routing records in a standard costing system. Other ways to alter the cost of goods sold include incorrectly counting the quantity of inventory on hand, performing an incorrect period-end cutoff, and allocating more overhead than actually exists to inventory. In these cases, a detectable outcome is a gradual increase in the reported amount of the inventory asset; the reason is that someone is artificially increasing the reported profit level by not charging some of the inventory cost to expense.

Terms Similar to the Cost of Goods Sold

The cost of goods sold is also known as the cost of sales.