What’s the difference between a cost and an expense in accounting?

In accounting, “cost” and “expense” are related terms, but they refer to different stages in the process of recording and recognizing the consumption of resources or assets in a business.

Let’s explore the difference between cost and expense:


  • Cost refers to the monetary value of resources or assets expended to acquire or produce goods or services. It represents the amount spent on acquiring raw materials, labor, manufacturing, or other inputs used in the production process.
  • Costs are incurred during the production or purchase of goods and are initially recorded as assets on the balance sheet until the goods are sold. These costs are classified as “inventory” until the products are sold or consumed.
  • Costs can include direct costs, such as the cost of raw materials directly used in production, and indirect costs, such as manufacturing overhead and administrative expenses.

Example of cost: The cost of raw materials used to manufacture a product.


  • Expense refers to the portion of a cost that is “used up” or consumed during the normal course of business operations. It represents the amount of resources or assets that have been consumed to generate revenue or conduct business activities during a specific accounting period.
  • Expenses are recognized in the income statement for the period in which they are incurred, matching them with the revenue generated from the related sale of goods or services.
  • Unlike costs, which are initially recorded as assets, expenses are recorded as reductions in income or increases in liabilities on the income statement.

Example of expense: The cost of raw materials becomes an expense when the finished products are sold, and the related revenue is recognized.

In summary, the key difference between cost and expense in accounting is the timing of their recognition. Cost refers to the monetary value of resources or assets expended during production or acquisition, initially recorded as assets. On the other hand, expense represents the portion of the cost that is used up or consumed during business operations and is recognized as an expense in the income statement when the related revenue is earned.


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