Small Business Glossary

Operating Expenses - definition & overview


What are operating expenses?

Operating Expenses are regular costs incurred from a business's operational activities, such as wages, raw materials, and facilities costs, noted on the income statement.

Operating expenses, often referred to as OPEX, are the costs associated with running a business's day-to-day operations. These expenses are necessary for the business to function and are usually recurring. They are a vital part of the financial health of a small business, particularly in Australia, where the economic landscape is both vibrant and challenging.

Understanding operating expenses is crucial for any small business owner, as it directly impacts the profitability and sustainability of the business. This comprehensive glossary entry will delve into the various aspects of operating expenses, providing an in-depth understanding of its nuances and implications.

Definition of Operating Expenses

Operating expenses are the costs that a business incurs as a result of performing its normal business operations. Unlike product expenses, operating expenses cannot be directly tied to the production of the products or services being sold. Instead, they are the costs that enable the business to sell those products or services.

These expenses can include rent, utilities, office supplies, employee wages, insurance, depreciation, and amortisation. They are considered as 'fixed' costs as they are less likely to change based on the levels of goods or services produced by the business.

Types of Operating Expenses

Operating expenses can be broadly categorised into two types: fixed and variable. Fixed expenses are costs that do not change significantly with the level of production or sales, such as rent, salaries, and insurance. Variable expenses, on the other hand, fluctuate directly with levels of production, such as the cost of raw materials used in production.

It's important to note that some operating expenses can be both fixed and variable. For instance, a business may have a base level of utility costs that it must pay regardless of its level of production (fixed), but it may also have additional costs if it increases its production (variable).

Operating Expenses vs Non-Operating Expenses

Operating expenses should not be confused with non-operating expenses. While operating expenses are associated with the core operations of the business, non-operating expenses are the costs that aren't directly tied to a business's core operations. These can include costs such as interest payments on loans, losses on the sale of assets, or lawsuits.

Non-operating expenses are often one-time costs, and they're not considered part of a company's operating income calculations. Therefore, they're often listed separately from operating expenses on a company's income statement.

Importance of Operating Expenses

Operating expenses are a critical aspect of a business's overall financial health. Understanding operating expenses is important for several reasons. First, they are a key component of a company's operating profit, also known as operating income. The lower a company's operating expenses are, the more profitable it can be.

Second, operating expenses are a key consideration in the calculation of various financial ratios, such as the operating margin or the net profit margin. These ratios help investors and creditors understand how efficiently a company is operating.

Operating Expense Ratio

The Operating Expense Ratio (OER) is a financial metric that indicates what portion of a company's revenue is used to cover operating expenses. A lower ratio is generally preferable, indicating that a company is spending less to operate and thus has more money for profits and growth.

However, a very low OER may also indicate that a company is not investing enough in its operations, which could lead to issues with quality control, customer service, or employee satisfaction and retention. Therefore, it's important for a company to strike a balance between maintaining low operating expenses and investing in its operations.

Controlling Operating Expenses

Controlling operating expenses is a key aspect of managing a small business. By keeping these costs in check, businesses can improve their bottom line and increase their operating income. Some strategies for controlling operating expenses include negotiating with suppliers for lower costs, reducing energy use, and implementing technology to improve efficiency.

However, it's important to remember that not all operating expenses can or should be cut. Some expenses, like employee salaries or quality control, are essential for the business's long-term success. Therefore, business owners should carefully consider the potential impacts before making cuts to their operating expenses.

Operating Expenses in the Australian Context

Operating expenses can vary significantly depending on the geographical location of the business. In Australia, certain operating expenses may be higher than in other countries due to factors such as high labour costs, stringent regulations, and the cost of doing business in remote areas.

However, Australian small businesses also have access to various government grants and incentives that can help offset some of these costs. Therefore, understanding the specific operating expenses that apply in the Australian context can help small business owners better plan and manage their businesses.

Australian Tax Implications

In Australia, most operating expenses are tax-deductible, meaning they can be subtracted from a company's income before it is subject to tax. This can significantly reduce a company's tax liability, making it even more important for small business owners to keep accurate records of their operating expenses.

However, not all operating expenses are tax-deductible. Some expenses, like fines or penalties, are not deductible. Therefore, it's important for small business owners to consult with a tax professional to ensure they're accurately reporting their operating expenses.

Impact of Australian Regulations

Australia has a robust regulatory environment that can impact the operating expenses of small businesses. For instance, businesses in certain industries may need to comply with environmental regulations, which can increase their operating expenses. Similarly, Australia's strict labour laws can result in higher employee-related expenses.

However, these regulations also help ensure that businesses operate in a fair and sustainable way. Therefore, while they may increase operating expenses, they also contribute to the overall stability and sustainability of the Australian business environment.


Operating expenses are a crucial part of running a small business. By understanding what these expenses are and how they impact a business's bottom line, small business owners can make informed decisions that improve their profitability and sustainability.

While operating expenses can be challenging to manage, particularly in the Australian context, they also represent opportunities for businesses to become more efficient and competitive. Therefore, a thorough understanding of operating expenses is not just beneficial—it's essential for the success of a small business.

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