Money Matters

Cost of goods sold: What is it and how to calculate it?

Cost of goods sold (Cogs) is a crucial business metric. Find out what Cogs is, and how to calculate and account for it in your business.

Understanding the cost of goods sold (COGS) is crucial for businesses to accurately assess their profitability and manage financial health.  

In this article, we talk about what COGS is, its meaning and importance, and the formula for calculating it. 

Here’s what we cover:

  1. What is cost of goods sold?
  2. How to calculate cost of goods sold
  3. Cost of goods sold strategies 
  4. Final thoughts

What is cost of goods sold?

COGS represents the direct costs attributable to the production of the goods sold by a company.  

This includes the cost of the materials and labour directly used to create the product, but it excludes indirect expenses, such as distribution costs.  

COGS is a critical metric because it affects a company’s gross profit and net income, so understanding its components is essential for effective financial analysis and business strategy. 

COGS is not just a figure on the balance sheet but a reflection of a company’s operational efficiency.  

Lowering the COGS, without sacrificing quality, can significantly improve a company’s profitability. 

How to calculate cost of goods sold? 

Calculating the cost of goods sold involves several components and can vary slightly depending on the accounting method used by the business.  

However, the basic COGS formula is a good starting point for understanding how this financial metric is derived. 

COGS formula 

COGS = (Beginning Inventory + Purchases during the period) – Ending inventory, i.e. goods not yet sold 

  • Beginning inventory: The value of all inventory held by a company at the start of the period. 
  • Purchases: The total cost of inventory purchased during the period, including materials and direct labour. 
  • Ending inventory: The value of inventory remaining at the end of the period. 

By subtracting the ending inventory from the sum of the beginning inventory and purchases, businesses can determine the cost of goods that were sold during the period. 

Example calculation 

If a company starts the year with £5,000 in inventory, makes £2,000 in purchases, and ends the year with £3,000 in inventory, the COGS would be calculated as follows: 

£5,000 + £2,000 − £3,000 = £4,000  

This calculation shows that £4,000 of inventory was used to produce goods sold during the year. 

Understanding COGS meaning and importance 

The meaning of COGS goes beyond a simple calculation.  

It reflects the direct cost of producing the goods that a company sells, making it a key figure in determining gross profit and for strategic pricing, inventory management, and operational planning. 

COGS provides insights into the efficiency of a company’s production process and supply chain management.  

A rising COGS might indicate rising material costs or inefficiencies in production, while a decreasing COGS could suggest improvements in cost control or production processes. 

How to find cost of goods sold 

Finding the COGS requires accurate record-keeping of inventory levels and purchases.  

Businesses should maintain detailed records of inventory purchases, production costs, and inventory counts at the beginning and end of each accounting period.  

This data is then used in the COGS formula to calculate the cost of goods sold accurately. 

Cost of goods sold strategies 

Generally, businesses aim to keep COGS as low as possible without compromising product quality. Here’s why: 

  • Higher profit margins: A lower COGS means you are able to produce your goods at a lower cost, which can lead to higher profit margins when selling products at the market price. This is particularly advantageous in competitive markets where pricing power might be limited. 
  • Operational efficiency: A lower COGS often reflects operational efficiencies, such as more effective supply chain management, bulk purchasing discounts, or technological improvements in production. These efficiencies can contribute to a competitive advantage. 
  • Pricing flexibility: With a lower COGS, a business has more flexibility in its pricing strategy. It can price products competitively to gain market share or choose to maintain higher profit margins. 
  • Financial health: A lower COGS contributes positively to the bottom line, improving a company’s overall financial health. This can enhance the company’s ability to invest in growth opportunities, pay dividends, or weather economic downturns. 

However, it’s important to balance efforts to reduce COGS with the need to maintain product quality and customer satisfaction.  

Cutting costs too aggressively could compromise product quality and negatively impact brand reputation and sales over the long term. 

In some cases, a higher COGS might be strategic or reflect a company’s investment in high-quality materials, superior craftsmanship, or ethical sourcing, which can justify higher selling prices and cater to specific market segments. 

Ultimately, the goal is not simply to minimise COGS but to optimise it in a way that supports your business strategy, maintains product quality, and maximises profitability. 

Final thoughts 

Understanding the cost of goods sold is essential for any business looking to optimise its financial performance.  

By accurately calculating COGS, businesses can gain valuable insights into their operational efficiency, cost management, and profitability.  

Keeping accurate records and understanding the components that contribute to COGS can help businesses make informed decisions, improve their financial health, and achieve long-term success.

Editor’s note: This article was first published in February 2024 and has been updated for relevance.