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Step-by-Step Guide to Understanding the Expenditure Concept

Last Updated June 2, 2024

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What is the Definition of Expenditure?

An expenditure is the total spending incurred to obtain ownership of an item of value or the right to receive a benefit either at the present moment or at a later date.

Under the reporting standards established by U.S. GAAP, expenditures are recorded on an accrual basis, where their recognition occurs on the date of incurrence, not the transfer of cash.

The underlying item purchased as part of the expenditure is often an asset with positive economic value (i.e., utility).

  • Store of Value (or Interest) ➝ The current asset could be a store of value, such as cash and cash equivalents like marketable securities and short-term investments (i.e. highly liquid, easily convertible into cash).
  • Fixed Asset (PP&E) ➝ Fixed assets, or non-current assets, could contribute to potential long-term value creation for the company, such as property, plant, and equipment (PP&E).
  • Prepaid Asset ➝ A prepaid asset is an expense that has been paid for but not yet consumed. The acquired product or service could be a payment issued in advance of the actual receipt of the benefit (i.e. the delivery is anticipated to occur on a later date).
  • Reinvestment ➝ Research and development (R&D) expenses are technically an outflow of cash but can yield substantial benefits over multiple years. Likewise, capital expenditures (Capex) are usually the most significant cash outflow for most companies but are also one of the core revenue drivers.

What are the Different Types of Expenditures?

In the field of accounting, expenses can be classified into three primary categories:

  1. Capital Expenditure (Capex) ➝ The capital expenditures (Capex) refers to the acquisition of fixed assets (PP&E) with a useful life in excess of one year (>12 months), such as machinery, tools, and equipment.
  2. Revenue Expenditure ➝ Revenue expenditures are the costs accrued by a business during its operations to generate revenue, including salaries, rent, utilities, and raw materials.
  3. Deferred Revenue Expenditure ➝ The deferred revenue expenditure represents expenses incurred in the current accounting period, with the benefits not realized until subsequent accounting periods.

Expenditure vs. Expense: What is the Difference?

While the two terms—expenditure and expense—are often used interchangeably, the two have distinct meanings and implications on the financial statements.

  • Expenditure ➝ An expenditure is the total amount spent to acquire goods or services.
  • Expense ➝ An expense is incurred to operate a business and generate revenue. While an expenditure is recorded at the time of purchase, an expense is recognized over the consumption period.

For instance, the initial outlay attributable to a capital expenditure (Capex) or the purchase of fixed assets (PP&E) is not recognized in full on the income statement in the period of incurrence.

Instead, the total cost of purchasing the fixed assets (PP&E) is periodically expensed on the income statement over the estimated useful life assumption.

The fixed asset (PP&E) is capitalized on the balance sheet and gradually reduced via the depreciation expense across its useful life until reaching its salvage value.

The concept of depreciation is intended to “spread” the total Capex over several periods to recognize the expense in the coinciding period in which the economic benefit was retrieved, per the matching principle.

The straight-line depreciation method—the most common method companies use for bookkeeping purposes—gradually reduces the carrying value of the fixed asset (PP&E) over its expected useful life.

Depreciation Expense = (Purchase Cost Residual Value) ÷ Useful Life


  • Purchase Cost ➝ The total price of acquiring the fixed asset (PP&E) on the initial purchase date.
  • Salvage Value ➝ The estimated residual value of the asset at the end of its useful life (“scrap value”)
  • Useful Life ➝ The estimated number of years the fixed asset (PP&E) is assumed to continue providing positive economic utility.

Expenditure vs. Expense: Comparative Analysis

The main differences between expenditures and expenses are related to timing, impact on the financial statements, estimated useful life assumption, and tax treatment.

  • Recognition Timing ➝ The timing of recognition is crucial. Expenditures are recorded at the point of purchase, while expenses are recorded as the asset or service is consumed.
  • Financial Statement Impact ➝ Expenditures impact the balance sheet by increasing assets, while expenses impact the income statement by reducing net income. Expenditures are recorded on the date of purchase and initially impact an asset on the balance sheet. The carrying value of the asset is reduced via processes like depreciation. In contrast, expenses are recorded as incurred, directly affecting the income statement by reducing net income.
  • Useful Life Assumption ➝ Capital expenditures provide benefits over a longer period and are capitalized, while revenue expenditures and other expenses are short-term and immediately expensed. Capex provides long-term benefits and is thus capitalized and depreciated over time. Operating expenses, however, are near-term costs directly related to business operations and are expensed within the accounting period incurred.
  • Tax Treatment ➝ The tax treatment further differentiates these terms. Capital expenditures are capitalized and depreciated, spreading the tax deduction over several years. Conversely, operating expenses are generally tax-deductible in the year incurred, providing an immediate tax benefit — barring unusual circumstances.

What is Capital Expenditure?

Capital expenditure—often abbreviated as Capex—is the purchase of fixed assets (PP&E) with a useful life in excess of one year.

Generally speaking, capital expenditures can be segmented into either growth or maintenance capex.

  • Growth Capex ➝ The former facilitates incremental growth and market expansion going forward.
  • Maintenance Capex ➝ The latter focuses on sustaining the current growth rate (e.g. repairing broken equipment, updating outdated software).

The fixed assets (PP&E) acquired via Capex provide positive economic benefits for over twelve months. Hence, PP&E is recognized in the non-current assets section of the balance sheet.

Capital Expenditure (Capex) = Ending PP&E – Beginning PP&E + Depreciation


  • Ending PP&E ➝ Current Period PP&E Balance
  • Beginning PP&E ➝ Prior Period PP&E Balance
  • Depreciation ➝ (Total Cost – Salvage Value) ÷ Useful Life Assumption

The recognition of Capex on the balance sheet causes PP&E to rise in value, but the cash outflow is reflected in the cash flow statement (CFS) under cash from investing (CFI) activities.

On the subject of tax implications, Capex is not directly tax-deductible. Still, the depreciation expense recognized on the income statement reduces the pre-tax income (EBT) line item and, thus, net income.

Capital Expenditure vs. Operating Expense: What is the Difference?

Capex is capitalized and depreciated over the useful life assumption, whereas operating expenses are expensed on the income statement in the period incurred.

  • Capital Expenditure (Capex) ➝ Capital expenditures refer to funds used by a company for acquiring, upgrading, and maintaining physical assets such as property, buildings, technology, or equipment. The distinction sets Capex apart from operating expenses (Opex), which are indirect costs essential for daily operations but not directly linked to revenue generation.
  • Operating Expense ➝ Operating expenses arise from the regular operations of a business and typically include costs like rent, utilities, office supplies, and salaries. Operating expenses, contrary to Capex, are not expected to yield benefits beyond a one-year timeframe.

Capitalize vs. Expense: What is the Difference?

Capitalized costs are not expensed in the period of incurrence but rather recognized over time via depreciation or amortization.

If an expense is anticipated to contribute value for more than one year (>12 months), the proper accounting treatment is to capitalize the cost rather than expense the cost.

The accounting differences between the decision to capitalize and expense a cost are as follows:

  • Capitalize ➝ Capital expenditures (Capex) are capitalized in accounting, which implies the value of the fixed asset (PP&E) on the balance sheet is depreciated over its useful life. The allocation of the Capex is “spread” across multiple years, reflecting the long-term benefit of the asset. The depreciation expense, a non-cash add-back on the cash flow statement (CFS), reduces the carrying value of the fixed asset on the balance sheet and is expensed on the income statement over time. Capex causes the PP&E carrying value on the balance sheet to rise, and the cash outlay is reflected on the cash flow statement (CFS) under the cash from investing (CFI) activities section. The depreciation expense recognized on the income statement is treated as a non-cash add-back but reduces the carrying value of the fixed asset (PP&E) on the balance sheet.
  • Expense ➝ Operating expenses (Opex)—such as the SG&A, R&D, and S&M expenses—are expensed in the period incurred and are thus recorded on the income statement. In effect, operating expenses (Opex) directly influence the accounting profitability of a company for a given period, including the net income (the “bottom line”) and the earnings per share (EPS).

What is Revenue Expenditure?

Revenue expenditures, also known as operating expenses (Opex), are costs incurred by a business for its day-to-day operations.

Revenue expenditures are short-term expenses deductible from a company’s taxable income during the accounting period in which they occur.

Contrary to common misconception, capital allocation toward expenditures covers regular business costs like rent, utilities, salaries, advertising, office supplies, and maintenance.

Revenue expenditures are matched with the revenue generated in the same period, deducted from the company’s income to calculate net profit or loss, and recorded as expenses on the income statement, not the balance sheet.

Examples include employee wages, rent, utilities, office supplies, advertising, insurance premiums, legal fees, and maintenance costs.

Capital Expenditure vs. Revenue Expenditure: What is the Difference?

The difference between capital expenditure and revenue expenditure is as follows.

  • Capital Expenditure (Capex) ➝ Capital expenditures are investments made for long-term benefits that extend over multiple accounting periods, while revenue expenditures (RevEx) offer short-term benefits intended only for the current accounting period. Capital expenditures involve spending on long-term assets such as equipment, buildings, or machinery. These assets provide benefits beyond the current accounting period and are initially recorded as assets on the balance sheet. Common examples of capital expenditures include machinery purchases, new building construction, and facility upgrades. Capex contributes toward a rising fixed asset (PP&E) carrying value on the balance sheet, while revenue expenditures cause a reduction in profits recorded on the income statement.
  • Revenue Expenditure ➝ Revenue expenditures, in contrast, are short-term operational costs incurred for the day-to-day running of a business. These expenses include salaries, rent, utilities, and the cost of goods sold. Revenue expenditures are fully deducted from revenue in the year they are incurred, directly impacting the income statement by reducing net income. While Capex is recognized on the balance sheet and depreciates gradually over the fixed asset’s useful life, revenue expenditures are expensed on the income statement in the period incurred. Therefore, capital expenditure (Capex) is oriented around facilitating future incremental growth and market expansion or sustaining the current growth rate, while revenue expenditures focus on operational efficiency and maintaining operations.

What is Deferred Revenue Expenditure?

Deferred revenue expenditure refers to an expense incurred in the current accounting period, but the benefits of which will be realized over multiple future accounting periods.

Initially, deferred revenue expenditures are recorded as assets on the balance sheet and gradually expensed against the income statement as benefits are realized. The cost is spread across the periods by which the benefits are expected to be received.

  • Timing Mismatch ➝ The discrepancies in timing arise from a difference between when the expenditure is incurred and when the benefits are realized. The expenditure is made in the current period, but the associated revenues or benefits accrue over several future periods.
  • Long-Term Benefits ➝ The deferred revenue expenditures are typically substantial and are expected to provide benefits for 3 to 5+ years.
  • Accounting Treatment ➝ Deferred revenue expenditures are initially recorded as an asset on the balance sheet. Over time, as the benefits are realized, the expenditure is gradually written off or amortized against the income statement.
  • Matching Principle ➝ Under the matching principle, companies must adhere to the recognition of expenses in the same period as the coinciding revenue. By deferring the expenditure, the expense is recognized in the same periods as the associated revenues.
  • Financial Reporting Consistency ➝ The primary purpose of deferring revenue expenditures is to accurately reflect the financial performance of a company by matching expenses with the revenues they generate, which offers a more realistic picture of profitability and prevents distortions that could arise from expensing the entire cost in a single period.

What is the Expenditure Method in Economics?

The expenditure method, or “expenditure approach,” measures national income by subtracting total spending in a particular economy.

Calculating national income, or gross domestic product (GDP), requires estimating the total value of all final goods and services produced within a country in a given period.

In practice, the GDP is determined by calculating the sum of all expenditure components that pertain to consumption, investment activity, government spending, and net exports. By utilizing the expenditure method, analysts can obtain a comprehensive overview of economic activity by examining how money is spent within the economy. Furthermore, this method assists in assessing the performance of an economy and identifying the key drivers of economic growth or

The expenditure method of calculating a country’s gross domestic product (GDO) considers the final goods and services produced in a given period.

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) = C + I + G + (X M)


  • C = Consumption
  • I = Investment
  • G = Government spending
  • X = Exports
  • M = Imports

With in-depth, detailed analysis of spending components, policymakers, and experts can obtain valuable insights into the underlying dynamics of the economy, enabling them to make well-informed decisions.

In conclusion, the expenditure method excludes import spending and the purchase of shares, corporate bonds, and second-hand goods.

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