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What is SG&A? (Guide to Selling, General & Administrative Expenses)

Selling, general & administrative costs (SG&A)—also sometimes referred to as operating expenses—are any costs your business pays that aren’t directly tied to making or delivering your product or service.

It’s a broad “catch-all” category that basically includes anything you spend money on that isn’t a cost of goods sold (COGS).

For example, let’s say your fictional company, XYZ Soaps Inc., hand-makes and sells artisanal soaps online.

Your COGS are any costs directly related to making, packaging and shipping the soaps—raw materials, the wages you pay your soap maker Cheryl, the fancy packaging paper you use, shipping costs, etc.

Your SG&A costs are basically any other money you spend while running the business—on all the Facebook and Google ads you run for your store, your monthly Shopify subscription, the fee you paid the illustrator who designed your new logo, etc.

(There are also interest and income tax expenses, but these are usually much smaller than COGS and SG&A, so we’ll ignore those for now.)

Where do I find SG&A?

SG&A costs are reported on the income statement, the financial statement that your business prepares to figure out how profitable it is.

SG&A costs are typically the second expense category recorded on an income statement after COGS, like on this simple income statement for XYZ Soaps Inc.

XYZ Soaps Inc. Income Statement

For year ending Dec. 31, 2018

Revenues and Expenses Amount
Sales revenue $24,200
Cost of goods sold (COGS) $14,780
Selling, general and administrative costs (SG&A) $6,450
Interest expense $210
Income tax expense $560
Net income $2,200

How do you calculate SG&A?

Typically you’ll calculate SG&A when putting together an income statement, which you can do easily with the help of our handy income statement template.

To calculate a total SG&A figure for an annual income statement, you’ll have to go through your company’s books for that year and add up all of the non-COGS, interest or income tax expenses you see there.

What are some typical SG&A expenses?

Three types of expenses are typically listed under the SG&A category: selling expenses, general expenses, and administrative expenses. In some cases, certain non-operating expenses might appear under SG&A as well.

Selling expenses

These are any sales or marketing expenses your business incurs. These include things like:

  • Advertising expenses (i.e. Google and Facebook ads, newspaper advertisements, billboards, etc.)
  • Any wages or commissions you pay to a salesperson or marketer
  • Payroll taxes associated with sales or marketing staff
  • Travel and entertainment costs for business trips
  • Any costs associated with promotional materials (i.e. brochures, business cards, promotional videos, landing pages, etc.)

General expenses

These are anything your business spends money on that has nothing to do with COGS, selling, or administration. These include things like:

  • Rent
  • Utilities
  • Bank & ATM fee expenses
  • Technology and equipment costs
  • Office supplies
  • Insurance
  • Subscriptions (i.e. publications, software, services)
  • Other small petty cash expenses

Administrative expenses

Small businesses typically don’t spend very much money administering their business, but if they do, their administrative expenses might include things like:

  • Salaries of company executives, administrative staff
  • Fees paid to on-staff accountants, IT personnel, lawyers, etc.
  • Consulting fees

Some non-operating expenses

These are usually listed separately from SG&A, but income statements will sometimes bundle them together with SG&A. Non-operating expenses are anything you spend money on that isn’t related to the day-to-day operations of your business, including:

  • Obsolete inventory expenses
  • Depreciation
  • Legal fees (for incorporating a business, settling a lawsuit, etc.)

What is the SG&A sales ratio?

The SG&A to sales ratio (also sometimes called the percent-of-sales method) is what you get when you divide your total SG&A costs by your total sales revenue. It tells you what percent of every dollar your company earned gets sucked up by SG&A costs.

It looks like this:

SG&A ratio = Total SG&A / Total sales revenue

For example, the sales ratio for the fictional company XYZ Inc. we mentioned above would be:

SG&A ratio = Total SG&A / Total sales revenue

= $6,450 / $24,200
= 0.266528926
= 26.65%

This means that 26.65% of every dollar XYZ Inc. earns gets spent on SG&A costs.

What’s a good SG&A sales ratio? Generally speaking, the lower the better. But average SG&A sales ratios vary wildly based on industry. For example, manufacturers range anywhere from 10% to 25% of sales, while in health care it isn’t unusual for SG&A costs to approach 50% of sales.

How should I control my SG&A expenses?

When an external business advisor looks at a small business’ books, one of the first places they’ll look for cost-cutting opportunities is SG&A. Why? Because it’s usually one of the first places where businesses get sloppy with their spending. Here’s how to make sure your SG&A expenses don’t get out of control:

Go through all of them, line by line

Sometimes just the simple act of sitting down and identifying every single one of your SG&A expenses for the last year is enough to start thinking of ways to control them. When you finally do get down to cutting costs, look for expenses that aren’t directly tied to revenue like:

  • Facebook and Google ad campaigns that aren’t yielding results
  • Software subscriptions you don’t need anymore
  • Retainer fees for services that aren’t materially benefitting your business
  • Unnecessary entertainment and travel expenses
  • Petty cash expenses

Cut overhead costs

Do you need all of that office space you’re currently using, or could you sublease some of it to another business? Are you being as efficient with your electricity and heating costs as you could be? Think you could renegotiate your company’s internet and phone bill? Look through each of your business’ monthly expenses and make sure you aren’t overpaying for them.

Keep closer track of your spending

Make sure to keep a petty cash log. Get your employees to use a dedicated receipt app such as Receipt Bank to scan and keep track of all receipts. Keep a close eye on day-to-day spending with tools like Bench Pulse. The better you track daily spending in your business today, the less likely it’ll get out of control in the future.

Are SG&A expenses tax deductible?

Yes! According to the IRS, as long as these expenses are “ordinary” (i.e. typical for businesses in your industry) and “necessary” (i.e. you couldn’t do business without them), you’re allowed to write off SG&A expenses for the year in which you incurred them.

One thing to look out for when deducting SG&A is to make sure that they don’t include any capital expenses, which are any investments you make in your business (i.e. startup costs, assets, renovations, and improvements, etc.) Capital expenses must be capitalized and depreciated rather than deducted.

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This post is to be used for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal, business, or tax advice. Each person should consult his or her own attorney, business advisor, or tax advisor with respect to matters referenced in this post. Bench assumes no liability for actions taken in reliance upon the information contained herein.

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