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Understanding Ordinary and Necessary Business Expenses

business expenses small business taxes May 02, 2024

As a small business owner, managing finances effectively is not just about boosting revenue, but also about optimizing expenses. One key area that can significantly influence your financial health is the proper understanding and handling of your business expenses. Particularly, knowing what qualifies as "ordinary and necessary" expenses can not only help in making informed spending decisions but also in maximizing your tax deductions. This article aims to demystify these terms and provide you with actionable insights to better manage your expenses.

What Are Ordinary and Necessary Expenses?

The IRS defines "ordinary" expenses as those that are common and accepted in your trade or business. On the other hand, "necessary" expenses are those that are helpful and appropriate for your business. Importantly, an expense does not have to be indispensable to be considered necessary.

Examples of Ordinary and Necessary Expenses

Here are a few examples of ordinary and necessary expenses typical for many small businesses:

  • Rent: Payments made for the space where your business operates, whether it's an office, storefront, or another facility.
  • Supplies and Materials: All the items you need for the smooth operation of your business, from office supplies to raw materials.
  • Utilities: Costs for services such as electricity, water, internet, and telephone necessary for business operations.
  • Advertising and Marketing: Expenses incurred in promoting your business through various media, including digital advertising, brochures, and billboards.
  • Salaries and Wages: Payments to employees for their services, including benefits like health insurance.

Special Considerations

While many expenses are straightforward, others may not be as clear-cut and can depend on the specifics of your business context. For example, travel and entertainment expenses must be directly related to or associated with the business to qualify. Similarly, educational expenses that improve skills related to your business may be deductible, but those that qualify you for a new trade are not.

Why Does It Matter?

Understanding what constitutes an ordinary and necessary expense is crucial for two main reasons:

  1. Tax Deductions: Properly categorizing and recording these expenses can significantly reduce your taxable income, thereby lowering your tax liability.
  2. Financial Planning: Knowing which expenses are necessary for your business helps in better budgeting and financial planning, ensuring that resources are allocated where they are most effective.

Best Practices for Managing Business Expenses

  • Keep Detailed Records: Always keep receipts, invoices, and detailed notes about each expenditure. This practice not only supports your claims in the case of an IRS audit but also helps in financial tracking and management.
  • Use Accounting Software: Leveraging technology can simplify the management of your business finances. Software solutions can help track expenses efficiently and accurately.
  • Review Regularly: Make it a routine to review your expenses. This helps you identify areas where you can cut costs and increase efficiency.


For small business owners, every dollar counts, and understanding which expenses are ordinary and necessary is key to maximizing potential tax deductions and making savvy business decisions. By integrating these insights into your financial strategy, you can ensure that your business not only survives but thrives in today's competitive market.

Whether you're revising your budget, preparing for tax time, or planning for the future, a deeper understanding of your expenses can provide a solid foundation for your business's financial health. If you're unsure about how specific expenses are categorized, consider consulting with a professional accountant who can provide guidance tailored to your unique business needs.

If you want to improve your business situation, get assistance now. Schedule your free consultation today or give us a call at (218) 491-4002. We're here to help!

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