Employees are often referred to as a business’s greatest asset — and rightly so. But few would dispute the importance of inventory (and its management) when it comes to a company’s financial health. After all, how would anyone know how much product to order or estimate potential profitability without knowing the quantity and value of what’s already on hand? Beginning inventory — the dollar value of inventory a company has at the start of an accounting period — is a good place to start. Beginning inventory also sets the stage for other significant financial calculations, including cost of goods sold (COGS) and inventory turnover rate.

What Is Beginning Inventory?

Beginning inventory is the total monetary value of items that are in stock and ready to use or sell at the start of an accounting period. Also called opening inventory, beginning inventory matches the previous accounting period’s ending inventory. Changes in beginning inventory from one period to the next are subject to a variety of interpretations. A decrease, for example, could signal sales growth, or it could suggest a supply chain issue or a problem with inventory management. An increase may indicate a purposeful stocking up for a busy buying season, such as the holidays, or the opposite: a sales slowdown. Tracking beginning inventory can help a business identify market changes, forecast its inventory needs and inform its strategic decision-making.

Key Takeaways

  • Beginning inventory is the dollar value of a company’s inventory at the start of an accounting period.
  • Beginning inventory helps businesses understand sales trends that can lead to better strategic planning, budgeting and forecasting.
  • Businesses value their beginning inventory using one of four different methods: FIFO, LIFO, weighted average cost or specific assigned value.
  • Calculating the value of beginning inventory requires computing COGS, ending inventory and inventory purchases for a specific period of time.

Beginning Inventory Explained

Companies report inventory as a current asset on their balance sheets. This helps paint a picture of their operations and potential revenue over the span of an accounting period, be it a month, quarter or year. Beginning inventory includes finished goods ready for sale, as well as the raw materials and components used to produce those finished items and work in progress.

Ending inventory from one accounting period carries over as the beginning inventory for next one, though only the former is listed on the balance sheet. Say a sneaker company uses monthly accounting periods. On the last day of March, it has 1,000 pairs of unsold sneakers in inventory valued at $50,000. That represents its ending inventory for March and also its beginning inventory for April.

Why Is Beginning Inventory Important?

Beginning inventory can help a company uncover sales and operational trends, lead to improvements in inventory management processes and, ultimately, boost profitability. Whether it’s a small business with just one location or a large enterprise with worldwide locations and warehouses, the accurate assessment of inventory can guide product pricing, whether items need to be replenished or written off, and budget allocation.

In addition, beginning inventory is an important component of inventory accounting for both internal and external purposes. (More on that soon.) It is also part of the formula to determine cost of goods sold (COGS), which, in turn, helps predict a company’s profitability. And, of course, profitability, along with growth, is a key indicator of a company’s financial health and long-term prospects.

How and Where Do Businesses Use Beginning Inventory?

Like anything of value owned by a company, inventory is a business asset. Beginning inventory has an important role in accounting departments. There are three key areas of focus:

Balance sheets. A balance sheet summarizes all of a company’s assets and liabilities. A strong sheet can improve a company’s chances of qualifying for loans, as well as assure stakeholders that their investments are sound. Beginning inventory does not appear on the balance sheet, which typically reflects the end of an accounting period, but it can be inferred because ending inventory is listed — and the numbers should be the same.

Internal accounting. Taking stock of inventory at the start of each accounting period is useful for assessing future inventory needs, whether that means an increase or decrease in production or in the amount to reorder. Companies also use beginning inventory data to seek out (and understand) possible differences from one period to the next, as well as to protect against inventory shrinkage — loss generally attributed to damage, expiration, theft or bad math generated by manual calculations or subpar software.

Tax documentation. Imagine a warehouse is destroyed by a fire. Knowing beforehand how much beginning inventory it had can help the company determine the value of its loss for write-off and tax deduction purposes. But a catastrophic event isn’t the only reason to record beginning inventory: Taxes, and possible deductions, are based on a company’s COGS, which includes beginning inventory in its calculation.

How to Value Inventory

Beginning inventory is the financial value of inventory at the start of an accounting period. But the way inventory is valued for accounting purposes — and the subsequent impact on a company’s financial statements — will vary by company and by what is being sold. Four valuation methods are typically used: first in, first out (FIFO), last in, first out (LIFO), weighted average cost and specific assigned value.

First in, first out: The FIFO valuation method — the most popular of all four methods — matches the “natural” flow of goods: It assumes that inventory bought first is sold or used first. Therefore, the cost of the earliest inventory sold first is recognized when calculating COGS. FIFO typically results in a lower COGS and higher gross income because inventory purchased earlier usually costs less than items purchased later on.

Last in, first out: Conversely, the LIFO method assumes the newest products added to inventory are sold or used first. Their costs are recognized first when calculating COGS, which would be higher — and gross income lower — than with the FIFO method. LIFO tends to lower a company’s tax bill, thereby improving its cash flow.

Weighted average cost: This method averages the value of all inventory; it’s typically used when a company’s items are all the same. Calculating weighted average cost is straightforward: Just add up the total cost of goods purchased in an accounting period and divide them by the total number of items. This method smooths out price fluctuations that may occur when inventory is purchased over time.

Specific assigned value: This detailed valuation method — typically used for more expensive items, like vehicles — tracks individual pieces of inventory from the time a company purchases them until they are sold. Each item is priced individually as well, and clearly identified with a serial number or RFID tag. Specific assigned value is considered the most accurate determination of true inventory value.

Beginning Inventory Formulas, Ratios and Calculations

Although beginning inventory doesn’t appear on a company’s balance sheet or income statement, a variety of performance metrics do require beginning inventory for their calculation. They include:

Cost of goods sold (COGS): COGS, when subtracted from revenue, determines a company’s gross profit. The lower the COGS, the higher the gross profit, and vice versa. COGS includes all of the direct, and mostly variable, costs needed to produce inventory for sale. The formula for COGS is:

COGS = (beginning inventory + purchases) – ending inventory

In practice, say a T-shirt company begins a quarter with $8,000 worth of inventory. During the three months that follow, it sells $6,000 in T-shirts and makes $2,000 worth of purchases. At the end of the quarter, $4,000 worth of T-shirts remain ($8,000 beginning – $6,000 sold + $2,000 purchased).

Now we can determine COGS, where:

  • Beginning inventory = $8,000
  • Purchases = $2,000
  • Ending inventory = $4,000

Therefore, COGS equals $6,000 ($8,000 + $2,000 – $4,000).

Inventory turnover: Inventory turnover measures how many times, on average, a company sells and replaces inventory in a given time period. It’s a key indicator of how well a company manages its inventory and serves as a measure of its liquidity. However, the rate of turnover typically depends on what is being sold. The T-shirt company, for example, will likely have a much higher inventory turnover than, say, a luxury yacht manufacturer.

Calculating inventory turnover relies on COGS and average inventory. The formula to calculate average inventory for an accounting period is:

Average inventory = (beginning inventory + ending inventory) / 2

The inventory turnover ratio can now be calculated. The formula is:

Inventory turnover ratio = COGS / average inventory

Using our T-shirt company above, average inventory is $6,000 ($8,000 + $4,000 / 2). We already determined COGS to be $6,000. Therefore, the company’s inventory turnover rate is 1 time during a quarter ($6,000 / $6,000).

Days in inventory (DII): Also called days sales of inventory, DII determines the number of days a company takes to convert inventory into sales. The lower the number, the more quickly a company is selling its inventory. The higher the number, the slower its sales. The formula to calculate DII is:

DII = (average inventory / COGS) x number of days in that period

Back to our T-shirt company, which operates on a quarterly schedule. We know:

  • Average inventory = $6,000
  • COGS = $6,000
  • Days in period = 90

Therefore, DII equals 90 days ($6,000 / $6,000 x 90).

How to Calculate Beginning Inventory

Beginning inventory for a new period is the same as ending inventory from the previous period. In the example above, our T-shirt company’s ending inventory for the quarter was $4,000; therefore, its beginning inventory for the following quarter is also $4,000 — no calculation necessary. If the company wants to “roll backward” and double check its beginning inventory figure for reconciliation auditing purposes, the formula is:

Beginning inventory = (COGS + ending inventory) – cost of inventory purchases

We know:

  • COGS = $6,000
  • Ending inventory = $4,000
  • Purchases = $2,000

Therefore, beginning inventory equals $8,000 ([$6,000 + $4,000]) – $2,000), which matches the figure in the previous section.

Demand forecasting: Historical inventory, seasonality and sales data can help a business predict demand for its products in the days, weeks and months ahead. This process of predicting future sales is called demand forecasting. For example, if a company sees a spike in sales of coffee mugs every April, a reasonable conclusion would be to boost inventory levels in March to meet the increase in demand and avoid stockouts.

Demand forecasting helps a company answer key questions about how much inventory is needed for stock and fulfilling future orders, how often to replenish it and how sales trends may change. It can also help estimate total future sales and revenue. On a more macro level, demand forecasting helps a company prepare its budget, plan and schedule production, determine storage needs and develop a product pricing strategy.

If a business is fairly new or a new product is being introduced — i.e., there’s little to no past data to analyze — a more qualitative approach to forecasting may take place. This can include market research, surveys and polls, comparative analysis and expert opinions.

A more sophisticated forecasting approach looks at specific variables affecting demand. Depending on the type of business, this causal model could factor in the competition, economic forces, weather, societal shifts and/or changes in marketing and advertising strategies and budgets, to name a few.

Monitor and Manage Inventory With Software

Inventory management is critical for any business that sells products. NetSuite Inventory Management, provides a real-time view of inventory across all locations and sales channels. NetSuite Inventory Management automates the tracking of inventory, orders and sales. It also features demand-based planning to help ensure that the right amount of inventory is in stock at any given moment. Not buying enough can lead to stockouts, whereas buying too much ties up cash and may result in write-offs and price discounts. In addition, NetSuite’s software tracks costs and inventory value, which are necessary for calculating beginning and ending inventory, COGS, turnover and other items needed for proper accounting.


Beginning inventory embodies the phrase about not knowing where you’re going until you know where you’ve been. The accurate calculation of inventory value at the start of an accounting period will indicate how much revenue can be generated in the next period. Studying the sales trends of inventoried products over time helps companies forecast their budgets and best prepare for seasonality of certain inventory.

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Beginning Inventory FAQs

Why is beginning inventory useful?

Beginning inventory allows businesses to better recognize their sales and operational trends. Measuring and analyzing beginning inventory offers insight into the value of products on hand and can improve business strategy and efficiency. Such historical data gives businesses an opportunity to prepare and plan for seasonal or cyclical sales.

What is included in beginning inventory?

That depends on the type of business. A manufacturer’s beginning inventory may include raw materials and individual components, as well as items in production and finished goods. A retailer’s beginning inventory includes all products available and ready to be sold to customers.

How do you calculate beginning and ending inventory?

The first step to calculating beginning inventory is to figure out the cost of goods sold (COGS). Next, add the value of the most recent ending inventory and then subtract the money spent on new inventory purchases. The formula is (COGS + ending inventory) – purchases.

Calculating ending inventory involves similar elements. Add the beginning inventory value from the start of the period with purchases made during the period. Then subtract COGS. The formula is (beginning inventory + purchase costs) – COGS.

How do you find beginning inventory cost?

The beginning inventory of one accounting period should match the ending inventory of the previous period. To determine beginning inventory cost at the start of an accounting period, add together the previous period’s cost of goods sold with its ending inventory. From that sum, subtract the amount of inventory purchased during that period. The resulting number is the beginning inventory cost for the next accounting period.