Earlier, we discussed cash flow forecasts and how they are used. An extension of the cash flow forecast concept is the operating budget. Most organizations have them. A budget is the financial expression of an organization’s operating plan for a period of time, usually at least a year. Prior to the beginning of the year, managers prepare a plan for what they hope to accomplish in the coming year in terms of revenue, expenses, and net profit.
A more formal definition of a budget is:
“A budget is a financial document used to project future income and expenses. The budgeting process may be carried out by individuals or by companies to estimate whether the person/company can continue to operate with its projected income and expenses.
A budget may be prepared simply using paper and pencil, or on computer using a spreadsheet program like Excel, or with a financial application like Quicken or QuickBooks.
The process for preparing a monthly budget includes:
- Listing of all sources of monthly income
- Listing of all required, fixed expenses, like rent/mortgage, utilities, phone
- Listing of other possible and variable expenses”. (Biztaxlaw.about.com 2009)
Then, as the year unfolds, actual income and expenses are posted to the accounting records, and compared to what was budgeted, and a variance from budget for each item budgeted (e.g. sales, selling expenses, advertising costs, etc) is calculated. Managers responsible for the various income and expense items then examine each variance and, if it is substantial, search for an explanation. For example, it is one thing if electricity costs are 20 per cent higher than what was budgeted for one month because workmen were using power tools to repair the roof. In that case, we can expect costs to return to normal when the repair work is completed. It is quite another thing if costs are higher because the electric company raised its rates. In that case, we can expect that costs will be at least 20 per cent higher in the future.