What is Operating Budget: How to Create & Manage One

Mohammed Ridwan

February 23, 2023


Businesses have all sort of budgets, such as cash budgets, labor budgets, investments budgets, project budgets, and each has their own particular function. Among those, few are as important as the operating budget.

Your operating budget consists of all your fixed and variable costs, as well as your expenses and it is what your business will use to determine what revenue will look like for a given period of time. But an operating budget isn’t simply about knowing how much you are spending and can make; it can also help you find ways to improve your bottom line. 

In this article, you’ll learn about the importance of having an operating budget, the components that form one, and how you can improve the management of your budget.

What is an operating budget?

An operating budget is a yearly financial plan showing a company's expected income and spending. It's created at the end of each year to plan for the next one. This budget helps companies predict their money flow, manage costs, and make smart financial choices. It's key for businesses to stay on track and grow. Understanding an operating budget is important for anyone running a business or managing finances.

Why do we need an operating budget?

A company's annual operating budget outlines how it intends to spend its money over a specified period. In order to create one, fixed and variable costs, as well as revenue, need to be taken into account.

The purpose of an operating budget is to determine where and when funds should be allocated, make sure all expenditures are covered, and keep things running smoothly for all types of businesses. Without one, your business cannot function efficiently. 

Unlike a capital budget, an operating budget helps businesses plan their daily operations and recurring expenses, whereas a capital budget helps them plan long-term investments.

Its purpose is to prevent cash outflows from exceeding cash inflows. It is necessary for companies to evaluate their incoming revenue and expenditures in order to accomplish this.   

The process of creating an operating budget involves:

  • Examining your costs (fixed costs, variable costs, administrative expenses, etc.)
  • Tallying your list of sources of income.
  • Estimating one-time spends
  • Working out your supplier costs
  • Estimating your revenue
  • Building cash flow projections
  • Monitoring petty-cash and other expense sections
  • Setting spending goals

While a tight operating budget with limited resources can lead to a lot of profit, it can also create inefficiencies for your business. Ideally, you should be looking for this balance when calculating your operating expenses in the current fiscal year, as well as when planning your operating budgets. 

Benefits of having operating budgets for businesses

  • Finance the expansion of your company: If you plan to obtain a business loan or raise funds from investors, you must present a detailed operating budget outlining your income and expenses.
  • Make your business budget clearer so you can plan for the future: Your business budget serves as a financial road map in a number of ways. The financial health of your company can be determined using this report, as well as what needs to be done to achieve future financial goals.
  • Help your company run more efficiently and effectively if you make a budget: Keeping a company budget can also help you stay out of debt by ensuring that the right money is spent in the right places at the right time.
  • Analyze your revenue and costs to determine where you can save money: Budgeting your business can help you identify areas where you can cut costs or increase revenue, increasing profits.
  • Avoiding debt by predicting slow months.
  • Helping you maintain control over your business.
  • Recognizing reinvestment opportunities.
  • Calculate your expected earnings.
  • Analyze the gap between your expectations and reality

What are the components of an operating budget?

Operational budgets become more valuable and relevant the more detailed they are. A budget for operating expenses may include a high-level summary as well as several supporting sub-budgets. When you are developing a budget, you'll typically include the following operating budget components:

1. Revenue

A company's revenue is generated by selling goods and services. The forecast of revenue can be based on a simple year-over-year comparison, but breaking down revenue based on its underlying components can provide more useful information.

It is not a good idea to use projected revenue at this stage. This is not advisable since emotions can lead you to misperceive the company's capabilities. Identify your actual revenue from your financial statements, and don't worry if your expenses are higher than sales revenue. It is common for businesses to lose a certain amount of money each month until they reach profitability.

2. Variable costs

As sales volume increases or decreases, these costs rise or fall accordingly. Costs associated with variable items include direct raw materials and labor, commissions , production supplies, and monthly fees on credit cards. To calculate percentages on variable costs later, you'll need to list the actual costs when you create your operating budget. It is crucial to understand how variable costs will change as you do revenue projections. 

3. Fixed costs

A fixed cost is an expense that remains relatively constant regardless of whether sales rise or fall. Among these fixed expenses are cost factors such as monthly rent, utilities, leases of equipment, and insurance. In order for a company to be profitable, it must have a small, fixed cost and variable cost as a percentage of its revenue. To do that, it's important to understand what those fixed costs are.   

4. Non-cash expenses

Stock-based compensation, deferred income taxes, and depreciation are among the most common non-cash expenses.

5. Non-operating expenses

An organization's main activity is not directly impacted by these costs. Non-operating expenses include interest payments, losses from asset dispositions, and currency exchange costs.

Operational budgets may include other items in some industries or organizations. Typically, capital expenses aren't included in operating budgets since they are long-term costs, while operating budgets are short-term.

How to manage and improve operating budgets?

Creating an operating budget and managing it effectively takes several skills. The goal of budgeting is to improve control and accuracy over time, making your budgets even better. In order to do so, you can take the following approach:

1. Prepare multiple budget types

Spending is guided by budgets, which predict revenue over a certain period of time. Short-term budgets are intended to cover one year or a year and a half, while mid-term budgets are intended for two to three years, and long-term budgets are intended to forecast your business's finances for four to five years. Businesses often create multiple budgets. As part of business operations, they may rely heavily on a short-term budget, while for high-level planning, they may rely more heavily on a long-term budget. There are also overhead budgets, direct materials budgets, production budgets, administrative expenses budgets, direct labor budgets, and many more.

2. Delegation

A senior manager should designate who shall be responsible for updating and maintaining localized budgets. In order for all budget updates to fit together, you'll also need a plan for your delegates to help maintain financial accountability.

3. Monitoring and collaboration

Maintaining a healthy budget requires regular monitoring and collaboration. Overspending or underspending is noted here, adjustments are made, and future predictions are made. Collaboration with your staff is what allows you to find discrepancies between your expectations and the day-to-day business reality. This is ultimately the best way to monitor variable costs, follow cash flow, and catch mistakes.

4. Forecasting

It is important to understand where your business stands today and where it wishes to go in the future before you plan your business strategy. It helps you to understand where you met, exceeded or encountered unexpected difficulties for the entire year based on accurate, up-to-date data from routine budget monitoring. Using your data, you can create a budget that is more tailored to needs at the end of the year.

7 tips to efficiently managing operating budgets

1. Ensure that budget details are set appropriately

A budget can take many forms. Understanding how detailed this particular budget needs to be is the first step toward creating a successful budget. Budgets should be broken down at least by department. In most cases, though, it isn't particularly helpful to get too deep into line items. Often, managers or specific employees are better equipped to keep track of granular details about frequent purchases. In addition, managers should be able to adjust budgets based on their performance. Managing social media campaigns may require flexibility from a marketing manager, for example.

2. Delegate effectively

As a business opens, most spending may be cleared personally by the owners. Businesses grow to a point where they are unable to handle the volume of decisions alone as they grow.

It may be challenging to give someone else control over the company's finances, but as a result of delegation, all purchase decisions won't have to be passed through the owner's desk. A department can respond more nimbly to its needs. In order to continue to improve their skills in budget management, managers should have access to budget management training tools.

3. Engage in collaboration

It is necessary for departments to have a certain amount of control over their own budgets. The importance of encouraging communication between related departments cannot be overstated. Having overlapping objectives between the marketing and sales teams can help each team perform better, for instance:

  • Your finance team can cooperate with IT to find ways to keep systems updated without overspending.
  • Your Human Resources department can consult with the travel management team to lower the cost of recruiting (when it involves traveling.

4. Establish a standard for budget reporting

The budget now spreads across multiple departments if you follow the steps in order. It takes some time for each department to manage its budget independently and some time for them to collaborate with other teams. 

Keeping a centralized "home" for budget management helps executives get a cohesive, high-level view when they need it. It is possible to accomplish this by implementing a central budget system that can be accessed by all budget users. Each department should record expenses according to the same procedure, even if they handle the budget monitoring on their own. It will be easier for you to combine all records into one master budget record this way.

5. Compile accurate, complete data

It is vital to monitor actual business expenses in order to keep your budget on track. A budget without this step is merely a theoretical document that does not have any real power to influence business decisions. Make sure to pay attention to the performance of your budget during each upcoming period by collecting thorough, accurate updates.

Setting clear spend categories and making the expense submission process as convenient as possible are two ways to accomplish this.

It is important to keep context in mind when categorizing. It is possible to classify the same restaurant meal differently depending on the purpose of the trip. Interviewing a potential employee is an expense in human resources. A meal with a client is a sales opportunity. Your travel budget covers the cost of a business traveler's meal. Create an accurate view of your expenses by categorizing them appropriately in your system.

When you submit an expense report in a few minutes, you're more likely to receive complete information. The process can be streamlined by choosing a budget management tool with features such as receipt photo capture and automatic categorization.

6. Schedule appointments for budget updates

We've all experienced situations where it seems like all projects are due at once. An intense workload can lead to a temptation to drop any unimportant task during a crunch period.

Nevertheless, budget management is an essential task if you want to keep your business' finances in order. When you put off a budget review until next week, "when things calm down," the greater the chances of soon having to put out a new fire.

Establish a schedule for closing books and updating department heads on any course corrections that need to be made. The early detection of overspending can be achieved by checking on it quarterly or monthly.

7. Keep the future in mind

By comparing actual and planned spending on one budget, you can inform your next budget preparation. By keeping notes from your financial budget reviews, you can create your next budget more easily.

It is possible to discover patterns in your notes that you might not notice on a daily basis. Were you able to make a surplus in some areas but overextended in others? How can you anticipate future spending patterns? The data from your own budget is a great resource for building future plans.

How can Pluto help businesses create and manage an operating budget?

Tracking expenses

Pluto can track all the expenses made by the organization and categorize them according to their purpose. This way, the organization can see where their money is going and identify areas where they can cut costs.

Budget setting

With Pluto, an organization can set a budget for each expense category (under a corporate card or group of cards). This ensures that the organization does not overspend and can stay within its financial limits.

Real-time monitoring

Pluto can provide real-time updates on the organization's spending, allowing them to see how much they have spent, how much they have left, and where they are overspending. This helps the organization make informed decisions about its spending and adjust its budget accordingly.

Detailed reporting

Pluto can generate ad-hoc reports, providing the organization with detailed information on their spending. This can help the organization identify trends and make informed decisions about future spending.

Overall, Pluto can help an organization create and manage an operating budget by providing real-time tracking, automated reporting, and budget-setting features. This allows the organization to stay on top of its spending, make informed decisions, and achieve its financial goals.

Key takeaways

An operating budget isn’t just important, it’s absolutely necessary. While there can be challenges when it comes to building one, such as poor visibility of your expenditure and a lack of expense tracking, these can be overcome with the aid of Pluto.

Properly building and updating your operating budget will help you find opportunities for improvement when it comes to cost-cutting and revenue, as well as generally increase the efficiency of your business.

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