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The Best Practices to Create Operating Budget

An operating budget is a financial plan that outlines the projected revenues and expenses of an organization or business for a specific period, typically a fiscal year. It serves as a detailed guide for managing day-to-day operations, allocating resources, and achieving financial goals. Operating budgets are crucial for maintaining financial stability, making informed decisions, and evaluating performance.

The Best Practices to Create Operating Budget
The Best Practices to Create Operating Budget

Key components of an operating budget

  • Revenue Projection: This section estimates the expected income from sales, services, and other sources. It's important to be realistic and based on historical data or market trends.

  • Expense Forecast: This includes various categories of expenses, such as employee salaries, benefits, utilities, rent, supplies, marketing costs, and more. Expenses are categorized as fixed (remain relatively constant) or variable (fluctuate based on activity).

  • Net Income or Net Loss: Calculated by subtracting total expenses from total revenues, this figure indicates the anticipated profitability or loss for the budget period.

  • Cash Flow Analysis: This section outlines the inflows and outflows of cash throughout the budget period. It helps ensure that the organization has sufficient funds to cover expenses and meet financial obligations.

  • Budgeted Performance Metrics: Depending on the nature of the organization, certain performance metrics, such as sales targets, production quantities, or customer acquisition goals, might be included.

  • Budget Variance Analysis: This involves comparing actual financial results to the budgeted amounts. Variances (differences between budgeted and actual figures) can provide insights into areas of efficiency or areas that need improvement.

  • Assumptions: Any underlying assumptions or considerations made during the budgeting process are documented here. These could include factors like inflation rates, market conditions, or anticipated changes in regulations.

Operating budgets are essential for guiding financial decisions and ensuring that an organization operates within its means. They are typically created by considering historical financial data, market trends, input from various departments, and managerial judgment. As the budget period progresses, regular monitoring and adjustments may be necessary to stay on track and adapt to changing circumstances.

Essential steps to build an efficient operating budget

Building a solid operating budget requires a systematic approach that takes into account various aspects of your organization's financial activities. Here are the steps to create an effective operating budget:

  1. Gather Historical Data: Collect financial data from the previous years to understand your organization's revenue, expenses, and trends. This information will serve as a foundation for projecting future budget figures.

  2. Define the Budget Period: Determine the timeframe for your budget. The most common period is one year, but it can vary depending on your organization's needs and industry.

  3. Engage Relevant Departments: Collaborate with department heads and managers to gather insights into their projected needs and expenses for the budget period. Each department's input is crucial to create a comprehensive and accurate budget.

  4. Estimate Revenue: Analyze market trends, historical sales data, and any upcoming changes that might affect your organization's revenue. Develop realistic revenue projections based on this analysis.

  5. Identify Fixed and Variable Costs: Categorize expenses as fixed (unchanging) or variable (changing based on activity). Examples of fixed costs include rent and insurance, while variable costs may include materials and utilities.

  6. Allocate Resources: Distribute resources among departments based on their needs and priorities. Consider the potential impact on the organization's strategic goals and objectives.

  7. Calculate Expenses: Work with each department to estimate their operating expenses, taking into account salaries, benefits, supplies, marketing, travel, and any other relevant costs. Ensure that estimates are as accurate as possible.

  8. Consider Non-Operating Expenses: Don't forget to account for non-operating expenses, such as interest payments on loans or one-time expenses like equipment purchases or legal fees.

  9. Build in Contingency: Include a contingency fund to account for unexpected expenses or changes in the business environment. This will help mitigate potential budget shortfalls.

  10. Review and Adjust: Carefully review the budget to ensure it aligns with the organization's goals and objectives. Make adjustments as needed, considering the feedback from department heads and any changes in the business landscape.

  11. Create Budget Variance Thresholds: Establish acceptable ranges of variance for different budget categories. This will help you monitor performance throughout the budget period and take corrective actions if necessary.

  12. Get Management Approval: Present the budget to top management or the relevant decision-makers for approval. Clearly communicate the rationale behind your budget figures and how they tie into the organization's strategic direction.

  13. Implement and Monitor: Once the budget is approved, put it into action. Regularly monitor actual financial performance against the budgeted figures. Keep track of any deviations and investigate the reasons behind them.

  14. Conduct Variance Analysis: Periodically review budget variances to identify trends, potential problems, and areas of success. Adjust your strategies and resource allocations based on these insights.

  15. Iterate and Improve: As the budget period progresses, continue to refine your budget based on actual performance and changing circumstances. Use the lessons learned to enhance the accuracy and effectiveness of future budgets.

Remember that building a solid operating budget is an iterative process that requires collaboration, analysis, and adaptability. By following these steps and maintaining a proactive approach to budget management, you'll be better equipped to navigate the financial challenges and opportunities that arise in your organization.

What about capital improvements plan?

A Capital Improvements Plan (CIP), also known as a Capital Budget or Capital Expenditure Plan, is a strategic financial plan that outlines an organization's or government entity's proposed investments in major physical assets and infrastructure projects over a specified period. It serves as a roadmap for allocating funds to acquire, develop, upgrade, or replace capital assets to support growth, enhance services, and maintain or improve the quality of life for a community. Here are the key elements and steps involved in creating a Capital Improvements Plan:

  • Asset Inventory and Assessment: Compile an inventory of existing assets, such as buildings, infrastructure, equipment, and facilities. Evaluate the condition, age, and performance of these assets to identify maintenance, repair, or replacement needs.

  • Strategic Goals and Objectives: Align the CIP with the organization's long-term strategic goals, mission, and priorities. Determine how capital investments will contribute to achieving these objectives.

  • Project Identification and Prioritization: Identify potential capital projects based on needs assessments, input from various departments, public input, and community priorities. Prioritize projects based on their potential impact, urgency, cost-effectiveness, and alignment with strategic goals.

  • Financial Analysis: Estimate the costs associated with each proposed project, including construction, design, engineering, permits, and any related expenses. Consider potential sources of funding, such as grants, bonds, taxes, or user fees.

  • Funding Sources: Determine how the proposed projects will be funded. This may involve a combination of revenue streams, such as general funds, dedicated taxes, grants, debt financing, or public-private partnerships.

  • Multi-Year Planning: Develop a multi-year timeline for implementing the capital projects. Consider the timing of projects, dependencies, and potential conflicts with other initiatives.

  • Public Engagement: Engage stakeholders, including community members, businesses, and relevant interest groups, to gather input on project priorities and ensure transparency in the decision-making process.

  • Documentation and Presentation: Create a comprehensive document that outlines each proposed project, its justification, funding sources, timeline, and potential benefits. Present the plan to relevant decision-makers, such as city councils, boards of directors, or governing bodies, for approval.

  • Implementation and Oversight: Once the plan is approved, initiate the projects according to the established timeline. Assign responsibility for project management, oversight, and monitoring to ensure that projects stay on track and within budget.

  • Regular Review and Updates: Periodically review and update the Capital Improvements Plan to account for changes in priorities, funding availability, community needs, and unforeseen circumstances. Adjust the plan as necessary to ensure it remains relevant and effective.

A well-structured Capital Improvements Plan helps organizations make informed decisions about their capital investments, manage resources effectively, and ensure the long-term sustainability and growth of their assets and infrastructure.

How capital improvements plan is related to operating budget?

A Capital Improvements Plan (CIP) and an operating budget are both crucial financial planning tools for an organization, but they serve different purposes and focus on different aspects of financial management. Here's how they are related and how they complement each other:

Purpose and Focus:

  • Capital Improvements Plan (CIP): The primary focus of a CIP is on major capital expenditures, such as acquiring, constructing, upgrading, or replacing physical assets and infrastructure. It outlines the organization's long-term investment strategy to support growth, enhance services, and maintain or improve its facilities and assets.

  • Operating Budget: The operating budget, on the other hand, is concerned with the day-to-day operational expenses and revenue projections of the organization. It covers salaries, utilities, supplies, marketing, and other ongoing costs required to keep the organization running.

Time Horizon:

  • CIP: The CIP typically has a longer time horizon, often spanning multiple years. It outlines capital projects that may extend over several fiscal periods, and it provides a roadmap for managing these projects over time.

  • Operating Budget: The operating budget typically covers a shorter time frame, usually a single fiscal year. It focuses on the immediate financial needs and activities of the organization for that period.

Funding and Financing:

  • CIP: The CIP outlines how major capital projects will be funded, which may involve various sources such as bonds, grants, dedicated taxes, or other financing methods. It addresses how the organization plans to secure the necessary funds for these larger projects.

  • Operating Budget: The operating budget focuses on the ongoing revenue and expenses needed for the organization's daily operations. It outlines how the organization will generate income to cover routine costs.


  • The CIP and operating budget are interrelated because capital projects often have operational implications. For example, if a city government decides to build a new community center (capital project), the operating budget needs to account for future maintenance and staffing costs associated with the center.

Budgeting Process:

  • The CIP and operating budget are typically developed as separate but interconnected components of the overall financial planning process. The capital projects identified in the CIP may impact future operating costs, and these considerations may influence the allocation of resources in the operating budget.


  • The CIP helps organizations make strategic decisions about their long-term investments and prioritize capital projects that align with their goals. These decisions can impact the operating budget over time as projects are completed and put into operation.

In summary, while the Capital Improvements Plan (CIP) and operating budget serve different purposes and cover different aspects of an organization's finances, they are interconnected. The CIP outlines major capital projects and their funding, which can impact future operating costs. The operating budget focuses on day-to-day operational expenses and revenue projections, which are influenced by the outcomes of capital projects. Effective coordination and alignment between the two planning tools are essential for achieving the organization's financial and strategic objectives.

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