Defining Key Terms
A budget is a quantitative plan and estimate for revenues and expenses over a specified time period, usually a year. It sets targets that a business wants to achieve.
Actuals refer to the real, verified financial figures incurred during the budget period. They represent what truly happened, not estimates.
Variance analysis is the process of comparing budgeted amounts to actual results to determine the difference. This variance can be favorable or unfavorable.
The Importance of Budget vs Actual Analysis
Comparing actual financial metrics to the budget provides visibility into the company’s performance. Analyzing variances allows businesses to identify inefficiencies and opportunities for improvement. Key reasons why budget variance analysis matters:
- Evaluates accuracy of budgeting process - Significant variances indicate an issue with projecting revenues, costs and other figures accurately. This knowledge can lead to enhanced budgeting methodology.
- Provides accountability - Managers are responsible for budget variances within their department. Reviewing analysis links financial outcomes to operational decisions and motivates sticking close to the budget.
- Surfaces problems - Uncovers specific activities, campaigns, products etc. that are over or underperforming expectations. Business can then drill-down to root causes.
- Informs better forecasting - Understanding why budgets were off base allows creation of more realistic plans and projections moving forward across the organization.
- Enables faster responses - Seeing meaningful discrepancies early rather than after it’s too late facilitates swift action to correct course.
- Identifies opportunities - Favorable variances indicate areas of upside potential that may warrant additional investment to drive further growth.
How to Calculate Budget vs Actual Variances
Budget variance analysis methodology includes:
- Select appropriate time interval - Compare at same recurring time frequencies the budget was created for whether monthly, quarterly, annually etc.
- Calculate dollar value variance - Simple subtraction of actual - budget = variance. Do for both income statement and cash flow.
- Calculate percentage variance - Divide $ variance by budget amount and multiply by 100. This normalization allows for comparison across line items.
- Breakdown by business segment - Provide variance drill-downs by business unit, product, region etc. seeing where specifics over or underperformed.
- Highlight outliers - Flag variances exceeding 10-20% above and below budget at a glance as significant for further diagnosis.
- Analyze balance sheet - Assets, liabilities and equity balances influence operating decisions so factor their variances as well.
Having both $ values and percentages is key for insightful variance reporting. Additionally, automating as much of the calculations as possible ensures accuracy and saves finance team time.
Diagnosing the Leading Causes of Variances
With the variances quantified, next comes interpreting root cause drivers. Common factors include:
- New competitor entries
- Commodity/input prices
- Currency exchange shifts
- Interest rate moves
- Ineffective marketing campaign
- Poor sales team productivity
- Supply chain disruption
- Production downtime
- Other process deficiencies
- Natural disasters
- Major litigation
- Changes in regulations
- Excessive optimism / pessimism
- Insufficient data / assumptions
- Formula / logic flaws
Asking why variances occurred uncovers vital intelligence finance can provide to operating departments for adjustment. Analyzing market metrics, benchmarking to peers, speaking with department leaders, reviewing actuals from prior years etc. all help reveal variance drivers. The goal is reaching root cause not just symptoms.
Strategies to Correct Unfavorable Variances
Once the underlying factors behind budget misses become known, constructing action plans can bring performance alignment. Common tactics include:
- Improve targeting - For advertising, promotions etc. to minimize waste and enhance return on investment.
- Renegotiate supplier contracts - If certain input materials spiked while others didn’t, pressure vendors lagging on price relief.
- Review performance incentives - Sales commissions, operational bonuses and other relevant motivators may require recalibration to achieve budget aims going forward.
- Lower breakeven point - Where feasible cut fixed costs to allow profitability at lower sales levels.
- Adjust forecasting models - Tweak logic based on new learnings so future budgets have increased accuracy.
Continuous improvement applies to budgeting itself in addition to operational changes. The goal is bringing actuals in alignment over time vs routinely having significant misses.
Conclusion and Recommendations
Budget vs actual analysis provides indispensable visibility into corporate performance. While hitting budget targets perfectly every year is unrealistic, minimizing variances spotlights areas needing attention. Management today plays a key finance role necessitating budgeting proficiency to control company outcomes.
Best practices including automating reports for rapid insights, providing accompanying written explanations not just data, and reviewing variances in regular monthly meetings to swiftly solve discrepancies. Rather than reacting after it’s too late, savvy leaders course-correct in real-time adjusting decisions and resources accordingly.
Budget variances signal where your business reality diverged from expectations. Discovering exactly why empowers leaders to improve future results. Turn unearthing performance gaps into an opportunity delivering bottom line and competitive advantage.
Meow Technologies is a financial technology company, not a bank or FDIC-depository insured institution. Likewise, Meow Technologies is not an investment adviser and none of the information presented herein should be relied upon as financial advice or a recommendation to make any financial decision nor should it be considered to be tax or legal advice. The information is the opinion of Meow Technologies for educational purposes and may not be suitable for all companies. Products, like the one described herein, are offered through Meow Technologies and are not advisory services which are only offered through Meow Advisory, LLC.** The FDIC’s deposit insurance coverage only protects against the failure of an FDIC-insured bank.**