Understand the differences between budget and forecast

financial planning

It is often compared to actual results and accompanied by variance analysis that explains any deviations from expectations. A budget is typically a static financial plan, meaning they are typically only updated once a year. Overall, these tools and practices can save time, reduce errors, promote collaboration and foster a more disciplined management culture that delivers a true competitive advantage.

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Forecasting can be a time consuming process that not all businesses are able to stay on top of regularly. Because of this, many businesses update their forecast data periodically, such as quarterly or biannually. It’s considered a best practice to build a rolling forecast so that these adjustments can be made in real-time. Essentially, expense allowances are built so as not to exceed budget limits, while income projections are the minimum needed to make the budget balanced. Financial analysts need to calculate the variances between the two figures in order to evaluate the efficacy of the budget and the fiscal health of the organization. Leaders ask themselves how the business will stack up in the next 1, 5, or even 10 years.

Key differences between budgeting and forecasting

The forecast is an estimation of future business trends and outcomes based on historical data. Used to determine how companies should allocate their budgets for a future period. Unlike budgeting, financial forecasting does not analyze the variance between financial forecasts and actual performance. This is why financial projections are an excellent financial planning tool. They help CFOs use historical data, industry data, and their own judgment to extrapolate financial information based on hypothetical future events. As a result, they aid decision-making by letting you better prepare for likely outcomes.

The goal is to earn more revenue than you budgeted for and never to exceed your expense budget. As you begin to understand and proactively manage your firm’s financial health, both tools can and should be used. The proper way is to have one support the other, not substitute one for the other.

Forecasting estimates what your fixed and variable expenses will be based on different sales and revenue scenarios. When creating a budget, you set specific spending limits in certain areas based on how much income you have. For example, you might forecast that your payroll will be $10,000 per month, while a budget actually limits payroll spending to $10,000. Financial forecasting estimates a company’s future financial outcomes by examining historical data, allowing management teams to anticipate results based on previous information. A financial forecast quantifies upcoming business activities that express where an organization is headed over a specified period. A financial budget, meanwhile, quantifies the tactical plans that represent what the organization’s management want to achieve during the budgeted period.

You don’t need to predict exactly how many bike shorts you’re going to sell. The forecast may be used for short-term operational considerations, and there is no variance analysis. A forecast is updated monthly, sometimes weekly, depending on the financial condition of the company. Because of the long-term nature of a financial plan, it allows for more flexibility and creativity. In the case of a financial plan , the means are less important than the end. Ultimately, a good financial plan provides a top-down operational framework to explore various scenarios.

Numerous planning software packages emerged to handle this data complexity, making planning, budgeting and forecasting faster and easier — both for processing and collaboration. With predictive insights drawn automatically from data, companies could identify evolving trends and guide decision making with foresight, not just hindsight. However, if your business has irregular cash flows or fluctuating revenue and expenses, a cash flow forecast may be more appropriate. You forecast what your income will be using sales and revenue history, as well as anecdotal evidence and guesstimates based on what is happening in your marketplace. Forecasting might rely on government economic data or industry research reports. You might create both conservative and optimistic income projections to give you each scenario.

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Financial forecasting serves as an input for making budget allocations and helps management to develop its strategic plan. There could be quarterly revenue forecasts based on business drivers and past data. There could also be forecasts of cash flows for several years helping management in several aspects like determining the optimal apital structure. A budget is an in-depth financial document that demonstrates the financial position the company aims to achieve within a certain timeframe.

Budgeting: Explained

This guide will help you understand the difference between financial forecasts vs. projections and when each can help you communicate with stakeholders. Differentiating between forecast vs. projection can be tricky since the terms seem similar at first glance. However, you prepare forecasts based on what you expect to happen in the future. On the other hand, you use projections for what-if scenario analysis, so estimates change under each scenario.

Describe two ways economists try to forecast develpments in the economy. Which of the following types of analysis compares one corporation to another corporation and to industry averages? A comprehensive solution that provides power and flexibility for streamlined, best-practice financial consolidation and reporting. Forecasting shows a business where they’re going, estimating future in and outflows.

Check out our list of the top 10 forecasting apps for small businesses, or learn how to build your own forecast with our FREE spreadsheet template + guide. Budgets are about managing details while forecasts are used to guide high-level strategy and keep your business on track. Simply put, if a company’s annual budget for research and development is $180,000.00, the forecast will be the prediction of how this amount will be invested in each month, each quarter, each semester, etc. That is why it is necessary to understand what budget and forecast are in order to get the most out of these concepts.


Tracking spending compared to your budget gives you deep visibility into where the money is going in your business. You’ll see what categories you’re overspending in and where you have room to spend more. Flexibility – A forecast is a dynamic model that’s constantly changing in response to conditions on the ground, whereas a budget is static.

Key Differences Between Budget and Forecast

If you find discrepancies with your credit score or information from your credit report, please contact TransUnion® directly. Using both judgment voided checking and quantitative forecasting allows a small business to get the most accurate take on what the fiscal year might bring. For example, if you overspent on travel, you could consider reducing the budget for marketing.

A budget is a comprehensive plan that takes into account all the expected income and expenses for a year, while a cash flow forecast focuses on the timing of cash inflows and outflows. By predicting future cash shortages, businesses can take steps to mitigate them, such as negotiating payment terms with suppliers, delaying non-critical expenses, or seeking additional financing. Since budgets can take a significant amount of time and effort, I recommend starting with a forecast that guides your strategic direction. This means looking at the big picture for your revenue and expenses. Determine the major sales and expense categories that you should pay attention to and then create forecasts for those.

Budget vs. Forecast

Consulting firms emerged to help companies use these new prediction tools. A budget helps businesses set financial goals and track their progress towards those goals. It also helps them make informed decisions about where to invest their resources, which can help them grow their business and increase their profitability. —Judgment forecasting utilizes only your intuition and experience to surmise what might happen in the near future. It is best used when there is no historical data to work from like for new product launches.

Forecasts tend to be more strategic than budgets, providing you with a roadmap of where your business is expected to go that’s based on historical data and business drivers. Generally, it’s restricted to revenue and expenses, and unlike budgets, forecasts are updated regularly (i.e. monthly or quarterly). A forecast is a high-level, strategic view of where you want your business to go in the future. It is a prediction of where you think your company will grow that’s often based on historical data—your past results over a period of time.

  • This is in order to best use the financial data they have available to their advantage.
  • Many businesses still base their strategy on annual plans and budgets, which is a management technique developed over a century ago.
  • Her favorite part of the job is the perspective of the “before and after” for prospective customers—hearing about the success of analytics and what it did to improve their business in a meaningful way.
  • However, if your business has irregular cash flows or fluctuating revenue and expenses, a cash flow forecast may be more appropriate.

Instead, if you’re running a small business, you should focus first on creating a forecast. Once you determine your sales goals and broad categories for expenses, you can dive in and add additional detail where it’s necessary. The budget’s primary goal is to determine what resources to allocate to each part of the company, from salaries to office supplies. The focus of a budget revolves around cash position, including expected revenues and expenses, to create specific financial goals for the foreseeable future. The projection of business activities for future accounting period on the basis of historical data is known as forecast.

Since the budgeted amounts are the outcomes of the forecast, the budget itself forms the basis for the model. Creating a budget forecast is fairly straightforward once a budget is in place. This is because the budget itself consists of the outcomes of the forecast. This makes a budget forecast an extremely useful tool for performing monitoring and a common tool used in Corporate Performance Management .

Time frame – A budget is created for a shorter time period, whereas a forecast can be used for both the short- and long-term. That said, forecasts tend to be more focused on the grand scheme of things as opposed to the day-to-day operations. A profit & loss statement (P&L) – Also referred to as an income statement, a P&L demonstrates profitability over a certain time frame in terms of revenue, expenses, and income. In other words, it examines previous data sets, historical performance, as well as historical and ongoing market conditions or trends to develop projections. With a budget, you identify the future financial position of the company.

They’re only accessible to your management and unavailable to the public. You might also create a projection where the assumption is 80% attainment, where your fully-ramped AEs only bring in $480,000 in revenue. Explain how both small and large organizations can benefit from budgeting.

The purpose of the two techniques underlines the critical difference between the two as budgeting is a detailed sketch of the aims and objectives of the company in a set upcoming period. In contrast, forecasting is the regular monitoring of the same so that the company knows whether it is reasonable to think that the target will be met. When you have a realistic financial projection, you can prepare a budget to meet your different goals. Without a forecast, you’d end up spending resources on endeavors that are not aligned with your overall business financial goals. Of course, instincts can be wrong, so you should only use this method when you do not have historical data for decision-making.

forecasting process

In contrast, a budget may contain targets that cannot be accomplished if the budget is an overreach. Clearly, the main difference between budgets and forecasts is their overall purpose. In other words, forecasts are strategic tools for charting growth over a multi-year period, while budgets are tactical tools for managing operations. Forecasts tend not to go into granular detail, but instead provide a high-level overview of where your business is expected to be in the coming months and years. Learn more about strategic budgeting, and how it helps high-growth companies continue making proactive, strategic decisions.

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Explain the difference between deterministic and probabilistic financial planning models. Every finance department knows how challenging building a budget forecast can be. Regardless of the budgeting approach your organization adopts, it requires big data to ensure accuracy, timely execution, and of course, monitoring.

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