zero based budgeting

Zero-Based Budgeting Made Simple: A Complete Beginner’s Guide (2023)

In today’s ever-changing business environment, companies are continuously seeking new and innovative ways to optimize their finances and maximize their profits. 

While the traditional budgeting approach to budgeting involves adjusting the previous year’s budget allocation, an increasing number of organizations are turning to a more extreme budgeting approach known as zero-based budgeting (ZBB). 

This method involves justifying all expenses for the new period or year from scratch, with the aim of eliminating unnecessary costs and focusing on profitable initiatives. In this article, we will explore the concept of zero-based budgeting and its potential benefits and drawbacks for businesses.

What Is Zero Based Budget Process?

Zero-Based Budgeting (ZBB) is a budgeting method where a company justifies all expenses from scratch for a new period instead of adjusting based on previous budgets. This approach is effective in helping organizations eliminate unwanted costs, keep track of spending, and focus on high-profit initiatives. 

ZBB is crucial to achieving a company’s strategic goals and can be used for different expenses like operating expenses and capital expenditures. Successfully implementing ZBB can lead to significant cost savings and break free from outdated practices and departments. However, if unsuccessful, it can be costly for the organization.


How Does Zero-Based Budgeting Different from Traditional Budgeting?


Zero-Based Budgeting

Traditional Budgeting


Budgeting process Increases saving and justification of spending Cover continued expenditures from the previous year’s budget

Best for

Organizations that want to cut costs and streamline spending Organizations that do not have to strategize their overall spending


Prioritizing expenses based on needs and goals Incremental changes or


Bottom Up

Top Down

Timeframe Yearly


Flexibility Low flexibility

High flexibility

Risk of overspending Low risk of overspending

High risk of overspending


Advantages and Disadvantages of Zero-Based Budgeting

The Pros

  • Cost-Effectiveness

There has been a lot of uncertainty in recent years, and organizations are looking for additional ways to cut costs and improve their growth.

  • Eliminates Unnecessary Expenses

Zero-based budgeting allows managers to look for the most effective ways to manage costs to deliver programs, activities, and levels of services while eliminating huge expenses that are not aligned with their strategy.

  • Promotes A Culture of Accountability and Ownership

By creating a detailed and comprehensive initiative design and planning, members of the organization can track their input in the budget yearly and ensure it does not go overboard.

  • Prioritizes Expenses Based on Needs and Goals

ZBB prioritizes what to keep in the budget based on the needs of the organizations. This allows companies to focus on their needs and goals better.

  • Can Lead to More Accurate Budgeting

ZBB evaluates what the company needs and eliminates what it doesn’t. This means organizations can evaluate their needs and goals yearly, hence the likelihood of aligning to their costs more accurately.

The Cons

  • Time-Consuming Process

Zero-based budgeting can be very complex for a spreadsheet and manual planning environment. However, this can be easily solved by leveraging modeling platforms or budgeting software to help you plan through your dynamic budgeting cycles.

  • Requires Detailed Documentation and Analysis of Expenses

ZBB requires all departments to keep detailed documentation and analysis of the expenses.

  • May Not Be Suitable for All Organizations or Individuals

ZBB is a complex budgeting process that might not be ideal for every organization or individual based on their needs and preferences.

  • Can Be Challenging to Implement in Large Organizations

ZBB is detail-oriented, and it might be a long and tedious process for large companies to go through yearly.

  • Requires Regular Monitoring and Adjustments

It requires regular adjustment to determine whether it meets the organization’s needs.

asian man smiling in front of his laptop while counting money

Examples Of When Zero-Based Budgeting Is Appropriate

Zero-based budgeting is ideal for organizations that need to prioritize their expenses. Here is a look at some organizations that should consider using ZBB.

  • Startups and Small Businesses

Small businesses and startups can use the ZBB model to manage their cash flow and expenses. They often have limited resources but are required to maximize their efficiency.

  • Non-Profit Organizations

These organizations can use ZBB to enhance transparency and expense management. This budgeting model allows them to meet organizational goals while keeping track of their expenses.

  • Government Agencies

Government agencies need to justify their expenses based on public interest. The ZBB budgeting model allows them to have accountability and transparency while budgeting.

  • Companies with Changing Priorities

Companies that need to adapt quickly to changing marketing conditions can adopt the zero-based budgeting model to enhance flexibility in how they respond to new opportunities and challenges.

See Also: Financial Assistance Singapore and Singapore Financial Advisor

Zero-Based Budgeting Process: A Step-By-Step Guide

Organizations can develop their unique approaches to zero-based budgeting. Following these guidelines can provide a baseline for implementation:

1. Setting Financial Goals

The first step is to re-envision your business and see what resources and activities you will need to ensure success in future marketing conditions based on the cost and the strategic vision.

2. Identify and Prioritize Expenses

The next step is to identify and prioritize all your business expenses based on their necessity to your organization.

3. Allocate Funds to Each Expense Category

The next step is allocating funds to each expense category based on your research. Remember, you might have to revise the budget if it does not meet your needs.

4. Monitor and Adjust The Budget

The final step is monitoring and adjusting the budget based on your organization’s needs. This will allow you to keep aligned with your organizational goals.

Best Practices for Zero-Based Budget

  • Tracking Expenses

ZBB allows you to keep track of your expenses while ensuring you are aligned with your goals.

  • Incorporating Unexpected Expenses

A zero-based budgeting model allows you to adjust your budget often to incorporate unexpected expenses.

  • Making Regular Adjustments to The Budget

ZBB allows you to make the necessary steps to free funds and resources for the organization’s growth initiatives. You can quickly identify any overspending and reallocate the fund to strategic use in the organization.

  • Seek Professional Help If Needed

You can hire a professional to help your organization implement the model if you are not qualified. This will allow you to learn from the best in the business while increasing your chances of success.


Zero-based budgeting process is a budgeting model that allows you to justify all your expenses for a year or a new budget cycle starting from zero. It allows organizations to identify and eliminate unnecessary expenses while controlling their profits and focusing on profit-making activities.

Key Takeaways

  • ZBB allows you to track expenses and allocate resources based on your organization’s needs.
  • It encourages cost-effectiveness in the organization.
  • Zero-based budgeting requires a detailed analysis and documentation of all the expenses.

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