Types of Budgets + 4 Most Common Budgeting Methods

Updated May 12, 2023.
Types of Budgets

A budget helps you navigate the complex world of finance. Whether you're a small business owner or an individual, a well-planned budgeting process can make all the difference. But with so many budgeting methods, how do you choose the right one?

Fear not. I'm here to guide you through the top four budgeting methods for your financial planning needs. From the master budget to a more detailed budget, you'll learn how to account for external factors and gauge business performance like a pro.

Discover how these budgeting techniques can transform your financial life and help you make informed decisions for a brighter future.

3 Types of Budgets

Let's dive into the world of budgets by exploring three of the most common types: balanced budget, surplus budget, and deficit budget.

Whether you're managing a small business or crafting a personal budget, understanding these types of budgets is crucial to financial success.

1. Balanced Budget

A balanced budget is like a tightrope walker, maintaining equilibrium between income and expenses. This approach eliminates unnecessary expenses, ensuring that every dollar earned is allocated wisely.

Imagine government and business budgets being carefully balanced, preventing deficits or surpluses.

The Cornerstone of Budgeting

Why start with a balanced budget? It's a cornerstone in budgeting, often used as a foundation for more complex methods such as master and final budgets.

By mastering the balanced budget, you'll be well-equipped to navigate more advanced techniques, like the flexible or static budget.

Balanced Budget in Practice

But how does it work in practice? Picture a small business using a top-down approach, where management defines the budget, and employees work within those constraints. This could also apply to a cash budget, where available funds dictate spending limits.

A Stepping Stone to Financial Stability

In essence, a balanced budget is a stepping stone to financial freedom. By grasping its principles, you'll be ready to tackle more intricate budgeting methods, ensuring your personal or professional finances are on the right track.

2. Surplus Budget

A surplus budget is one of the most unique types of budget that focuses on generating more income than expenses. This method benefits organizations that focus on investing in future growth or setting aside funds for unforeseen expenses.

Comparing and Adjusting: Identifying Areas for Improvement

By comparing the current budget to the previous period's budget, businesses can identify areas where they can cut costs or increase revenues, ultimately achieving a surplus.

Small Business Benefits: Expansion and Emergency Funds

Small businesses can benefit from a surplus budget, which allows them to allocate resources to expansion, equipment upgrades, or even an emergency fund.

Managing a Surplus Budget: Examining Cash Flow

When managing a surplus budget, examining cash flow and how it relates to various expense categories is essential, ensuring that you're meeting and exceeding your financial goals.

Incorporating Surplus Budget: Understanding Your Overall Financial Plan

By incorporating the surplus budget into your overall financial plan, you can better understand your operating budget, cash flow budget, and production budget.

This knowledge is invaluable when creating a comprehensive corporate budget that meets your organization's needs and helps you plan for the future.

3. Deficit Budget

On the state level, a deficit budget occurs when the federal government expects to spend more than it will receive in revenue. This type of government budget might seem alarming, but sometimes, it's necessary for financial restructuring or stimulating economic growth.

Deficit Budgets in Business

So, what does it mean for a business budget? In business, a deficit budget is based on the maximum resources a company will allocate to a project, even if it exceeds current revenues.

The idea is to invest in growth opportunities to generate more income in the long run and help the company recover from the deficit. The final budget, however, must be carefully crafted to avoid financial pitfalls.

Facing Unexpected Expenses

A deficit budget can be helpful when facing unexpected expenses when planning a financial budget. Or if you need to make a significant purchase to improve your financial situation.

Temporary Measure

It's important to remember that this type of budgeting should be temporary, and you should plan to pay off the deficit as soon as possible.

A Powerful Tool

As we've seen, the deficit budget is a powerful government and personal finance tool. It can help drive economic growth or pave the way for future success. But like any tool, it must be used wisely.

4 Main Types of Budgeting Methods

Understanding the various budgeting methods is essential for effective financial planning. In this section, we'll introduce the four main types of budgeting methods, each with its unique approach, pros, and cons.

1. Incremental Budgeting: Building on the Past

Incremental budgeting, a traditional budgeting approach, is all about taking the previous year's budget and making small adjustments to accommodate changes in the upcoming period. It's like climbing a ladder one step at a time, ensuring a sense of familiarity and continuity.

This method works well for static budgets, where fixed and variable costs are relatively predictable. Incremental budgeting can simplify the process, making it more manageable for businesses that don't experience rapid market or operating environment changes.

Incremental Budgeting Advantage vs Disadvantage
Source: Finsmart


  • Simplicity: Steady and familiar, incremental budgeting is easy to understand and implement.
  • Time-efficient: It saves time by building on the previous year's budget, requiring fewer resources and less effort.
  • Consistency: This method keeps the budget stable, lowering the chance of big changes in resource allocation.


  • Potential for inefficiencies: Incremental budgeting may overlook inefficiencies, perpetuating past mistakes into the future.
  • Resistance to change: It can be less flexible, potentially hindering a business's ability to respond to new challenges and opportunities.

2. Activity-based Budgeting: A Deeper Dive into Business Operations

On the other hand, activity-based Budgeting (ABB) takes a more in-depth look at the business operations, focusing on the activities and resources that drive costs.

This approach is like constructing a flexible budget from the ground up, carefully considering each component to create a tailored financial plan.

ABB identifies the relationships between costs and activities, enabling businesses to allocate resources more effectively. By analyzing the cost drivers and their impact on the operating budget, ABB allows for better control and optimization of business processes.


  • Enhanced decision-making: By linking costs to specific activities, this method allows organizations to prioritize spending based on the value and importance of each activity.
  • Improved cost management: ABB helps organizations better understand the costs associated with specific activities, enabling them to make more informed decisions about resource allocation and cost control.
  • Encourages flexibility: It fosters a proactive approach to budgeting, enabling businesses to adapt to changing market conditions and seize new opportunities.


  • Complexity: This method can be more complex and time-consuming than other budgeting methods, as it requires a detailed analysis of activities and their associated costs.
  • Issues with cost allocation: Accurately identifying and allocating costs to specific activities may be challenging, particularly in cases where costs are shared across multiple activities or difficult to quantify.

3. Value Proposition Budgeting: Aligning Spending with Value

Value Proposition Budgeting
Source: Divvy

Value proposition budgeting aims to allocate resources based on the value generated for the organization.

This method goes beyond merely tracking all the costs, such as fixed costs, variable costs, and production costs. Instead, it focuses on understanding the value created by different expense categories and prioritizing spending accordingly.

By concentrating on value, this budgeting method enables organizations to make informed decisions about where to invest their money.

For instance, a company might allocate more funds to marketing initiatives that generate high returns while reducing spending on less effective strategies.

Financial planning with value proposition budgeting involves creating a labor budget and cash flow budget and analyzing the impact of different expense categories on overall profitability.

This method encourages organizations to think strategically about resource allocation, focusing on the long-term impact of their decisions.


  • Better resource allocation: By prioritizing expenses based on the value they generate, organizations can optimize their spending to achieve the best possible outcomes.
  • Long-term focus: This method encourages organizations to think about the future and make decisions that support their long-term goals.
  • Improved profitability: By concentrating on value, organizations can identify areas to reduce costs and increase revenues, leading to better financial performance.


  • Complexity: Assessing the value generated by each expense can be a complex and time-consuming process, which may not be suitable for smaller organizations with limited resources.
  • Subjectivity: Determining the value of certain expenses can be subjective, leading to potential disagreements and inconsistencies in the budgeting process.

4. Zero-based Budgeting: Justifying Every Expense for Maximum Efficiency

Drive sustanable growth
Source: GEP

On the other hand, zero-based budgeting is a method that requires organizations to justify every expense from scratch at the start of each period.

The zero-based budget approach assumes that all budgets are set at zero, and each expense must be justified based on its contribution to the organization's objectives.

This method is handy for organizations that control costs and eliminate wasteful spending. It forces managers to examine every expense, ensuring that each dollar spent is aligned with the company's goals and priorities.

The zero-based approach involves thoroughly reviewing all expense categories, including fixed, variable, and production costs. Each expense must be justified, and any costs that do not contribute to the organization's objectives are cut.


  • Cost control: This method helps organizations identify and eliminate unnecessary expenses, leading to more efficient resource allocation.
  • Accountability: By requiring justification for every expense, zero-based budgeting promotes a culture of accountability and transparency.
  • Flexibility: Since budgets are created from scratch each time, this method allows organizations to adapt their spending plans to changing circumstances and priorities.


  • Time-consuming: Justifying every expense can be time-consuming and labor-intensive, particularly for large organizations with numerous expense categories.
  • Overfocus on the short term: Since budgets are built from scratch each time, there may be a tendency to prioritize short-term objectives at the expense of long-term goals.

Levels of Involvement in the Budgeting Process

As we wrap up our discussion on the four most common budgeting methods, let's dive into the different levels of involvement in the budgeting process.

Each method has distinct advantages, and understanding them can help you make more money by choosing the right approach for your organization.

Negotiated Budgeting

In a Negotiated Budgeting process, the budget is prepared through negotiations between the various departments and the management.

It's a give-and-take approach where each party presents their financial year expectations, and compromises are made to create a balanced budget.

  • Advantages: Negotiated budgets foster better communication, promoting cooperation and teamwork within the organization.
  • Drawbacks: This method can be time-consuming, and biases or personal agendas may influence the outcome.

Participative Budgeting

The Participative Budgeting process, or bottom-up budgeting, involves lower-level employees in the budget preparation.

By involving those executing the tasks, the budget becomes more realistic and better reflects the needs and constraints of each department.

  • Advantages: This method boosts employee morale, as they feel a sense of ownership and responsibility over the current year's budget. It leads to more accurate budgets and increased employee commitment.
  • Drawbacks: Participative budgeting can be time-consuming, and coordinating input from multiple levels may prove challenging.

Imposed Budgeting

Imposed Budgeting, or top-down budgeting, is the third category we'll discuss.

In this method, the budget is created by higher-level management and then cascaded down to the various departments. The lower-level employees have little to no say in the budgeting process.

  • Advantages: Imposed budgets are relatively quick to create, as fewer people are involved in decision-making. They can also help achieve specific organizational goals as management sets priorities.
  • Drawbacks: This method may lead to a lack of motivation and commitment from employees, as they don't feel involved in the process. Plus, top-down budgets may be less accurate, as they don't account for the on-the-ground realities of lower-level staff.

Finding the Right Balance

While most companies adopt a specific budgeting method, some may blend elements of different approaches to create a budget based on their unique needs and goals.

It's crucial to strike the right balance between employee involvement and efficient decision-making. By involving the right people at the right time, organizations can create budgets that are both realistic and aligned with their strategic objectives.

Understanding the different levels of involvement in the budgeting process is essential for creating budgets that drive organizational success. Whether you opt for a negotiated, participative, imposed, or hybrid approach, finding the method that best aligns with your organization's goals and culture is key.

By doing so, you'll create a budget that helps you make more money and fosters a positive and collaborative work environment. Remember, the budgeting process is not a one-size-fits-all approach; finding the right balance can make all the difference in achieving your financial objectives.

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Martin Luenendonk

Editor at FounderJar

Martin loves entrepreneurship and has helped dozens of entrepreneurs by validating the business idea, finding scalable customer acquisition channels, and building a data-driven organization. During his time working in investment banking, tech startups, and industry-leading companies he gained extensive knowledge in using different software tools to optimize business processes.

This insights and his love for researching SaaS products enables him to provide in-depth, fact-based software reviews to enable software buyers make better decisions.