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What is Zero-Based Budgeting?|Advantages, Disadvantages

This article “What is Zero-Based Budgeting?” is about high-level strategic goals to be implemented into the budgeting process by tying them to specific functional areas of an organization, where costs can be first grouped and then measured against previous results and current expectations.

Zero-Based Budgeting is used in the monitoring MBO (Management by Objective).

Definition of Zero-Based Budgeting

Zero-based budgeting (ZBB) is a budgeting method that forces you to start fresh each time. Instead of just rolling over last year’s numbers, you have to justify every single expense from scratch. This means thinking critically about what you really need to spend money on and why.

Or, ZBB in management accounting involves preparing the budget from the scratch with a zero-base and every function within an organization is analysed for its needs and costs.

Imagine it like building a house from the ground up, instead of just adding a room to an existing one. ZBB helps you be more efficient with your money by making sure every expense is truly necessary.

What is Zero-based Budgeting?

What is Zero-Based Budgeting?

Zero-Based Budgeting is a method of budgeting, whereby all the expanses for the new period are calculated based on actual expenses that are to be incurred and not on the differential basis which involves, just changing the expense incurred taking into account change in operational activity.

In this method, every activity needs to be justified, analyzed the costs of every function within an organization and allocating funds accordingly, regardless of how much money has previously been budgeted to any given line item. ZBB can be translated into cost-saving that fund future strategic initiatives and drive growth.This approach forces organizations to thoroughly evaluate their expenses and prioritize where funds should be allocated, leading to a more efficient use of resources. By starting from zero and justifying every cost, companies can identify areas of inefficiency and make necessary adjustments to drive cost-saving measures.

Additionally, ZBB allows for a more flexible budgeting process, as it focuses on the actual needs of the organization rather than simply adjusting previous budgets. This can result in a more accurate and realistic budget that aligns with the current goals and objectives of the company.

Overall, Zero-Based Budgeting promotes a more disciplined and strategic approach to budgeting, ultimately leading to improved financial management and the ability to fund future growth initiatives.

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Steps in Zero Based Budgeting

Here’s how zero-based budgeting (ZBB) works in a few clear steps:

  1. Start from Scratch: Unlike traditional budgeting, ZBB doesn’t use last year’s numbers as a starting point. Each expense needs justification, forcing you to consider its purpose and value.
  2. Categorize Expenses: List all your income and expenses, grouping them into categories like housing, food, transportation, and entertainment.
  3. Justify Every Expense: For each category, ask yourself: Is this essential? Look for ways to cut unnecessary spending or find more cost-effective options.
  4. Prioritize and Allocate: Rank your expenses based on importance. Allocate your income towards the most essential categories, then gradually add less crucial items as budget allows.
  5. Monitor and Adapt: ZBB is an ongoing process. Regularly track your spending and adjust your plan as needed. This might involve finding further savings or adapting to changing priorities.

Example of Zero-Based Budgeting (ZBB)

Let us take an example of the manufacturing department of a company that spent $20 million last year. The problem is to budget the expanse for the current year. So, in this current year, it can either increase or decrease the requirement to $22 million or $18 million, respectively. ZBB involves calculating all the expanses of the department and justifying each one of them. This reflects the actual demand, which may be $21 million.

Zero-based Budgeting Advantages and Disadvantages

Advantages of Zero Based Budgeting


ZBB encourages you to analyze how you spend your money. This can lead to finding smarter ways to achieve your goals, like cheaper alternatives or consolidating services. It’s like streamlining your shopping – you get what you need without unnecessary extras.


Unlike the regular methods of budgeting that involves making some arbitrary changes to the previous year’s budget, Zero-based budgeting makes every department recheck each and every item of the cash flow and compute their operation costs. It helps in cost reduction as it gives a clear picture of costs, unlike the desired performance.

Better Cost Control:

ZBB tackles wasteful spending. By forcing you to justify every expense, it helps identify areas where you can cut back and keeps your budget lean. Imagine it like cleaning out your closet – you only keep what you truly need and use.

Budget Expansion:

Since every line item is to be confirmed, Zero-based budget overcomes the weakness of incremental budgeting of budget expansion.

Reduce Waste:

It can remove excessive spending by re-examining possible unnecessary amounts.

Promotes Optimization in Business Process Management:

Streamlining spend and focusing on those items that directly make profit for your business through more value, greater efficiency, cost reductions etc. supports continuous improvement over time.

Stops Budget Creep:

ZBB breaks the habit of mindlessly increasing your budget year after year. It makes you actively think about your spending, preventing unnecessary growth. It’s like resetting your fitness tracker – you start fresh and focus on making conscious choices.

Improvement of Coordination and Communication:

Zero-based budgeting also improves coordination and communication within the department and motivates the employees by involving them in decision making.

Zero-Based Budgeting Disadvantages

Expensive and Complex:

Unlike traditional budgeting system, zero-based budgeting can be very costly, time-consuming, and complicated to execute. It required extra training, new and better software along with the fact that each budget it built from scratch rather than relying on the data from last year can add significant expanse when making the change.

Resource Intensive:

Implementing ZBB might require additional resources like training or software. The extra workload could strain teams already stretched thin.

Short-Term Focus:

ZBB can prioritize immediate needs over long-term goals. The focus on justifying each expense might lead to neglecting investments that benefit the future.

Gaming the System:

Savvy managers might try to downplay their budget needs in the first round, only to request more later. This can make the process less efficient.

 Lack of Expertise:

Analyzing every line item and every cost is a difficult task and requires extra training and managers.

It’s Disruptive:

Making the change to zero-based budgeting can result emotionally and intellectually taxing for some people. Employees may find it difficult to make the switch to ZBB.

A significant change in the budget can also threaten the entire operation.

Zero-Based Budgeting Vs. Traditional Budgeting

Zero-Based budgeting and traditional budgeting are the two frequently used budgeting techniques. These techniques help the companies to allocate investment to different departments. These methods of budgeting vary from each other in many aspects that are Justification of data, the base of budgeting, flexibility in the modification of budget components, the time required, allocation of resources, ease of preparation and training, etc.

Both methods of budgeting have their own advantages and disadvantages. So you need to choose the preferred method, depending on what they desire to get through the budgeting process.

Zero-Based BudgetingTraditional Budgeting
In zero-based budgeting, taking the base as zero as if there is no past or historical data. Here all the elements in the cash flow need to be justified. In traditional budgeting, only the items which are over and above the last year’s budget need to be justified. That means only incremental changes require an explanation, not everything items.
Zero-based budgeting is done considering the base as zero. For every financial period, they prepared a fresh budget from the scratch.Traditional budgeting uses the previous year’s budget as a standard to make the current year’s budget.
One of the biggest issues with zero-based budgeting is that it is a time-consuming process as they prepared the budget from the start. Any project, before being added to the budget, goes through a lot of comparisons and approvals, which leads to spending enormous time on each project.In traditional budgeting, since changes are done in the previous year’s budget to meet the needs of the current period, half the task is already done before the budget process starts and only some incremental changes are required.
With zero-based budgeting, the management can focus on priority decisions only.Traditional budgeting is done regarding no priority to vital activities of the business and last year’s budget is simply adjusted considering the inflation factor.
Managers need special skills and knowledge to prepare zero-based budgets. Only an experienced and well-trained professional can prepare such budgets. Thus, preparing zero-based budgets is a complex task.Traditional budgets are quite easier to prepare, as they do not involve complex calculations.
Difference between Zero-based budgeting and Traditional budgeting.

Key Takeaways

  • Fresh Start: Unlike traditional budgeting, ZBB forces you to justify every expense from scratch, ensuring your money goes towards what truly matters.
  • Cost Control Powerhouse: ZBB helps identify and eliminate wasteful spending by requiring justification for each expense. It’s like giving your budget a clean slate and focusing on what’s essential.
  • Alignment with Goals: ZBB keeps your spending aligned with your financial goals. Every expense needs to contribute to achieving what’s important to you financially.
  • More Time Investment: ZBB can be more time-consuming than traditional budgeting, especially at the beginning. However, the potential cost savings and increased efficiency can be worthwhile.
  • Consider the Trade-offs: While ZBB offers advantages, it’s not without drawbacks. Weigh the time commitment and potential for short-term thinking against the benefits of cost control and goal alignment.


Zero-based budgeting (ZBB) is a powerful tool for taking control of your finances. It forces you to prioritize your spending and identify areas to cut back, promoting cost-consciousness and efficiency. By aligning your spending with your goals, ZBB ensures your money works towards what truly matters to you financially. However, the initial time investment and potential short-term focus require careful consideration. Ultimately, ZBB’s effectiveness depends on your specific needs and resources. If you’re willing to put in the effort, ZBB can be a game-changer for your financial well-being.

Sukanta Maiti

I am a Mechanical Engineer by profession, Blogger, and Youtuber by passion. I have been in the engineering field since 2014. I am passionate about sharing all my knowledge about engineering, management, and economics to my readers.

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