Flexible Budgets

A budget report is prepared to show how actual results compare to the budgeted numbers. It has columns for the actual and budgeted amounts and the differences, or variances, between these amounts. A variance may be favorable or unfavorable. On an income statement budget report, think of how the variance affects net income, and you will know if it is a favorable or unfavorable variance. If the actual results cause net income to be higher than budgeted net income (such as more revenues than budgeted or lower than budgeted costs), the variance is favorable. If actual net income is lower than planned (lower revenues than planned and/or higher costs than planned), the variance is unfavorable. So higher revenues cause a favorable variance, while higher costs and expenses cause an unfavorable variance.

Although the budget report shows variances, it does not explain the reasons for the variance. The budget report is used by management to identify the sales or expenses whose amounts are not what were expected so management can find out why the variances occurred. By understanding the variances, management can decide whether any action is needed. Favorable variances are usually positive amounts, and unfavorable variances are usually negative amounts. Some textbooks show budget reports with “F” for favorable and “U” for unfavorable after the variances to further highlight the type of variance being reported.

Actual net income is unfavorable compared to the budget. What is not known from looking at it is why the variances occurred. For example, were more units sold? Was the selling price different than expected? Were costs higher? Or was it all of the above? These are the kinds of questions management needs answers to. In fact, an analysis of this budget report shows sales were actually 17,500 pickup trucks instead of the 17,000 pickup trucks planned; the average selling price was $14.80 per truck instead of the expected $15.00 per truck; and the cost per truck was $11.25 as budgeted.

Static budgets are geared to one level of activity. They work well for evaluating performance when the planned level of activity is the same as the actual level of activity, or when the budget report is prepared for fixed costs. However, if actual performance in a given month or quarter is different from the planned amount, it is difficult to determine whether costs were controlled.

Flexible budgets are one way companies deal with different levels of activity. A flexible budget provides budgeted data for different levels of activity. Another way of thinking of a flexible budget is a number of static budgets. For example, a restaurant may serve 100, 150, or 300 customers an evening. If a budget is prepared assuming 100 customers will be served, how will the managers be evaluated if 300 customers are served? Similar scenarios exist with merchandising and manufacturing companies. To effectively evaluate the restaurant's performance in controlling costs, management must use a budget prepared for the actual level of activity. This does not mean management ignores differences in sales level, or customers eating in a restaurant, because those differences and the management actions that caused them need to be evaluated, too.

The budget report for the Pickup Trucks Company is a static budget because the budgeted level of units is the same number of units as the original budget. It was not changed for the higher sales level. If it had, the budget report would be as follows:

The flexible budget shows an even higher unfavorable variance than the static budget. This does not always happen but is why flexible budgets are important for giving management an indication of what questions need to be asked.

The flexible budget uses the same selling price and cost assumptions as the original budget. Variable and fixed costs do not change categories. The variable amounts are recalculated using the actual level of activity, which in the case of the income statement is sales units. Each flexible budget line will be discussed separately.

Sales. The original budget assumed 17,000 Pickup Trucks would be sold at $15 each. To prepare the flexible budget, the units will change to 17,500 trucks, and the actual sales level and the selling price will remain the same. The $262,500 is 17,500 trucks times $15 per truck. The variance that exists now is simply due to price. Given that the variance is unfavorable, management knows the trucks were sold at a price below the $15 budgeted selling price.

Cost of Goods Sold. Using the cost data from the budgeted income statement, the expected total cost to produce one truck was $11.25. The flexible budget cost of goods sold of $196,875 is $11.25 per pick up truck times the 17,500 trucks sold. The lack of a variance indicates that costs in total (materials, labor, and overhead) were the same as planned.

Selling Expenses. The original budget for selling expenses included variable and fixed expenses. To determine the flexible budget amount, the two variable costs need to be updated. The new budget for sales commissions is $10,500 ($262,500 sales times 4%), and the new budget for delivery expense is $1,750 (17,500 units times 10%). These are added to the fixed costs of $12,500 to get the flexible budget amount of $24,750.

General and Administrative Expenses. This flexible budget is unchanged from the original (static budget) because it consists only of fixed costs which, by definition, do not change if the activity level changes.

Income Taxes. Income taxes are budgeted as 40% of income before income taxes. The flexible budget for income before income taxes is $20,625, and 40% of that balance is $8,250. Actual expenses are lower because the income before income taxes was lower. The actual tax rate is also 40%.

Net Income. Total net income changes as the amount for each line on the income statement changes. The net variance in this example is mainly due to lower revenues.

The important thing to remember in preparing a flexible budget is that if an amount, cost or revenue, was variable when the original budget was prepared, that amount is still variable and will need to be recalculated when preparing a flexible budget. If, however, the cost was identified as a fixed cost, no changes are made in the budgeted amount when the flexible budget is prepared. Differences may occur in fixed expenses, but they are not related to changes in activity within the relevant range.

Budget reports can be a useful tool for evaluating a manager's effectiveness only if they contain the appropriate information. When preparing budget reports, it is important to include in the report the items the manager can control. If a manager is only responsible for a department's costs, to include all the manufacturing costs or net income for the company would not result in a fair evaluation of the manager's performance. If, however, the manager is the Chief Executive Officer, the entire income statement should be used in evaluating performance.