10 Top Tips for Creating an Excel Budget or Excel Budget Template

Consulting Tools and Frameworks

Excel is the world’s most used tool for creating, aggregating, and analyzing budgets. Distributing an Excel budget template will reduce work and make sure everyone is aligned.

Starting your budgeting process with an Excel budget template and a list of guidelines will reduce work and keep your managers aligned. Budget tips include how to prevent overestimating revenue, ensuring you have the right expense items at the right ratios, and a few Excel techniques on creating Excel budget dashboards.

Even if you already have budgets for your business or department it’s often a good idea to look through budgeting templates and tips to see what you might be missing or what might make your work easier. I’ve included some of the best Excel budget templates I could find as well as a few Excel tips that I know from experience will make your budgets better.

Learn from an existing Excel budget template

Learn from an existing Excel budget template

If you already consider yourself an Excel budgeting expert, check tips 4 and 10.

Do you know someone who works with budgeting or forecasting? You could help them work smarter and faster by forwarding this article to them. Thanks.

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the experts there are few.”
Shunryu Suzuki (1905-1971)

1. 17 Free Microsoft Excel Budget Templates

Learn from an existing Excel budget template

Learn from an existing Excel budget template

Usually, an Excel budget template describes revenue and expenses for a business unit. The same principles apply when budgeting production, projects, editorial content, and more. These 17 Excel budget templates cover a range of different types, but they are all useful in a marketing unit. If you aren’t a marketer you might want to check them out for good ideas you can steal.

Tip 2 contains three basic types of Excel budget template useful in many businesses.

The day of Mad Men marketers who go with their gut feeling is gone. Good digital marketers not only have to be good at wordsmithing and design, they must understand psychological triggers and drivers, as well as be good at Excel and analytics. And, on top of that, if you are a manager, you need to do budget and forecasting.

The following links to HubSpot contain some great Excel templates for marketing budgets, editorial calendars, goal tracking, campaign management, and more. I’ve spent the last seven years helping major corporations improve their digital marketing skills and in that time HubSpot has been an excellent resource for leading edge ideas.

I am not an affiliate of HubSpot and do not receive compensation from them. They just have good content.

These Excel templates include a master marketing budget template, product marketing budget template, content budget template, paid advertising, web redesign, and more. You will need to give your email address to download the templates, but HubSpot is a good, non-spam company so you needn’t be worried.

Click here to see and download eight (8) sample Excel budgeting templates for marketing and marketing production.

HubSpot has an additional nine (9) Excel budget templates that go beyond budgeting. They include marketing budgeting, SEO (search engine optimization), campaign management, Service Level Agreements (SLAs), and more.

Click here to see and download an additional nine (9) sample Excel templates for marketing.

2. Three More Types of Excel Budget Template to Download

Vertex42 is one of the leaders in basic Excel templates, although many of their templates seem to be oriented to personal use. They do have three basic business budgeting templates you might want to examine for ideas. Their three Excel budget templates are,

  • Basic business budget template
  • 12-month business budget
  • Business budget for multiple products

Click here to see and download business budget Excel templates at Vertex42.

3. Sample Expense Line Items for your Excel Budget Template

When you create your budget account for all possible expenses. These links, as well as the Excel budgeting templates in other tips, will give you sample line items to consider for your expenses.

Click here to see expense line items for general and administrative expenses.

Click here to see lines items for operating expenses.

4. 5 Top Budget vs Actual Excel Charts You Need

Use Sparklines to show budget vs actual Excel charts within a cell.

Use Sparklines to show budget vs actual Excel charts within a cell.

Use Excel’s Sparklines to create miniature in-cell charts that can help you analyze budgets.

One of the most important uses for Excel charts in budgeting is to highlight where a budget is over or under target. The two images above show just two examples of how Excel charts can highlight the difference between budget vs actual. The following link will download Excel tutorials from Critical to Success and others to show you how to easily create 5 Budget vs Actual Excel Charts You Need.

Click here to learn how to create 5 Budget vs Actual Excel Charts You Need.

5.  Creating an Actual vs Target Chart in Excel using Floating Markers

Colored markers show target values against actual values in columns.

Colored markers show target values against actual values in columns.

One of the easiest ways of showing budget (target) vs actuals in an Excel chart is to use floating markers. This method just uses two columns and formats the target column as invisible leaving only its marker. The marker is then repositioned over the actual column. (Excel charting doesn’t get much easier or more usable.)

Click here to learn how to create an actual vs target chart using floating markers.

6. Check Historic Budgets before Creating Your Excel Budget Template

If you are new to budgeting for your business unit or project, talk with finance and the prior manager and get copies of all prior budgets and assumptions. Learn the stakeholders who can help support you and refine your numbers.

7. Build Supporting Worksheets to go with your Excel Budget Template

Document all assumptions you make in your budget. As a good practice, build supporting worksheets that show all team member costs, new members added to the team, and forecast changes, and all of their costs. Creating sub-worksheets that model your expenses for general/administrative, marketing, operations, and employee growth not only helps you build a realistic budget, it gives you the confidence to support and defend your budget.

8. Estimate New Business Expenses using Key Industry Ratios

Key business ratios show average ratios of expense vs revenue (profit) for industry segments. If you are starting a new business and do not know what realistic ratios are for your new venture or if you want to compare the ratios of your existing business, then look at the key business ratios from the following resources.

Within the United States, check with your CPA, bank loan officers, or a university reference desk for key business ratios published by Robert Morris Associates and by Dun and Bradstreet. A few industry associations may also have key ratios available for members. Current data is rarely available for free online, but accounting, banking, and library services can help you get the numbers you want.

Some free US financial business data is available online from the US Census Bureau, but it is only as current as the last census data. Also, it is often aggregated into large segments.

The Government of Canada has free searchable databases of business ratios for hundreds of industry segments. Use their search tool to focus the segment, revenue size, and region of Canada similar to your business.

Click here to go the Government of Canada key business ratios search tool.

Search for key expense v revenue ratios to use in your Excel budget template.

Search for key expense v revenue ratios to use in your Excel budget template.

9. Beware the Hockey Stick Revenue Forecast

One danger of using spreadsheets in developing new business models is the ease of compounding revenue growth and underestimating expenses. Online businesses using a subscription/membership model based on network effects are notorious for forecasting huge, unrealistic growth rates.

At a Stanford Executive Resident conference, we worked through magazine and online subscription models. The experience among venture capitalists and startup accelerators was that most startups assumed very little membership loss but had very optimistic membership growth. As a consequence, the membership and revenue growth curve looked like a hockey stick (exponential growth). Within a few years, it looked like everyone on the planet would subscribe to some startups. Conversely, the startups assumed marketing and operations would work flawlessly (don’t we wish), so they underestimated expenses and the time to execute.

The reality is that there is more than a 70% drop-out rate with membership models. Most online memberships now assume members stay only three months. That means you must have a continuous high resubscription rate and must spend proportionally more for loyalty programs and top of funnel acquisition. (Now you know why magazines give you those impossibly cheap resubscription rates.)

10. Work with Trends, Not Fluctuations

Work with trends in your revenue and expenses. Don’t be lead astray by seasonal or industry fluctuations.

Using Excel to create visual trends in a chart can be extremely helpful to your estimates and to your presentation when you need to support your budget. Check out the following links to Excel tutorials and sample files about Excel trend analysis.

Applying a trend line to an Excel chart shows the line but you can't see data values or give the dashboard user control.

Use the TREND function to create trend data, then add it to the Excel chart.

Click here to learn the advantages of using the TREND function with an Excel budget chart instead of using the built-in trend chart.

Click here to learn how to show or hide the trend line in an Excel chart.

Click here to see how you can smooth erratic data using weighted averages to adjust for seasonal or other variations.

OFFSET specifies the range AVERAGE will smooth data over.

OFFSET specifies the range AVERAGE will smooth data over.

Click here to learn how to smooth data using a moving average.