Use Zero-Base Budgeting to Build a Culture of Cost Management

Zero-Base Budgeting

Traditional Incremental Budgeting

As part of the traditional budgeting process, managers tend to roll their budget over from one year to the next. In addition to accounting for any strategic initiatives or headcount changes, they simply add to every line-item in the previous year’s budget a certain percentage “and then some” to account for cost inflation. They assume that the ‘baseline’ is automatically approved, so they justify just the variances versus prior years.

The drawback of this budgeting process is that nobody questions the underlying ‘baseline’ costs. Further, these cost increases are carried from year to year.

Zero-Base Budgeting

'Zero-base Budgeting' by Peter A Pyhrr (ISBN 047170234X) In the 1970s, Peter Pyhrr, a Texas Instruments accountant, formally developed zero-base budgeting. In his influential Harvard Business Review article and a book titled Zero-base Budgeting, Pyhrr advocated that a prior year’s budget should not be used as a benchmark for the next year’s budgeted costs.

With zero-base budgeting, managers prepare a fresh budget every year without reference to the past. Consequently, they start every line-item in the budget from a zero-base even if the amount didn’t increase from the previous year. They are thus forced to justify all claims on their organization’s financial resources as if they were entirely new claims for entirely new projects.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Zero-Base Budgeting

Zero-base budgeting advocates say that it detects inflated budgets and unearths cost savings by focusing on priorities rather than simply relying on the precedent. Managers secure a tighter focus on operations by justifying each line-item in their budgets, thereby reducing the money they allocate to the lowest level possible. Managers can also contrast competing claims on their ever-scarce financial resources and therefore shift funds to more impactful projects.

Zero-base budgeting critics call attention to the many practical difficulties of implementing this time-consuming tool. More importantly, since zero-base involves give-and-take, the budgeting process is susceptible to favoritism, cronyism, and political influence.

3G Capital’s Success with Zero-Base Budgeting

'The 3G Way: An introduction to the management style of the trio' by Francisco S. Homem de Mello (ISBN B00MKKWZME) Zero-base budgeting has garnered much attention in the last few years as the centerpiece of an aggressive cost-cutting recipe used by 3G Capital, a thriving Brazilian buyout firm that’s renowned for its parsimonious operations. 3G’s predominant investment strategy is to acquire and then squeeze value out of companies, particularly in the food and restaurant industries.

At Anheuser-Busch, InBev, Tim Hortons, Burger King, Heinz, Kraft, and other acquired companies, 3G’s hard-nosed managers have used zero-base budgeting to initiate sweeping cost cuts. They’ve shut down factories, laid off thousands of factory workers, eliminated hundreds of management jobs, sold off corporate jets, forced executives to fly coach, restricted employees’ office supplies to $15 a month, and even asked employees to seek permission to take color printouts.

'Dream Big' by Cristiane Correa (ISBN 8543100836) Inspired by 3G, many other companies have adapted zero-base budgeting to root out bloat. Some have even gotten carried away—for example, Pilgrim’s Pride (an American meat-processing company) used zero-base budgeting to measure how much soap employees use to wash their hands and how much Gatorade hourly employees consume during breaks.

Idea for Impact: Zero-Base Budgeting Is an Effective Cost-Management Tool

Cutting operating costs is an ever-bigger priority at many organizations. For each line-item in your budget, ask “Should this be done at all?” and “Is this the most efficient and effective use of our resources?”

Consider zero-base budgeting to rigorously find cost-effective ways to improve your operations. It can bring about cost discipline, force your operations to become lean, and ultimately boost your bottom line.

Suggested Reading

The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy / Book Summary of “The Millionaire Next Door”

'The Millionaire Next Door' by Thomas Stanley, William Danko (ISBN 1567315682) The Millionaire Next Door summarizes anthropological research from the ’90s on the attributes of unassuming wealthy Americans. The authors, marketing professors Thomas Stanley and William Danko, offer unique insights into millionaires’ lifestyles and their buying habits. They explain that, in contrast to today’s earn-and-consume culture, the many ordinary folks who accumulate wealth live modestly and prize frugality.

When first published in 1996, The Millionaire Next Door generated widespread enthusiasm for its core message: that anybody could become rich by living below their means, efficiently allocating funds in ways that build wealth, and ignoring conspicuous consumption. Consequently, the book sold millions of copies and stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for three years.

A bulk of The Millionaire Next Door focuses on rejecting the stereotypical view of the wealthy; the authors write, “Most people have it all wrong about wealth in America. Wealth is not the same as income. If you make a good income each year and spend it all, you are not getting wealthier. You are just living high. Wealth is what you accumulate, not what you spend.”

The authors discuss the fancy trappings of wealth and the high cost of maintaining social status. They explain that wealthy individuals prioritize financial independence over a high social status. Further, they did not receive sizable financial support from parents, and raise their own children to be economically self-sufficient adults.

The Millionaire Next Door is a definitive example of books that present simple concepts by reiterating them ad nauseam with an overabundance of statistics, tables, charts, and anecdotes to attain a respectable book length. For instance, a tedious 31-page chapter discusses how the wealthy purchase cars and includes statistics for average price-per-pound of popular cars.

Recommendation: Skim. The Millionaire Next Door defends the timeless values of thrift, disciplined spending, and prudent accumulation of wealth. However, the book overemphasizes penny-pinching and the merits of hoarding money. The book feels dated (it was first published in 1996) and engages the reader in crude generalizations and oversimplifications.

Don’t Listen to Jim Cramer on Mad Money

Don't Listen to Jim Cramer on CNBC's 'Mad Money' TV Show

If you ever tune in to CNBC’s popular Mad Money show, you’ll notice that host Jim Cramer speaks about the financial markets with unabashed certainty. Behind goofy sound effects and onscreen antics lies his particular brand of stock market punditry.

Cramer’s energy and confidence are most evident in the lightning round where his devotees hail “Booyah” and ask for his take on a barrage of stocks. In response, Cramer presents quick statistics and declares, “Same-store sales in China rose 12% last quarter. It’s a screaming buy; they’re doing great. BUY! BUY! BUY!” Or, he blurts out, “This company is involved with deep water rigs, the deep water market has not come back at all. If it does go up at all, SELL, SELL, SELL!”

What’s most notable about Mad Money is that Cramer is seemingly equipped to answer questions about any listed company with all the gusto he can muster. How could he possibly know the ins and outs of every company: their products, finances, cash flow, competitive positions, market prospects, and current valuation? He may know of many companies cursorily, but how could he have intimate knowledge of every ticker symbol that his fans throw at him? You’ll never hear him say, “Sorry, never heard of them,” or “Gee … truth be told, I’m not familiar with their new products or how they compare to the competitor’s products. I really couldn’t tell you.” He is loud and boisterous. He’s got to have an opinion on every stock—if he doesn’t, there is no show.

Jim Cramer, the best entertainer in the financial media

'Jim Cramer's Mad Money: Watch TV, Get Rich' by Jim Cramer (ISBN 1416537902) Jim Cramer’s credentials are impressive: Harvard, Goldman Sachs, hedge fund management, and TheStreet.com. He is the author of many investment-advice books with titles as appealing as “Get Rich Carefully”, “Sane Investing in an Insane World”, “Confessions of a Street Addict”, “Watch TV Get Rich”. He is experienced. He has extensive knowledge of the markets. He is passionate. He is smart.

Nonetheless, do not let Cramer’s credentials fool you about Mad Money‘s intent. His antics are entertaining. He wears silly costumes, yells at the camera, throws chairs around when angry, hits things with mallets, and chews heads off foam bears—all while producing goofy sound effects that include squealing pigs and a flushing toilet.

Jim Cramer’s opinions on Mad Money are often one-dimensional, half-baked, oversimplified, or wide of the mark. In the very first Mad Money episode I watched in 2005, a caller on the lightening round asked him about a company called PetroKazakhstan. Cramer’s response was that he did not trust the Russians. PetroKazakhstan was a Calgary-based Canadian oil company that was led by Canadian executives, did all its business in Kazakhstan, and had little to do with Russia. (The state-owned PetroChina acquired PetroKazakhstan in 2006.)

Don’t identify Cramer’s show with sound investment advice

Jim Cramer's Sound Effects and Onscreen Antics on 'Mad Money' As with other programs in the financial media that are teeming with talking heads, watching Mad Money can give you pointers as to what’s happening in the markets and in business trends. You can get ideas for what stocks to research or even speculate on. However, none of it constitutes sound investment advice.

Cramer’s job is not to make you money. He gets paid by CNBC to generate viewership and to entertain viewers with the pretext of dishing out dependable investment advice. He is not a trickster; he just is an entertainer on Mad Money, a fact that he acknowledged in a 2007 essay in the New York Magazine: “On the show, I say stupid things, yell ‘Booyah’ with alarming frequency, and occasionally wear a diaper or jump into a pile of lettuce to illustrate the finer points of investing. … God knows why, but there seems to be a market for this kind of idiocy.”

Watch Mad Money for the frenzy and personality-driven entertainment. Don’t take his speculative tips or investment advice seriously. Instead, do on your own research.

Rule #21 in Cramer’s 25 Rules of Investing states, “Be a TV critic: accept that what you hear on television is probably right, but no more than that.” Now, that’s good advice.

Is Day Trading and Speculation for You?

A few weeks ago, even as stock markets around the world suffered a turmoil triggered by downbeat economic news from China, a prolific 36-year-old Japanese day trader claimed to have made $34 million by betting big against the market trends and timing the bottom precisely.

Notwithstanding frequent mention of such success stories and blaring ads in the media tempting you to stake money on your wits and your instinct to profit from market swings, it can be very hard to make money consistently in day trading and short-term speculation.

As a fundamentals-based long-term investor, I don’t think there is anything wrong with day trading or short-term speculation. With skill, strategy, and the right temperament, it’s possible to be just as profitable in speculating as in investing with any other time horizon.

Over the years, many sophisticated stock-analysis services have emerged to facilitate trading and speculation by amateurs such as these pictured day-traders from Bangalore. Vast online social networks such as StockTwits engage in the exchange of information, opinion, gossip, rumors, and stories of successes and losses.

Day Trading and Speculating by Amateurs in Bangalore, India

For a few successful trades, luck may be the main factor. However, in the fullness of time, the most important factors for consistent stock market gains are discipline, temperament, and risk management.

Most day traders fail because it’s too darn hard to time the market. They lack a coherent technique that works consistently. Instead of following a definite strategy rooted in fundamentals or a structured thought-process, they follow the news-tickers, minute-by-minute stock prices, volume- and price-trends, and poorly understood media-fed euphoria. Moreover, most day traders engage in short selling, a complex skill that goes against the grain of the conventional buy-and-hold mindset. Worst of all, most speculators don’t understand how their emotions come into play—both when they lose and when they win.

Like anything that requires focus, drive, discipline, persistence and a stroke of luck, day trading and speculation are hard to do successfully. It may take years of painful education and experimentation before creditable success. The U.S. market regulator Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) offers the following cautions on day trading:

  • Be prepared to suffer severe financial losses
  • Day traders do not “invest”
  • Day trading is an extremely stressful and expensive full-time job
  • Day traders depend heavily on borrowing money or buying stocks on margin
  • Don’t believe claims of easy profits
  • Watch out for “hot tips” and “expert advice” from newsletters and websites catering to day traders
  • Remember that “educational” seminars, classes, and books about day trading may not be objective

'Reminiscences of a Stock Operator' by Edwin Lefevre (ISBN 1500541052) Idea for Impact: Most studies on day trading and speculation reckon that over three-fourths of amateur traders lose money, some of which may have been borrowed. The high risk that comes with high-yield investments and the self-inflicted stress of loss and debt may not be for you.

A Low-risk Alternative: There is no fail-safe way to invest without any risk. If you don’t have the time, energy, determination, or a strong understanding of investing, consider low-cost index funds. Do your own research. Read my previous article about John Bogle, founder of Vanguard and his tireless advocacy of low-cost index funds.

Recommended Reading: Edwin Lefevre’s 1923 classic, “Reminiscences of a Stock Operator”, is a fictionalized biography of Jesse Livermore (1877–1940), one of the greatest stock market speculators of all time. This “font of investing wisdom” (per Alan Greenspan) is filled with insightful trading advice and shrewd market/price movement analyses.

Man Who Retired at 30 is Ridiculously Happy

Financial Independence “What’s money? A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do.”
Bob Dylan, American Musician

Early in my professional life, I pursued an ambition to attain wealth—not because I sought after luxury, but because I wanted to realize a financial foothold that could help me become financially independent and invest in a meaningful life. I’ve been “retired” for two years now, work very hard on my true pursuits, and live life on my own terms. I might fancy a change in the future; for now, I am living the dreams and I couldn’t be happier.

Money is a False God

Most people spend the better part of their adult lives chasing the almighty dollar in an ostensible pursuit of success and happiness. Wealth, characteristically manifested in the acquisition of things, becomes so defining of their success that it becomes their primary measure of accomplishment. Later in life, they wake up to the distressing fact that everything they’ve earned isn’t bringing them the wonderful life it was supposed to.

Pursuit of riches becomes such a trap because many people easily appraise life in terms that are defined by others.

Enjoy a Life of True Wealth

I admire anyone who is self-disciplined and is willing to live their life on their own terms. Last year, The Washington Post carried an interesting interview with a man who had retired at the age of 30, not caused by extreme wealth but by living with less. Mister Money Mustache realized early that the pursuit of material things could lead to a persistent sense of emptiness. Rather than being unfulfilled, his family’s live-with-less way of life has made them “ridiculously happy.” Here is an excerpt of the interview.

Mister Money Mustache Q: You describe the typical middle-class life as an “exploding volcano of wastefulness.” Seems like lots of personal finance folks obsess about lattes. Are you just talking about the lattes here?

A: The latte is just the foamy figurehead of an entire spectrum of sloppy “I deserve it” luxury spending that consumes most of our gross domestic product these days. Among my favorite targets: commuting to an office job in an F-150 pickup truck, anything involving a drive-through, paying $100 per month for the privilege of wasting four hours a night watching cable TV and the whole yoga industry. There are better, and free, ways to meet these needs, but everyone always chooses the expensive ones and then complains that life is hard these days.

With Needs, Without Wants

Contentment is worth more than riches. Having few desires and feeling satisfied with what you have is vital for happiness.

Be Happy with What You Have

In a This I Believe essay, Marianne Bachleder of San Francisco reminisces about consumerism and about being conscious of how much she already has:

We forget to be happy with what we have and in our forgetfulness we spread the infection of discontent. It’s a mistake easily made in a world where everyone is expected to pursue every want—the newest gadget, the latest update.

I may want shiny things, but I don’t need them. What I do desperately need is the peace of mind found in moments of contentment and gratitude. I need to identify each of my wildcat urges to purchase or possess as either “want” or “need.” My needs are basic, predictable, manageable. My wants are chaotic changelings, disturbers of the peace that can never be satisfied.

I will tend my needs, I will whittle my wants, and I will say often, “I’m happy with what I have.”

Thrift to Wealth

'The Little Book of Main Street Money' by Jonathan Clements (ISBN 0470473231) Jonathan Clements, personal finance columnist at Wall Street Journal and author of ‘The Little Book of Main Street Money’ and the forthcoming ‘Money Guide 2015’, spoke of thrift and the wealthy in an interview with Vanguard:

Over the years, I have met thousands of everyday Americans who have amassed seven-figure portfolios—and the one attribute shared by almost all of them is that they’re extremely frugal. When I was at Citi, I used to joke to the bankers that they would know a couple was wealthy if they pulled up to the branch in a second-hand Civic, wore clothes from J.C. Penney, and asked to have their parking ticket validated.

Shop at Amazon & Support a Noble Cause

Gyaana Prawas : Science/field trip for tribal kids in South India / Aapatsahaaya Foundation Dear readers, during this holiday season, if you succumb to the urge for the latest and the greatest or if you are shopping for gifts for friends and family, please consider shopping at Amazon.com using this link or clicking on a recommended book on the right sidebar of this website.

With no additional cost to you, 100% of the referral fees earned by this blog from the international Amazon Associates program support the education of underprivileged kids in South India. Our philanthropy partner is Aapatsahaaya Foundation, Bangalore. In 2013, your purchases funded part of a science/field trip for tribal kids.

John Bogle’s “Little Book of Common Sense Investing” [Leadership Reading #2]

The Little Book of Common Sense Investing, John Bogle “In investing, the winning strategy for reaping the rewards of capitalism depends on owning businesses, not trading stocks,” argues John Bogle in making a strong case for low-cost index funds in his text, “The Little Book of Common Sense Investing.” With statistics and graphs, Bogle rationalizes that low-cost index funds outperform most investment professionals and offer better-than-average returns for investors over the long term.

John Bogle is the legendary founder of the investor-owned Vanguard Group, currently the world’s largest mutual fund company by total assets under management. Over the course of 25 years at the helm of Vanguard, until his retirement in 1999, he focused the efforts of Vanguard on offering cost-conscious investment choices to the masses. John Bogle is the bestselling author of many other books on investment advice.

Superiority of Low-Cost Index Funds

John C. Bogle, Founder of The Vanguard Group John Bogle founded the world’s first index mutual fund, the Vanguard 500 Index Fund in 1975. Since then, “Saint Jack” (as critics labeled Bogle mockingly) has untiringly promoted the virtues of low-fee, no-load, low-turnover, passively-managed index (or more precisely, index-tracking) mutual funds. Investing in such funds, he contends in “The Little Book,” is the simplest and most effective way to invest in a diversified portfolio of stocks and bonds, and profit from earnings growth of businesses and the dividends they yield.

John Bogle methodically discusses every theme relevant to successful investing: the myths of speculation and market timing, inflation, frictional costs (fees charged by brokers and investment advisors, costs of transactions, front-end and back-end loads,) and the effects of compounding and taxes. He then convincingly counters arguments against investing in total market index funds through easy-to-follow quantitative appraisals of investing in individual stocks and bonds, actively managed funds, hedge funds, and sector-specific funds. At the end of each chapter, Bogle reinforces his position with words of wisdom from some of the greatest minds in economics and investing: Ben Graham, Warren Buffet, John Maynard Keynes, Peter Lynch, and the like.

Invaluable Insights for Investors

The majority of people do not have the time, energy, determination, or aptitude for understanding economics, examining investments, managing risk, and building wealth for themselves. They are either overly cautious, or they invest heedlessly, submit to market trends, or engage in speculation. In reading John Bogle’s authoritative book, modest investors will recognize that low-cost index funds offer them broad diversification, reasonably good returns over the long-term, and the ability to outperform a majority of investment professionals.

Informed investors will find, notwithstanding many drawn-out discussions, a great reiteration of John Bogle’s now-familiar, commonsensical ideas on the merits of index investing.

Leadership Reader’s Bottom-line

The Easier Way to Build Wealth

“Work a lot, spend a little, save the difference, invest it wisely, leave it alone. It’s not that hard. We just make it harder than it needs to be. Paying too much attention to the details of markets is a chief culprit.”
Morgan Housel in Motley Fool

The Easier Way to Build Wealth It is amazing that most people just do not seem to accumulate enough wealth despite making a comfortable living. Many live from paycheck to paycheck, even with steadily rising incomes. Borrowers often fall behind on their mortgage payments. Credit card and consumer debt is growing at an alarming pace. Employees in the prime of their lives are not setting aside anything significant for retirement. As a result, many baby boomers cannot stop working at the usual retirement age because they are not ready to fund the rest of their lives.

Every Dollar You Make Equals LESS than a Dollar for You to Spend

Building Wealth Are you sometimes disappointed at not realizing your dreams of building wealth or becoming financially secure? The overwhelming odds are that at the root of your feeling of financial insufficiency is how you tend to spend.

A common folly is to assume that every dollar you make equates to a dollar you can spend. In reality, you need to make much more than a dollar to spend each dollar. Apply the following some simple arithmetic to calculate the true purchasing power of your income.

  • Suppose that you are employed in the United States and you are in the 28% tax bracket. If you pay 6.2% in Social Security deductions, 1.45% in Medicare deductions, and your state income tax rate is 4%, then your total deductions are 39.65% of your income. On every $1 you earn, you pay $0.3965 in deductions. Therefore, for every $1 you make, your purchasing power is just $0.6035. In other words, you have to earn $1.65 (1.65 = 1/0.6035) to spend every $1. For instance, you would have to earn $3,811 to buy a 47″ flat screen TV that costs $2,300.
  • When you invest your money, you do not pay Social Security or Medicare deductions on dividends and capital gains. If the tax rate on long-term gains and dividends is 15% and your state income tax rate is 4%, you will retain $0.81 of every $1 you make in long-term gains and dividends. Even then, you have to earn $1.23 in dividends and capital gains to spend $1.

Harness Your Purchasing Power

“Anything you do to make yourself more valuable will pay off in real purchasing power.”
Warren Buffet

Harness Your Purchasing Power There are only two ways to get rich: make more money and spend less. The first method is relatively difficult: it is never easy to get a significant raise or a better job at a better place, win the lottery, take a second job, sustain a secondary source of income, or consistently make sizeable gains in the capital markets. It is easier to build some discipline in your spending habits.

  • Track all your expenses for a month. At the end of the month, analyze your cash flow. Scrutinize your expenses in terms of ‘wants’ and ‘needs.’ Happiness comes from matching your wants to your needs. Consider ideas for cutting costs and their consequences. Examine your discretionary spending. Scale down or dispose of unnecessary services or subscriptions, irrelevant utilities and features. Consider reprioritizing your expenditures with a medium- and long-term perspective.
  • Examine your spending instincts. Be mindful of the perils of consumerism and materialism. Do not let your rising income fuel increased spending. Simplify your life.
  • A one-time windfall, bonus, or tax refund is no excuse for indulgent spending. Be selective in your purchases without abandoning your plans for paying off debt, saving money or funding your retirement account.
  • Seek to be disciplined and prudent, not necessarily thrifty or frugal. Cultivate an appropriate financial discipline without hurting the quality of your life. Reward and treat yourself for your achievements. Invest in anything that makes you feel good, happy, or helps you realize your goals.