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Zero-Based Budgeting (ZBB)

What is Zero-Based Budgeting?

Zero-Based Budgeting (ZBB) is a budgeting method where all expenses must be justified for each new period, starting from a "zero base." Every function within an organization is analyzed for its needs and costs, and budgets are built around what is needed for the upcoming period, regardless of whether the budget is higher or lower than the previous one. This approach contrasts with traditional budgeting, which often bases new budgets on previous ones with incremental adjustments.

Implementing Zero-Based Budgeting

When implementing ZBB, it's essential to adopt a strategic approach including:

  1. Start Fresh: Begin each budgeting cycle from scratch, ensuring no automatic carry-over of past figures.
  2. Justify Expenses: Require managers to justify every expense, emphasizing rational spending based on current needs rather than historical expenditures.
  3. Align with Strategic Goals: Ensure that all budget requests align with organizational objectives to enhance strategic focus and resource allocation.
  4. Engage Stakeholders: Involve all relevant stakeholders in the budgeting process to gain comprehensive insights and foster accountability.

Benefits and Drawbacks


  • Cost Efficiency: Encourages identifying cost-saving opportunities by scrutinizing all expenditures.
  • Resource Optimization: Allocates resources more effectively by focusing on essential and strategically aligned activities.
  • Strategic Alignment: Links spending with organizational goals, promoting more strategic investments and spending.


  • Time-Consuming: The need to justify every expense can make the budgeting process longer and more labor-intensive.
  • Focus on Short-term Goals: Potential risk of prioritizing immediate cost savings over long-term investments, such as R&D.
  • Complexity: Can be complex to implement, requiring robust processes and training to ensure understanding and effectiveness.

Zero-Based vs. Traditional Budgeting

Traditional budgeting is based on the previous year's budget, adjusting it as needed, often with incremental increases. It is cost accounting-oriented, and management decides on expenditures without necessarily requiring justification for each expense.

On the other hand, ZBB starts from scratch every budget cycle, requiring justification for all expenditures, new and old. It is decision-oriented, promotes greater clarity and responsiveness, and involves line(s) of business management proposing expenditures.

Keys to Successful Zero-Based Budgeting

Successful ZBB implementation involves:

  1. Thorough Training: Educate all involved personnel on the ZBB approach and its benefits to ensure clear understanding and effective implementation.
  2. Technology Utilization: Leverage advanced budgeting tools and software to streamline the process and enhance accuracy.
  3. Continuous Review: Regularly review and adjust the ZBB process to refine approaches, improve efficiency, and adapt to changing business needs.
  4. Cultural Alignment: Foster a culture that embraces scrutiny and justification of expenses to support sustainable implementation of ZBB principles.

Other terms

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