Budget Allowances: Good or Bad

Budget Allowances—Good or Bad

I get this question a lot, so I thought I’d share some thoughts and invite you to explore some of these things with your Estimators and Project Managers.

Let’s get the terminology in sync—the budget represents the money you expect to spend to perform the scope of work. The difference between your budget and the contract is your profit. Make the budget and you lock in the expected profit.

When putting together the budget, it’s important to consider sales tax, fully burdened payroll, possible labor rate increases, payroll-related insurance; everything you will spend. Since none of our clients have a crystal ball, many have an allowance for unexpected items and build that into the budget. This provides a cushion while you hold PM’s responsible for the specific line items in the budget.

The more common question is whether to book an artificial percent to each job to cover things that aren’t being charged to the job but probably should be. The list I receive usually has Workers Comp, General Liability, employee benefits, company trucks, and similar.

With this list, it’s time to look at getting these actual costs included in the first place, rather than artificially charging the job and using a contra account, then have these showing up in overhead as well. Here are some of the things you can book down to the job in the first place.

Workers Comp and General Liability—Setup the WC tables in the payroll module, match the comp codes, and get the net rate per $100 paid. When you run payroll, these costs will be part of the fully burdened labor costs. In the same table, you can add General Liability for the W-2 staff. For Subs you hire, you can accrue the General Liability when you enter their AP invoices and set it aside in your liability account against the premiums.

Employee Benefits—Most clients have the deductions setup in the payroll module. It’s easy to add a calc for the employer portion of the benefits, whether you cover the full health, dental, vision, etc., or a portion. The deduction and the employer portion together should match the premiums. When payroll is posted, the fully burdened costs hit the jobs.

Company Trucks—Consider the Equipment/Shop module (maybe you already have it!). This allows you to track Indirect costs, things that are in support of the jobs but not directly charged to only one job. This can include maintaining company vehicles, fuel for the PMs’ cars, shop utilities or rent, shop-related insurance, bulk purchases of safety equipment and shop supplies, and so on. This paints a great picture of how much it costs to have the shop in support of the field. Are the jobs profitable enough to cover this expense?

Inventory—Do you carry items in inventory that are used on your jobs? When they’re pulled, are those costs moved to the job? If these items are needed on the jobs, consider the inventory module to track the value of what you have and to have a method to move those costs to the jobs. This is also a great accountability mechanism for the owner and PM’s.

Vacation and Sick Days—Artificially charging these to jobs plays havoc with the budget. Still goes back to the jobs having enough profitability to cover the cost of vacations and sick time. There are better options.

When you artificially add costs to a job, you play with the Budget to Actual, which impacts the Over/Under billing (WIP). If you add these artificial costs at the beginning, it looks like you’ve earned revenue which isn’t true; if you add them at the end of the job, all the WIP reports throughout the job were incorrect, lowering expected profit.

Tightening up the actual costs is best and provides your Estimators with good info for future bidding. Having a small budget allowance for unexpected price increases is helpful; if you don’t use it, your profit just went up!—CMW