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Creating a Capital-Budget Tool

(February 2005) posted on Thu Feb 10, 2005

What is a "good"? decision and what is a "bad"? decision?

click an image below to view slideshow

By Marty McGhie

After you have assigned each potential item its priority label,
sort the list so the As are at the top and the Cs are at the bottom.
Now, re-examine each section (A, B, C) and re-sort the individual
sections based on their priorities. The most critical capital expenditure
should appear at the top of the list, and the least critical
expenditure should appear at the bottom. Again, solicit input
from those employees who helped you compile the list (you are
looking for "buy-in" here).

Timing, paying cash, and financing

Now examine the financial ramifications. Add another column
onto your worksheet to accumulate the dollars you will have to
spend to purchase all assets; as you move down the list, the
overall dollar amount increases incrementally. Although this column
can be discouraging"?moving down the list, the overall dollar
amount increases at an alarming rate"?it's critical in determining
cash flow and the timing decisions on acquisitions.

The running total of dollars spent will provide you with an
immediate budget for capital expenditures, and it will assist you
in deciding whether to use operating capital or to finance each
acquisition. Typically, your list will have a total dollar amount
higher than what you can afford. That's okay"?some of the Bs
and Cs on the list may have to carry forward to next year.

Your decision on whether or not to finance a given acquisition
is an important one. Pulling cash out of working capital has
its pros and cons: Paying cash will save you the interest you
would otherwise pay if you leased or financed the purchase; but
pulling too much cash out of operating capital may hamper your
ability to operate in the day-to-day business environment.

Relying exclusively on debt financing, however, can leverage
your company's cash flow into a dangerous position. In our business,
we typically make all smaller capital expenditures out of
operating capital, and save the high dollar items for a financing
model. If you do decide to lease or finance an asset on your list,
don't remove it from the capital-acquisition list; it's important to
track all capital acquisitions regardless of how they are paid for.
Instead, adjust the cumulating column so the cost of the asset
reflects a monthly expense rather than a one-time expense. This
will track the true cash outlay for your capital investments. Transfer
the lease or finance expense to your monthly cash-flow budget
and evaluate with your monthly cash outlays. This will help you
assess if you can afford this purchase on a monthly basis.

The decisions you make regarding your capital expenditures
will make or break your business. One bad purchase, if large
enough, can bring a business down. On the other hand, watching
technology pass you by without ever pulling the trigger can be
just as detrimental.

Marty McGhie ( is VP finance/operations
of Ferrari Color, a digital-imaging center with Salt
Lake City, San Francisco, and Sacramento locations.