Strategic planning

The makings of an effective financial planning calendar

Updated: May 15, 2024 |

Chris Ortega

CEO, Fresh FP&A, Cube Software

Chris Ortega
Chris Ortega

Chris Ortega is the CEO of Fresh FP&A, helping businesses around the world transform and scale their finance organizations. Chris has 15+ years of experience in finance and is an expert in all things FP&A. He earned his MBA from the University of Indianapolis and his BS in Accounting and Finance from Indiana University. He lives in Indiana.

CEO, Fresh FP&A, Cube Software

The makings of an effective financial planning calendar

Effective financial planning is crucial to the success of any business.

However, when you're trying to coordinate numerous financial tasks amidst ever-changing market conditions, it's easy to get overwhelmed—which can lead to mistakes. All it takes is one delay or missing detail to disrupt workflow, negatively impact decision-making, and put your business at risk.

Luckily, a streamlined financial planning calendar can help prevent this fate. In this blog, we'll break down how to create an efficient and effective calendar that will put your team on the path to success.

Let's dive in.


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What is a financial planning calendar?

A financial planning calendar serves as a roadmap, directing finance teams in organizing financial tasks and milestones throughout the year to ensure clarity, timely execution, and alignment with organizational goals.

This calendar encompasses essential activities such as budgeting, forecasting, reporting, analysis, and more. However, if you want the calendar to be effective, it's not enough just to have calendars that include these activities—you must also refine them. By doing so, you ensure that the calendar serves its purpose and that your team remains productive throughout the year.

Let's take a deeper look at each of these core tasks (and how to refine them):


Budgeting and resource allocation become more complex as an organization grows. Depending on your business and product model, it could pay to explore new budgeting techniques. 

For example, many organizations choose to adopt an agile and precise budgeting method, such as zero-based budgeting. Zero-based budgeting (ZBB) is a budgeting approach where every expense must be justified for each new budgeting period, starting from a "zero base". Unlike traditional budgeting where past budgets are taken as a reference and incremental adjustments are made, ZBB requires each budget line item to be evaluated and approved from scratch.

You may also prefer the adaptability of a rolling budget over a traditional static budget, as it provides more flexibility in the face of changing market conditions. A rolling budget is continually updated to add a new budgeting period (e.g., month or quarter) as the most recent period is completed. For instance, as one month ends, another month is added to the end of the budget horizon, keeping the number of periods constant.

Regardless of your approach, it's important that it aligns with your company’s long-term strategic goals, as this will yield better results.


Forecasting is another area where a few small changes can have a positive business impact. 

For example, many companies glean useful insights from scenario planning. Scenario planning is a strategic planning method used to make flexible long-term plans. It's a tool that helps organizations anticipate possible future scenarios and prepare for the unexpected. By understanding different possible futures, an organization can act more decisively and prepare for the coming years, even when facing uncertainty. It allows stakeholders to explore alternatives before committing to action. 

By incorporating this technique, you can make more accurate forecasts, allocate resources effectively, drive increased revenue growth, and develop effective long-term strategies.


Canned reports using static data may provide insight into your basic finances, but refining the reporting process can help you access deeper insights and relay them better. 

Advanced reporting tools, for example, give you access to real-time data and insights. This allows you to parse the data within your systems, observe particular variables, and understand how each factor affects your overall plan. These tools often provide automation that surfaces meaningful insights and identifies trends that would otherwise be obscured within a mountain of raw data.

Once you know the story you want to tell with your data, dashboards with visuals and interactive elements can help your team communicate its financial narrative more effectively. This is essential when presenting to non-finance decision-makers, who must understand the data to make informed decisions.


Advanced analytical tools, such as sensitivity analysis and variance analysis, allow finance teams to quickly perform in-depth data assessments. This gives them better visibility into the meaning behind the data.

For example, sensitivity analysis shows how different scenarios could affect a company's performance. Essentially, it reveals a business’s sensitivity to anticipated (or unanticipated) change. 

Variance analysis, on the other hand, measures the difference between actual and expected results, uncovering potential problems in reported numbers. These insights allow finance teams to better understand what's driving performance and determine the most effective corrective actions to take. 

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Key phases of the financial planning calendar

Aside from including and refining each of these core tasks, you must also ensure your financial planning calendar follows a predictable cadence throughout the year.

A consistent schedule in a financial planning calendar establishes a routine that aligns different business operations, promotes accountability, and guarantees that financial planning stays as a steady and integral aspect of an organization's workflow.

In general, here are the processes that dictate the flow of a finance team’s fiscal year:

1. First pass presentation

The initial stage focuses on laying the groundwork for the upcoming fiscal year.

Here, finance teams gather historical data to analyze past performance, patterns, and any anomalies. This data forms the foundation for the initial budget draft, which serves as a preliminary guide for the financial expectations and objectives of the year.

Once this draft is formulated, it is presented for a department head review. At this juncture, individual departments get the chance to assess the proposed figures, ensuring alignment with their specific goals and understanding the broader organizational context.

2. Second pass detailed review

Once the initial draft is reviewed, the focus shifts to refining and detailing. Monthly targets are scrutinized to ensure that they are realistic, attainable, and in alignment with the annual objectives.

This phase emphasizes cross-departmental collaboration. It's a time when different departments come together to discuss shared costs, joint initiatives, or projects that may span multiple teams. In tandem with collaborative efforts, a risk assessment is conducted to identify potential financial vulnerabilities and establish contingency plans, ensuring the organization is prepared for uncertainties.

3. Executive review

The refined budget, now more detailed and aligned with departmental objectives, is presented to the company's executives. This executive budget review is an essential stage where the top leadership examines the financial blueprint, ensuring it aligns with the broader strategic objectives of the organization. Their insights and directives may lead to further adjustments and revisions, ensuring that the financial plan is both aggressive in its goals, yet rooted in feasibility.

4. Board review and approval

The final stage involves the budget's presentation to the board for their review and endorsement.

The board budget presentation provides a comprehensive overview, justifying each allocation and illustrating how it serves the company's strategic objectives. Once the board gives its final approval, this ratified budget becomes the financial guidepost for the upcoming fiscal year.

Concluding this phase, the approved budget is communicated throughout the organization, ensuring that every department understands its financial parameters and the overarching goals for the year ahead. 

Best practices for designing a strong financial calendar

Navigating the intricacies of financial planning demands a clear and structured approach. Here's how to design an effective financial calendar that ensures everyone is on the same page:

1. Align planning with business goals

A financial calendar is most effective when it resonates with the overarching objectives of the business. Begin by ensuring that every aspect of your calendar—whether it's a budgeting task or a forecasting session—aligns directly with your business goals. This harmonization not only streamlines fiscal activities but also reinforces the importance of every financial decision in achieving larger company aspirations.

2. Build in key milestones

A clear roadmap is defined by its milestones. Incorporating pivotal events, checkpoints and deadlines into your financial calendar facilitates monitoring and ensures that the team remains on track. These milestones also act as moments of reflection, where the team can evaluate the progress made and recalibrate if necessary, ensuring that financial strategies remain relevant and impactful.

3. Make collaboration a priority

Financial planning doesn't operate in isolation—it requires insights from multiple departments. Emphasizing collaboration (more on this later) ensures a more holistic understanding of the company's finances, drawing from diverse expertise. Regular cross-departmental meetings and open communication channels in your calendar can aid in sharing essential data, feedback, and ensuring that everyone is aligned with the financial direction.

4. Create flexibility for uncertain times

While a financial calendar instills structure, it's crucial to allow room for adjustments. The business environment can be unpredictable, and your calendar should be equipped to adapt to unforeseen challenges or opportunities. By building in periods of reassessment and providing mechanisms for quick shifts in strategy, your financial planning remains resilient and responsive to real-time developments. 

Fostering effective collaboration and communication

As mentioned earlier, collaboration and communication are integral parts of the financial planning process and the creation of an effective calendar.

However, these elements aren't only essential for producing a document; they're vital to fostering a culture where everyone works in harmony towards shared financial goals. This collective effort often translates into better financial performance and a more adaptable and resilient organization.

Here's how to incorporate collaboration and communication into this process to boost the calendar's effectiveness:

1. Engage different departments

Involving department heads and business leaders in the financial planning process is essential because of the distinctive vantage point they hold within the organization. Immersed in the day-to-day activities of their respective domains, they possess an in-depth understanding of operational intricacies and challenges. Yet, they also have the ability to step back and grasp the broader business landscape, trends, and long-term strategic goals.

By integrating their insights, you're not just relying on numerical data but enriching the planning process with on-the-ground realities and expertise. This ensures that the financial plan is both grounded in the present and aligned with future aspirations. Moreover, their involvement ensures that the resulting financial strategies and objectives are practical, achievable, and resonate with the realities of each department.

2. Ensure transparency and clarity 

When crafting a financial planning calendar, it's paramount to maintain transparency and clarity at every stage. Clear communication ensures that every stakeholder, from department heads to frontline employees, understands the financial goals, the rationale behind them, and their role in achieving these objectives.

Transparency cultivates trust, as teams are more inclined to buy into a plan they comprehend and see as being constructed with genuine intent. When everyone is on the same page, it eliminates ambiguity, reduces the chances of misaligned efforts, and promotes collective ownership of financial outcomes.

To do this, consider building centralized systems to give stakeholders easy access to current budgets, forecasts, models, and relevant information. This ensures all participants can access and understand the data relevant to their decision-making and establishes a single source of truth for documents, data, and historical reporting. 

3. Establish regular check-ins and reviews

Create regular collaboration and check-in schedules to bring stakeholders together. Whether virtual or in-person, consistent check-ins, stand-ups, or quarterly review meetings allow everyone to share ideas, surface issues, adjust assumptions, and keep on the same page throughout the year.

Monitoring and adjusting the calendar

The financial planning calendar's true strength lies not just in its creation but in its ongoing evolution. Regular monitoring, coupled with a willingness to adjust and learn, ensures the calendar remains a robust guidepost, directing your organization toward meeting its financial aspirations.

Here are a few ways to monitor and adjust your calendar:

1. Regular performance tracking

The pulse of any effective financial plan is found in its performance metrics, such as:

  • Financial close cycle time: This metric is crucial for finance departments as it gauges the efficiency of the financial reporting process. A shorter cycle close can enhance timely decision-making and improve resource allocation. It is also an indication of how streamlined and efficient a company's financial processes are.

  • Budget to actual performance: This is fundamental in assessing the accuracy of financial forecasting and the adaptability of the organization. It helps in identifying areas of overspending or underspending, enabling course corrections. If actuals are consistently off from budgeted numbers, it might signal a need to revisit forecasting methods.

  • Operating cash flow: This metric provides insights into the liquidity and short-term financial viability of an organization. Positive operating cash flow means a company can easily fund its day-to-day operations, while negative cash flow could signal trouble.

  • Expense ratio: Total expenses divided by total revenue. By comparing total expenses to total revenue, this ratio offers a quick glance at how efficiently an organization is operating. A high expense ratio might indicate inefficiencies or excessive overhead costs, while a lower ratio suggests good cost management.

  • Return on investment (ROI): Measures the gain or loss generated on an investment relative to the money invested. A high ROI indicates that the investment's gains compare favorably to its cost.

Regularly tracking these metrics (along with other metrics relevant to your business) on a monthly or quarterly basis gives insight into how closely actual performance aligns with your projections. This constant oversight acts as an early warning system, flagging discrepancies before they escalate into bigger issues.

2. Adjustments and course corrections

Despite best efforts, not all projections will materialize as expected. Factors like market dynamics, internal operational changes, or broader economic shifts can derail forecasts. When faced with such challenges, the ability to make swift course corrections ensures the organization stays on track. Adjustments should be data-driven, informed by the insights garnered from regular performance tracking.

3. Feedback and continuous improvement

Beyond the numbers, it's the people—those working at the grassroots of an organization—who can provide valuable feedback. Creating mechanisms for departments and teams to voice observations or concerns leads to a richer, more holistic view of financial performance. It's this feedback that can be channeled into refining and improving the annual planning calendar, ensuring it remains an ever-evolving tool attuned to the organization's needs.

Tools and technologies to support the planning calendar

FP&A software can drastically improve the planning capabilities of SMBs. While advanced financial planning tools may have been too complex or expensive for smaller organizations in the past, the explosion of SaaS options has put advanced planning within reach for virtually all businesses.

To determine which software is right for your business, examine your existing financial processes. Then, look for software with features that can make completing those tasks more efficient and effective, such as automation and centralized data handling.

By streamlining and automating tasks that were previously manual and time-consuming, businesses can refocus their efforts on strategic decision-making rather than getting bogged down in data entry or reconciliations. With the aid of centralized data handling, inconsistencies and silos are significantly reduced. Everyone in the organization can access a single source of truth, ensuring that all departments are aligned and making decisions based on the same set of data.

Moreover, as the planning calendar encompasses various financial milestones, the software's ability to swiftly process and analyze data makes it easier to stick to schedules, review in real-time, and make adjustments as needed. As a result, the financial calendar becomes not just a schedule of tasks but a dynamic tool that can adapt and guide your organization more proactively, ensuring that financial strategies are always in tune with the actual state of the business.

Conclusion: planning for profit

A well-structured financial planning calendar isn't just a tool—it's a catalyst for clarity, efficiency, and informed decision-making. By including essential elements in your calendar and following the best practices mentioned above, you're taking a great first step towards experiencing a fruitful fiscal year.

Want to learn how Cube can help you effectively plan for profit in the year ahead? Request a free demo today.

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