The process of budgeting for capital expenditures is essential for a business to operate and grow from a sound financial position. Capital expenditures are expenses a business makes to generate financial benefits over a period of years.

A capital expense is the cost of an asset that has usefulness, helping create profits for a period longer than the current tax year. This distinguishes them from operational expenditures, which are expenses for assets that are purchased and consumed within the same tax year.

For example, printer paper is an operational expense, while the printer itself is a capital expense. Capital expenditures are much higher than operational expenses, covering the purchase of buildings, equipment, and company vehicles. Capital expenditures may also include items such as money spent to purchase other companies or for research and development. Operational expenses are just what their name signifies, the expenses required for the company to operate from week-to-week or month-to-month.

Capital Expenditure Planning

Because capital expenditures represent substantial investments of cash designed to show a return on the capital investment over a period of years, it is important for companies to carefully plan for them.

Nearly all companies budget separately for capital expenditures. Having a separate budget from operational expenses makes it simpler for companies to calculate the respective tax issues. For operational expenses, deductions apply to the current tax year, but deductions for capital expenditures are spread out over the course of years as depreciation or amortization.

Preparing a capital expenditure budget varies from one company to another depending on such factors as the nature of the company's business and the size of the company. In large firms, the first step in capital budgeting may be individual departments within the company submitting requests for things the department needs that fall under the heading of capital expenditures. In the end, however, capital expenditures are inevitably determined by upper management and owners.

Management's Role in Capital Expenditures 

For one thing, capital budgeting involves very large expenditures, and it is management that must make the evaluation as to whether the investment in assets is worth the cost. Capital expenses almost always impact operational expenses as purchased items need to be maintained and the "big picture" needs to be considered.

Management must make the call on whether capital expenditures come directly from company funds or if they must be financed. Leasing is an option as well, one that becomes appealing if a company is purchasing assets such as computers or other technology equipment—items that can quickly become obsolete.

Budgeting for capital expenditures is critical for future planning and budgeting. In deciding on a certain capital expenditure, a company's management makes a statement about its view of the company's current financial condition and its prospects for future growth.

Capital budgeting decisions also give an indication regarding what direction the company plans to move in the years ahead. Capital expenditure budgets are commonly constructed to cover periods of five to 10 years and can serve as major indicators regarding a company's "five-year plan" or long-term goals.