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Budget vs. Actual Charts – 14 Charting Ideas You can Use



Post updated in May 2018.

Wow, Just Wow. I am thrilled and over joyed seeing the quality and quantity of responses received for our first visualization challenge. There are just too many good responses that dedicated a whole weekend afternoon compiling a post about them.

First let us take a look at the entries, in no particular order. You can click on the image to see expanded version. Also I have added one or two lines for each chart about what is good and what is not so good.

1. 3 colors and everything is clear

3 colors and everything is clear
Submitted by: Gerald

What is WOW about it?
Very easy to understand the values
Shows the differences in % which makes more sense to business users

What is not so wow about it?
Somewhat misleading, since the budget variance is shown in a corner (thus when you have actual as zero, you will see 2 bars, one with budget, one with variance thus confusing the reader that 50% is the variance)

2. A simple budget vs. Actual chart

A simple budget vs. Actual chart
Submitted by: Juwin Thomas

What is WOW about it?
Looks slick

What is not so wow about it?
Provides very little information as no labels are available
Could have used one color for center instead and changed the orientation

3. Creative Options to Visualize Budget vs. Actual Data (1)

Creative Options to Visualize Budget vs. Actual Data (1)
Submitted by: Lee

What is WOW about it?
Very easy to compare trends, for eg. It is easy to conclude that Center 1 is has grown in the last 5 quarters

What is not so wow about it?
Instead of displaying actual-budget, it could have been budget-actual since our data is like that. That way it would have been easy to compare the variances

4. Creative Options to Visualize Budget vs. Actual Data (2)

Creative Options to Visualize Budget vs. Actual Data (2)
Submitted by: Lee

What is WOW about it?
Creative and shows lots of data in one quick snap shot

What is not so wow about it?
Kind of difficult to read and understand

5. Creative Options to Visualize Budget vs. Actual Data (3)

Creative Options to Visualize Budget vs. Actual Data (3)
Submitted by: Lee

What is WOW about it?
Creative and Shows the quarter-wise trend in a different way
Provides average variance and actual/budget %s too

What is not so wow about it?
Could have been better if the both actual and budget values are show how incorporated

6. Simple and Easy to Read

Simple and Easy to Read
Submitted by: MB

What is WOW about it?
Very simple and very easy to understand

What is not so wow about it?
Could have added labels since the gaps are too small

7. Quarter-wise Snapshot of Budget Performance

Quarter-wise Snapshot of Budget Performance
Submitted by: NamKo

What is WOW about it?
Provides all the useful information, budget, actual, budget-actual, variance %s

What is not so wow about it?
It is difficult to see how the centers have performed across centers

8. Center Level Performances Along with Cumulative Values

Center Level Performances Along with Cumulative Values
Submitted by:

What is WOW about it?
Provides a quick snapshot of center level values along with cumulative values
Looks slick
Has an option to add comments

9. Simple and Easy to Read (2)

Simple and Easy to Read 2
Submitted by: Efrit

What is WOW about it?
Uses less color and stresses on actual values in the budget frame
Easy to compare both center-level and between centers

What is not so wow about it?
Since the variances are low, it is difficult to find the values without labels

10. A Pivot Chart show the Budget vs. Actual Performances

A Pivot Chart show the Budget vs. Actual Performances
Submitted by: Jacob

What is WOW about it?
Uses pivot charts to show both center level and cumulative performances
Can be filtered using pivot chart features

What is not so wow about it?
The cumulative values are shown in a smoothed curve, although it is good, it kind of misleads
Labels could have been used as the values are close to each other

11. Simple and Easy to Read (3)

Simple and Easy to Read 3
Submitted by: Michael Podemski

What is WOW about it?
Shows values in tables thus making it easy to read

What is not so wow about it?
The 3d feature of budget marker are kind of misleading as the gaps are very small, could have used a line instead

12. Cumulative Variances along with Budget and Actual Performances

Cumulative Variences along with Budget and Actual Performances
Submitted by: TJ

What is WOW about it?
Shows cumulative variances as well

What is not so wow about it?
Could have used the lesser colors

13. Using form controls and displaying one center data at a time

Using form controls and displaying one center data at a time
Submitted by: D Murphy

What is WOW about it?
Provides all the information for a center quickly
Takes less space

What is not so wow about it?
Difficult to compare the performance of various centers in a quarter
You have to calculate the gap between budget and actual

14. Showing YTD Trends along with budget and actual trends

Showing YTD Tredns along with budget and actual trends
Submitted by: Pablo GM

What is WOW about it?
Looks slick
Provides a variety of information

What is not so wow about it?
Could have used colors instead of gradients
Doesn’t tell the difference between budget and actual in numbers

A Big thank you to all the people who have sent their entries through email and blog comments.

Thanks to readers for constantly checking out the entries and commenting on the ones that needed improvement.


Additional Material You Should Check out If you want to Make Charts Like Above:

Thermometer charts in Excel

Target vs. Actual Chart in Excel | Best charts for showing % progress

Stacked Bar Chart Techniques

How to create interactive chart in Excel

Excel Combination Chart Basics

Our Excel Charting Page with a Ton of tutorials and DIY Training Material


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66 Responses to “Budget vs. Actual Charts – 14 Charting Ideas You can Use”

    • Linwe says:

      Hi there:

      I'm interested in understanding exactly how contestants #'s 1, 8 got their surplus or shortfall to show up at the top of the bar (is this overlapped or stacked somehow) and change colour?  I hope this makes sense.  I've tried to find samples and I can see contestant 8 (cuboo) may have used something called graphomate but I can't use this.  

      I need to create a bar chart that shows budget, and actual variance whether it be a surplus or a shortfall and I would like make it look like option 1 or 8 above but haven't  a clear idea how to do it...any help would be greatly appreciated!


  1. [...] heute können alle Beiträge auf “Pointy Haired Dilbert” gesichtet und bis zum 12.04. bewertet werden. Falls mein Vorschlag - Nr. 8 - gefällt, freue ich [...]

  2. Jon Peltier says:

    #6 is the best here. Simple, no extraneous visual effects.

  3. Kevin Stanford says:

    I was all set to vote for #9...until I noticed its lack of y-axis labels. So I have to go with #6 also.

  4. I think #6,#9 is enough .

  5. Barfly says:

    #9 is my favorite
    Nice data/ink ratio 😉

  6. Tony Rose says:

    I agree with Jon - #6 for me.

  7. Gale says:

    8 & 14

  8. Fabrice says:

    I go for # 9 (simple) and #14 (complete)

  9. fulvioo says:

    I go for cuboo #8

  10. Robert says:

    #6 for overview at a glance / top management
    #8 for deeper analysis / those who need more detailed information

  11. Bob Gannon says:

    #14 although I think you only need the bottom panel and I then would stack the Center charts vertically to make Center comparisons easier.

  12. Denise says:

    #10 gets my vote.
    If there is a second place, then #14

  13. Tin Seong KAM says:

    Hi, if I was not wrong, Samples 3,4 and 5 were created using Tableau software and not Excel. For more information on Tableau you might want to visit http://www.tableausoftware.com/. It was initially designed by Prof. Pat Hanrahan and his PhD students. I am not their salesperson but I thought someone might want to know more about this particular technology.

    • Linwe says:

      Hi Tin Seong Kam:
      Thanks - I have looked at Tableau before.  I have also found the means to reproduce something similar to chart 8 without using graphomate, and also chart 7.  I proposed chart 9  as well but the overlap is confusing to some.
      I am really not too concerned about showing actual budget figures but the variance in $ and % is important for my particular use.  That is why I gravitate to the charts that seem to easily tell us that we have a surplus or a shortfall.  

  14. Anamika says:

    11, 6, 9 (presque pareil)
    7 pour la clarté

  15. Haki says:

    cuboo #8 ist my favorite
    best regards...

  16. la'cruse says:

    8 is fantastic

  17. Stefan Sandauer says:

    I prefer N#8 - N# 1,7 & 8 use the settings of Rolf Hichert...

  18. SANTOSH CHAUBE says:

    6 : The GURU (read "Jon Peltier ") has spoken,
    SOO easy on eyes!

  19. Sumit says:

    Hi Chandoo,

    I liked Cuboo's submission. So #8 gets my vote.


  20. jram says:

    Number 8 by far. Even though it's not part of the data display, the comments feature sells me. Variance explanations are as important as the actual variances.

  21. Cyril Z. says:

    I visually prefer #8, but #3 is really easier to understand, even if it lacks a lot of information (inverting budget/actual), legend, etc...

  22. [...] All in all there are several great entries suggesting a good variety to present budget vs. actual performance. Go check them out. [...]

  23. [...] reshape, zoo by learnr A reader of a Pointy Haired Dilbert blog enquired about best ways to visualise budget vs. actual performance. In response PHD challenged his blog readers to contribute their visualisations made using Excel or [...]

  24. anyone willing to post their xls for these? Some really excellent exmaples.

  25. PublicSectorPlanner says:

    To avoid the summary execution of the person presenting these to an executive team these charts must handle overspending as well as underspending, be comprehensible in 5 seconds and show the key fact clearly. The key fact isn't budget or actual - it's the magnitude of the gap!


    #14 for nailing the key fact and being able to handle overspending. The winner therefore.
    #6 for nailing speed-reading and being able to handle overspending, but somewhat obscuring the key fact. Second place.
    #8 for nailing information depth and aesthetics. Third place.

    I really wanted #8 to win, but that's the technician's view not the end-user's.

  26. [...] Todas as contribuições podem ser vistas no seguinte endereço: Budget vs. Actual Charts – 14 Options You can Use Posted on April 5th, 2009 http://chandoo.org/wp/2009/04/05/budget-vs-actual-charts/ [...]

  27. Social comments and analytics for this post...

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by NancyJHess: I like to explore fav tweets of those I follow. Here is one from DutchDriver http://twurl.nl/17eiap Creative visual charts: Budget vs Actual...

  28. jon says:

    number 8

    clean, full of info, qualitative as well as quantitative

  29. Virender Singh says:

    I Like 4 chart in above as per the following ratings:-
    no 1# -> 14***
    no 2# -> 7***
    no 3 # -> 8**
    no 4# -> 1.3**

    I will be greateful if someone can send me the process of making all above 4 charts.


  30. Shazbot says:

    Does anyone know what type of chart #6 is (chart name?)? Also, how do I create this is Excel 2007?

  31. Hui... says:

    I'd call it a Column and Bar chart, but don't get hungup on names

    To make it try this:

    Setup the chart as a Clustered Column Chart
    Change the Series so there is 100% overlap, ie: One column is in front of the other
    Change the Budget series to a line chart
    Set the line color to none
    Set the marker style to a Flat Line
    Change the marker width to make it the same width as the bar
    Change colors and other chart properties to suit

  32. Caroline says:

    Does anyone have an idea on how to create chart #1?

  33. Stefan says:

    Caroline, please see the german page: http://www.hichert.com/de/software/exceldiagramme/55

    there you can find the original example for nr1.
    best regards,

  34. Hui... says:

    This is a Clustered Stacked Column Chart
    Which has the column under the Shortfall/Excess colored the same as the Budget
    Have a look here


  35. Vijay says:

    Is it possible to get the source files like the other visualisation challenge (on sales).

  36. Vijay Raghavendran says:

    Dear Chandoo,

    I discovered your site by pure chance and I am really thrilled about it and I am learning a lot.
    Is it possible to post the source file for this visualisation challenge?



  37. Greg says:

    Dear Chandoo,

    How do I create Chart #10 (comparing Budget vs Actual Performaces) by cost center by quarter without the cumulative performance. Do you have an actual example that I could use?



  38. OKI says:


    Does anyone can help me to a to create chart #7? I'm beginer in excel , I started to work two weeks ago and my boss ask me to follow the budget/actual until the end of the year.
    SO I really need your help.
    Thanks in advance

    p.s Sorry for my english ( i'm french)

  39. Hui... says:

    @OKI, Greg

    I have made a mockup of #7 and #10
    It is available at:

    #10 is a straight, Pivot Chart/Table but the data has been rearranged to get it into the pivot table

    #7 is 2 charts, being a simple Bar Chart and a Scatter Chart with 100% Error Bars
    I have used Named Formulas for the two charts.

  40. OKI says:

    HELLO Hui
    Thanks you very much for your hepl , i really appreciate

    Have I nice week

  41. Tony says:


    I was wondering how can you replicated chart 1.3? The bars looked like there overlapped on two different axis?


  42. BINDU says:

    I think 1 & 3 are good.

  43. Sawan says:

    Hi Chandoo,
    Please can you provide a link of the excel sheet for 1. Chart "3 colors and everything is clear"

    I would like to drill into the spreadsheet and learn the secrets as how the chart was made.

    Many thanks,

  44. Hui... says:

    It is probably 12 seperate charts, I will assume snapped to the underlying cells to ensure they are the same size
    The left 3 Charts have a vertical Axis
    The bottom 4 Charts have a horizontal Axis
    The remainder have no axis
    The remaining text maynot be part of the charts but is probably cell content

  45. Juan Carlos Etayo says:


    Como puedo descargar estos maravillosos ejemplos para estudiarlos y analizarlos deseo aprender a realizar este tipo de graficas en Excel.


  46. Michelle says:

    Dear Chandoo and Hui,

    Please would you help me (step by step if possible) to create Chart #8?

    Many thanks in advance!

  47. Phoebe says:

    Dear Chandoo,

    I think chart #8 is really great. Would really appreciate if you can show basic step to create it.

    Thanks 🙂

  48. Sawan says:

    Hi all,
    Is there any step by step tutorial to recreate the the chart #1 please?
    Would really appreciate if someone could show me how it done.

  49. ExcelNerd says:

    Can someone tell me how do you create chart number 2? Thanks!

  50. Robert says:

    Am I the only one that can not display any of the images?  Would love to take a look at these.  This is the ONLY page on the whole website I have had this issue with. 🙁

  51. Hassan Mirza says:

    Dear All,
    how can i create chart # 7? is there any link where i can subscribe to your website by paying a certain amount. i want to learn some good excel techniques.
    please let me know.

  52. Carlos says:

    Cant see the images 🙁

  53. Sunil B says:

    Where can I find the link to download some of the above charts?? these are extremely usefull chart and would like to utilize the same.
    Waiting for the reply.

  54. Khaled Mohamed Abdel Aziz says:

    I am interested for # 1,6,7,8,9,10,11 its very exciting for me .

  55. satyapal says:

    Just wanted to check, is there any possibility that pivot table or drop down work in power point?

    • Chandoo says:

      @Satyapal... you can only use static images or slide animations in Power Point. Not features like pivot tables or drop downs. However, you can embed the entire workbook (or sheet) in a presentation. When clicked this will just open Excel so your users can play with the data.

  56. Ramesh N says:

    Is there any instalment kind of facility available for joining the online course of Rs.12000/-.


    Ramesh N

  57. Tim says:


    I badly want to replicate #10. Can someone help me.. I've checked google to help but I can't figure out how to add the total 🙁


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