Read my post history if you'd like more context. Long story short, the relevant part is that we're a profitable company.

I received my 2023 budget and it's the same as last year despite vendor increases. On top of that, the CEO added "strategic goals" for 2023 that require further spend including the onboarding of many new employees (these are not my hires). So realistically, to support more people I need a much higher budget. I've explained this and the average cost to on board an employee.

I pushed out non-essential projects and I recalculated out my estimated spend for 2023 and we run out in August if we don't cut something. I've shown this and listed out options to cut (honestly, it's a hard decision since there's no good options) and she replied telling me to figure out how to do it all - no cuts.

I was also told not to tell other employees. But I will need to soon since the budget will affect how they operate too.

It's like one of those "choose 2" puzzles, but she wants all 3.

I doubt Microsoft will be paying us anytime soon for the privilege of providing us with Microsoft Office. So how do I explain that she can't have all of the nice things if we don't have a budget for those things?

  • What happen if you go over budget? Can't you just prove to them that you tried hard but can either comply with the budget or their goal?
    – Al rl
    Feb 5, 2023 at 22:35
  • 7
    For anyone reading this in the future.... There is no budget for my entire staff so I quit today because I can't succeed at my job without them.
    – block14
    Feb 7, 2023 at 20:58

5 Answers 5


So how do I explain that she can't have all of the nice things if we don't have a budget for those things?

It sounds as if you already did.

And, unless she is stupid, she knows that you can only do so much within a level funded budget. But she expects you to try to do it all.

So that's what you need to do. You need to try hard to do as much as you can within your budget.

  • If you have to onboard many new employees, you need to find a way to onboard each less expensively than you did last year.
  • Prioritize the strategic goals so that the most important ones get done before you run out of budget
  • Continue to look for ways to cut unnecessary expenses
  • Perhaps your peers are facing similar budget strain. Perhaps they can share what they plan to do.
  • As the year goes on, regularly update your boss on the status of your projects/activities, and the amount of remaining budget.

If you do all this and still feel hopeless, then perhaps it's time to start looking for a new job. In some companies, running out of budget before running out of year isn't fatal. Maybe in your company it is.

You can only do what you can do. Maybe it will be good enough. Maybe not. Only you are in a position to judge that.

  • 2
    Would you ask if she wants me to try, or just do it without saying anything further and see where we're at come August? We've never operated that way before so this is entirely new for all of the managers.
    – block14
    Feb 4, 2023 at 0:26
  • @block14 - We can’t tell you which option to choose. We don’t know your CEO, or how they will react, to either option
    – Donald
    Feb 4, 2023 at 15:27

This is a common problem with bosses. Part of the problem is that bosses have put these restrictions on departments in the past and someone has figured out how to get things done in a different way that cost less. So, the boss figures that this is a good way to make the department more efficient.

Figure out what expenses can't be cut, Microsoft subscriptions, etc. and budget them in.

Then, everything else has to be prioritized. Bosses won't willingly prioritize for you. A boss will never tell you to not meet a customer deadline. One suggestion is to pull together a priority list and run that by the boss. They will change it and changes to priorities may happen weekly. Work top priority items and let the rest slide. It is normal not to get everything done and not meet all deadlines. Working on what the boss agrees is the top priority gives you cover.

BTW, if you are providing a service (onboarding new employees) to other departments, then ask for a way to charge those expenses to those other departments. Get those expenses off of your budget.

Finally, a budget is an estimate. It can change monthly. If you are providing an essential service to the company and run out of budget, the company will find a way to fund your operations. Simply make sure that you communicate the essential nature of your actions.


I've seen such things happen: a yearly budget was allotted to each department, and no one could easily make it until september. After summer and vacation was over, it was time to discuss again. Some departments had some spare money, some were already off-balance. The company was using that strategy to have dept's heads working hard and cut expenses. Reaching the last financial quarter with the best overview for yearly results would let the company adjust numbers as precisely as possible.

It means they had to re-calculate, dispatch money elsewhere sometimes, re-think how the ressources (mainly human ones) were used, and if at their best.

I'm pretty sure your boss knows that, as well as that you can't always work wonders.

What our boss (dept head, reporting to the company's board) was doing was to scale and balance everything. We had to provide her with numbers, time and ressources spent, how and when. In case we didn't really know what we should prioritize, she would decide.

She would keep records of everything €€€ spent, of every ressource used. We were doing the same. We had to think to the most efficient way of achieving tasks, we became more creative (and proactive) for some of us, who were willing to learn "from the pros".

In this case, it was a way to say: "don't waste time and our effing money!!!" Once you do your best at training new people (if applicable) or training old staff to new things (if applicable too), at delegating tasks, at doing tasks, you also improve. To a certain point. You need a company you can count on to have your back. If it doesn't, then it's bad news, sometimes it's also a technique to reduce the weight on a sinking ship...

You already told her your concerns. Now, you try and do your best at cutting unnecessary expenses and reorganize your department if needed, but you won't be able to succeed in every aspect maybe. You can't always work wonders and make their wishes come true, or resolve a company's problems. At least, you can try...

...and keep opportunities on the side, as you never know what the future will bring...


Create and maintain a status document ("burn-down list") that shows time spent and estimated time until completion of each item and it's sub-items, checking off things as they are completed and adjusting the numbers as you get better estimates.I hate GANTT charts, but some kind of dependency and time-totalling tool is important for a real-world project; I might say necessary (while admitting the "tool" can be wholly informal, graphical, or roll-upward trees.) Some code control systems have something of this sort built into them; the version of Git I used at work could do that though many people didn't understand that feature.

Keep that document where your manager can see it, updated no less than weekly, and/or send them an updated copy periodically. Use it as a framework for discussion at your status meetings. if it says you don't have time to accomplish everything by deadline, use it as a framework for deciding what can be deferred, what can be broken off as separate tasks to do later (technical debt), and what needs to be prioritized. It will also help you find which tasks can and can't run simultaneously.

As one example: essential onboarding breaks down into sub-tasks involving getting accounts set up, assigning seating, assigning people to specific jobs and/or showing them how to work with your issue management system, familiarizing them with enough of the code to get them started contributing at least in the small stuff, etc. Some of that has to wait for other parts of it, some doesn't. Some is best handled by active teaching, some by handing out a basic document and letting folks ask questions; some might even benefit from a chat system or wiki so folks have a structure for informally supporting each other.

But it all starts with decomposing the big goals into smaller ones, understanding which have unavoidable dependencies on others that can't be refactored out, understanding what absolutely must be complete at specific times (if anything), prioritizing the list based on that I put, and then making sure things are moving on schedule and/or schedule is being adjusted and new schedule computed.

If the bottleneck is your own time, it's a good opportunity to improve your skills at delegating tasks to others

This will also form a framework for the discussion you said you wanted to have about not believing you can get everything done with the available resources; it makes the needs explicitly visible for discussion. "Here is why I don't think I can accomplish this year's goals with what you've given me. Which are really needed this year, and which can be deferred? Which deadline would it most hurt to miss?What can be spread into next year?"

If they disagree with your estimates, you still need priorities so the thing which fails is the least important. Then you just do the best you can and either surprise yourself or say "I did warn you" at your yearly review.


Reading between the lines, I think what the CEO is asking you to do is to cull staff without explicitly stating it, so that you are the bad guy and not them.

  • Possibly. I did explain what projects won't be completed on time if we do that and I was told that those projects need to be completed. Do I cull and see if we still meet those deadlines?
    – block14
    Feb 4, 2023 at 0:11
  • If we fired someone, its basically a story of "we have products to ship, but nobody to ship them" or "we have somebody to ship products but no products to ship". Somebody else who's not trained and already works a full job would have to take over that job.
    – block14
    Feb 4, 2023 at 0:19
  • 1
    Why would you be onboarding new staff if the boss' goal is to cut staff? Feb 4, 2023 at 17:42

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