This article is copied from SC4ever.com. This article originally created by Kendal Strickland.
The most difficult thing for me about SC4 has been its emphasis on budgeting and careful financial planning. As you may have noticed, keeping a balanced budget has now become MUCH more difficult, necessitating a heightened awareness of the relationship between revenues and city expenses. Here I present my ideas on how to create a thriving, self-sufficient, and financially sound city.
The very first city in a "region" has to be self-sufficient; it must rely on itself for income. Taxes provide the bulk of this revenue. For this reason I prefer to use high density zones to start with, as to me the increased tax revenues outweigh the initial zoning costs. Otherwise, though, I don't use any special method of laying out my city.
Once the city is laid out and all utilities in place, I do an "audit" of all my expenses. This should happen before the game is initially unpaused. At the beginning of the game, there is no need to fully fund all your services and utilities, as this is simply a waste of money. Power, Water, Schools, Police, Fire, and Medical facilities can all be cut to lower funding levels, as my beginning population is never so large as to fully utilize them. It takes some measure of experimentation to get this right.
Next I meddle in taxes. Your tax policies will of course be dependent on your goals for the city, but as a general rule you can get away with having higher residential taxes than industrial or commercial. In the early stages, commercial zones should pay the least taxes. I have found that it is best for city aura when one discourages low-wealth development. I do this through a regressive tax system. For example, low-wealth might be taxed at 8%, medium at 7.5%, and high wealth at 7%. (In real life this would be horribly unfair, but in SimCity it pays to be elitist).
At this point it is OK to unpause the game. In a short while development will begin to spring up. Once your zones are more or less fully developed, take a look at your cash flow. It will almost always be negative at first, and your treasury will shrink at what seems like an alarming rate. Not to worry, though.
As the city approaches "broke," accept every business deal except the toxic waste plant. They will help pad your shaky budget. Frequently check up on your utilities by "auditing" them; you will have to increase your funding as the city's population grows. Hopefully this cost will be offset by increased tax revenues. At this point your cash flow will either be negative or close to break even. In order to expand and grow your city, you must employ the power of leverage. When you want to expand or build something special, you must take out a loan to provide the capital.
Loans cost you money every month, so the key is to use part of your loan to create revenue, hopefully more than the cost of the loan payment. You do this by placing in-demand zones, as much as you can spare. Whatever you don't use for zoning can be used for city improvements or other costly endeavours.
For example, if you discover you need to build a power plant costing $7000, you might take out a loan for $20000, and use $13000 for creating new zones, and $7000 to build the plant. This way, you can provide new services to your city while keeping things growing at a nice rate. Be judicious with loans, however, and don't just take on debt without a plan.