Before creating the budget, consider to whom you will be submitting it: an external funder or an internal funder. Both are equally important, but they may have different requirements. In addition, don’t forget to consider long-term or recurring costs as well as immediate funding needs. You do not want is to get midway through a project only to discover you do not have the funding to complete your proposed objectives and deliverables.

Getting Started

  • Make sure to plan ahead.
  • Double-check the funder’s specific requirements and limitations.
  • Use templates where possible: they reduce both error and workload.
  • Don’t forget indirect costs!
  • Consider asking for guidance from your university grants office, if possible.

Elements of a Budget

Salaries (typically the largest portion of a budget):

  • Base calculations on your actual salary. Do not give yourself a pay raise!
  • Ensure that you place people in the correct salary categories, and do not forget to include benefits.
  • Attend to the difference among faculty, staff, and student pay scales and schedules. In deciding between research assistants or hourly student workers, consider that research assistants are better for projects that require a sustained engagement or intellectual role, while hourly students workers are generally better for specific, short-term tasks. Do not forget to include your project manager, programmer, and systems administrator in your staff!
  • Do not include time spent developing the budget in the budget.
  • If you need to make an adjustment, you may be able to do a re-budget, which is generally fine if you’re moving money around within categories, but generally frowned upon if you attempt to move money from one category to another.

Other Direct Costs


  • You should generally only include large equipment needs (over $5,000 for single item).
  • Equipment can only be used for work specifically described in your proposal, so if the item will be useful beyond the life of the project, mention it as a part of building a “sustainable infrastructure.”
  • Be aware that purchase of some types of equipment will be prohibited or intensely scrutinized (e.g., laptops, phones, tablets).
  • Provide vendor quotes in your justification or as supporting materials.


  • Funds can be used to meet with collaborators at other universities, and it’s generally acceptable to travel to conferences so long as it is connected to your project. If you are presenting (or applying to present), include that in your proposed budget.
  • Do differentiate between domestic and foreign travel, and again, justify costs with vendor quotes.

Materials and Supplies:

This category generally covers miscellaneous expenses, including printing agendas, name tags, etc.

Publication Costs:

This includes publishing fees for project-related articles (e.g., journals that require a fee for article publication).


Don’t forget about server hosting fees, small equipment purchases (can only be used for the project), publicity swag, and consultant fees or honoraria.


Your institution wants their cut. Indirects are used to pay for all the things that aren’t directly related to your project, but are required by your project (lighting, heating, printer paper, wireless access/network connectivity, administrative overheads).

Indirects are charged at a federally negotiated rate, typically calculated as 50-60% of your direct costs (varying by institution), and at different rates for different activities (e.g, teaching vs. researching). Some foundations (Mellon) prohibit the charging of indirects, while some institutions offer different indirect cost rates depending on the grant activity, so MAKE SURE you investigate and get the lowest rate possible. Sometimes, indirect costs can be waived directly.


From: Principles of Budget Design