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How to Prepare a Budget
Budget Development Guidelines
Preparation of the budget is, for many researchers, the most difficult task involved in proposal development. Granting agencies review hundreds of proposals annually and are proficient at comparing level of funding requested to perform the research work proposed. Therefore, it is important that the budget section of the proposal reflect, as accurately as possible, the funding needed to carry out the proposed research. The investigator should neither overestimate the funds required nor underestimate budgetary needs. Either of these strategies may lead to proposal rejection. A budget, accurately detailing the funds necessary to carry out the technical statement of work, can strengthen the total proposal and increase the likelihood of funding. Furthermore, a carefully prepared budget can often identify weak areas in the proposal narrative and result in improvement of the proposal.
Grant coordinators at the department and college level can provide expertise in completing a budget request, applying fringe benefit and facilities and administrative cost rates, and documenting subrecipient agreements, consultants, matching funds and cost sharing. In the case of more complicated proposal requirements, OSPA will complete sponsor assurances and certifications and will assist the investigator in interpreting sponsor guidelines.
Budget templates with ISU rates are available and we encourage you to use them.
Always remember to follow your budget forms with a budget justification.
A justification explains the budget items so that the funding agency will understand what will need to be purchased to perform your project. Most sponsors have a format for the budget justification that you should follow.
Some costs may be unallowable under federal costing regulations. Please review ISU's Costing Policy for more information:
General Budget Development Information
- Direct Costs
- Salaries and Wages
To determine total salaries and wages, list the amount of time to be spent by each person, including administrative and clerical assistants, who will be working on the project. Time should normally be shown in terms of person-months or a percent of full-time effort. Some sponsors have limits on the amount of time that can be charged to a project – NSF, for instance, limits key personnel to two months salary annually for all NSF grants on which that individual is paid.
Note also that key personnel can only be ISU employees. Do not list non-ISU collaborators under Salaries and Wages. They are either Consultants or are funded under Subrecipient Agreements.
Show a breakdown between summer and regular academic year for faculty.
Sponsored activities may not result in any employees receiving compensation at a rate in excess of their authorized base salary or academic rate.
For multi-year projects, the budget should take into consideration any possible salary increases.
OMB Circular A-21, the federal regulation that determines the allowability of costs on federally sponsored awards, requires special justification for the use of clerical support on sponsored programs.The budget justification should include this information if clerical support is contemplated.
- Fringe Benefits
Fringe benefits are a direct cost to a sponsored project, are clearly related to the salaries and wages to be paid, and are shown as a separate entry in the budget.
A pooled fringe benefit rate is used to estimate costs. The rates can be viewed at:
Note that the actual costs for fringe benefits are charged (billed) to the sponsored project at the time the costs are incurred; the amount charged is based on salary, selected benefit package, and other variables applicable to the individual employee.
If fringe benefit expenses for a project exceed the projected amount included in the budget, it is the responsibility of the principal investigator to pay these costs from the direct award funds provided by the sponsor.
If a sponsor will not pay fringe benefits costs, these costs must be paid in some way – therefore, the PI must provide an account number from which to pay fringe benefits as part of the GoldSheet submission.
- Consultants (Professional Services Agreements)
Normally, consultants are paid a consulting fee plus expenses. Whenever possible, identify in the budget the proposed consultant by name, indicate the number of days of work, daily rate, and provide a curriculum vitae or resume for the consultant in the proposal.
Many sponsors do not permit payments to consultants and some restrict or limit such payments, or require that the university obtain written approval for consultants. If in doubt as to the allowability of consultants or rates paid to consultants, refer to the award terms or sponsor guidelines for guidance.
ISU employees may be used as consultants on a project if the consultant is from a different department than the principal investigator. However, the cost of their participation must be paid as regular salary and associated fringe benefits must be included in the cost. Therefore, you should typically list ISU employees under Salaries and Wages even when they are consultants.
- Capital Equipment
Equipment means an article of nonexpendable, tangible property having a useful life of more than one year and an acquisition cost of $5,000 or more per acquisition. However software costs are only capitalized if the cost is $500,000 or greater.
Sponsors may have a different definition of equipment; you should use their definition as you prepare the budget forms appropriate for that sponsor. Note, however, that ISU will not track items less than $5,000 as equipment in inventory.
Components, other than on-campus machine-shop labor, used to fabricate an item of capital equipment may be considered as capital equipment for budgeting purposes and should be identified as such for inventory purposes. Any on-campus machine-shop labor component involved in fabrication of capital equipment is subject to facilities and administrative costs.
Note that laptop or other computers that do not reach the $5K threshold are not considered equipment for budgetary purposes and should be listed as expendable equipment and supplies.
- Expendable Equipment and Supplies (also called Materials and Supplies)
These are items with a unit cost less than $5,000. Normally, a research project will consume expendable supplies such as laboratory items, teaching aids, and research supplies. This category also includes items such as televisions, dvd players, computers and other small electronics costing less than $5,000. Software costs under $500,000 are treated as materials and supplies.
Budget the anticipated cost of publishing the results of the research, keeping in mind that page charges may vary from journal to journal. Consider both page charges and reprint costs.
ISU's policies and procedures related to travel can be viewed at:
If travel is anticipated the detailed information for the trip(s) should be provided in the budget.
For foreign travel, Principal Investigators should review their federal awards for requirements related to the Fly America Act - for more information, see: http://www.controller.iastate.edu/travelinformation/airfarerestrictions.htm
ISU reimburses hotel costs for foreign destinations at either the actual single rate for hotels or U.S. Department of State per diem as required. Per diem rates are available at: http://aoprals.state.gov/web920/per_diem.asp. A receipt is required even if the per diem rate is claimed. Charges for staying with friends or relatives are not reimbursable.
Federal funds cannot be used to make trips to secure new or additional research support or funds.
- Computer Time
Computer time costs should be included as a budget item, if appropriate. If non-sponsor funded computer time is needed, arrangements must be made in advance with the researcher's academic department or research unit. Facilities and administrative costs apply to all types of computer time and to all computer supply budgets.
- Subrecipient Agreements
A subrecipient is a state or local government, college, university, corporation or other organization that expends federal funds received from a prime grantee to carry out a sponsored program.
A subrecipient relationship is appropriate when the Principal Investigator contemplates a funded collaboration with a colleague at another institution. The collaborating institution should provide to OSPA a statement of work and detailed budget and budget justification, signed by the collaborator's authorized institutional representative.
- Other Direct Costs
Costs such as those for copying; long-distance telephone calls; postage; reference books; tuition and required fees for participating graduate students: equipment maintenance; and contracted services are all considered Other Direct Costs.
- Sponsor Specific Budget Categories
Occasionally, sponsors will have budget categories for other types of costs. For instance, NSF has a budget category called Participant Support Costs. This budget category covers the cost of participants in NSF funded workshops, research or teaching experiences, conferences, and other meetings. Participant Support Costs do not incur F&A. Please note that you may budget Participant Support Costs only for NSF proposals and only when appropriate.
- Salaries and Wages
- Facilities and Administrative (F&A) Costs
- Facilities and Administrative Costs
Facilities and administrative (F&A) costs must be included in proposal budgets unless the sponsor has a written policy on F&A rates applicable to all potential grantees. All deviations from full recovery of F&A rates are subject to ISU administrative approval per policy. Sponsor guidelines limiting facilities and administrative costs must be provided with a proposal.
To calculate F&A costs for a project: 1) Calculate the Total Direct Costs (TDC), which is simply the sum of all direct costs (salaries, benefits, supplies, equipment, etc.) 2) Calculate the base against which the F&A rate will be multiplied by subtracting exempt items (capital equipment, graduate student tuition and required fees, stipends, and subrecipient agreement costs in excess of the first $25,000 of each subrecipient agreement over the life of the agreement) from TDC. This will give the Modified Total Direct Costs (MTDC). 3) Multiply the correct F&A rate against the MTDC base to calculate the facilities and administrative costs for the project. 4) Add the TDC to the F&A to calculate the Total Project Costs. TDC - exemptions = MTDC
MTDC x F&A rate = F&A. TDC + F&A = Total Project Costs Please note that since the federally-negotiated facilities and administrative rates are subject to change every three to five years, principal investigators should be prepared to make adjustments in budgets for such changes.
ISU's F&A rate agreement may be viewed here:
- On- and Off-Campus Rates
Off-campus activities are those activities that operate entirely off University property (either owned, leased, or rented) and do not increase, nor decrease the costs of those activities (i.e., operations and maintenance) that would be affected had the activities been operated on property maintained and/or depreciated by the University.
Off-campus rates are generally used when the principal investigator conducts research away from the campus for a period of no less than one semester or all three summer months. They are not used for conducting of workshops, seminars, etc. off campus, especially when data collection and analysis takes place on campus.
- Facilities and Administrative Costs
- Matching Funds/Cost-Sharing
If sponsor guidelines require cost sharing or matching funds (cash contribution or donation of in-kind services such as contributed time and effort by the principal investigator and other key personnel), please provide the details of any cost sharing provided by the PI, department/unit or college and/or provide appropriate letters of commitment from third-party sources. All matching funds or cost sharing commitments based on the faculty member's academic time and effort must be approved in advance by the principal investigator's department chair and dean. The university does not provide cost-sharing for projects on which it is not required.