Prepare a Budget

A budget is not meant to test the limits of imagination; a good budget simply reflects all the essential costs associated with your project. In fact, the budget is an excellent test of a project’s clarity and completeness. If some of the line items are not immediately apparent after a careful read through the proposal, your budget requires further trimming.

Drafting the Budget

Before constructing your budget, check the granting agency’s Request for Application (RFA) for any special instructions. Once you are clear on the expectations of the funding agency:

  1. List all the project expenses in an Excel spreadsheet using the Methods section of the proposal as a guide. For each task you propose, ask yourself: How many staff will this take? What new equipment will I need? How about supplies? Will there be Knowledge Transfer costs (e.g., producing a publication, presenting at a conference, or hosting a community gathering to disseminate results to end users)? Don’t limit yourself yet.
  2. Categorize the line items using the format described in the application instructions. Typical headings include Research Staff, Materials, Supplies and Services, Travel, and Equipment.
  3. Assign cost estimates to the line items. Round the estimates to the nearest whole dollar value.
  4. Calculate yearly totals and project totals using the auto-tallying function of Excel. This feature will help safeguard against human error. Double-check the totals by adding your budget up manually.
  5. Gauge whether your yearly and/or total project costs are reasonable by comparing them to other projects already funded through the same competition. (Keep in mind that first year estimates are usually higher due to start up costs.) Many funding agencies have funded project databases useful in carrying out this task.

Refining Your Budget

You should now have an idea of how much tightening your budget needs. Try these techniques for whittling down your project costs:

Set Priorities. Set priorities by justifying expenditures in your mind. Do you really need that second computer? Could you license the $33,000 software rather than purchasing it? Maybe one research assistant, rather than a technician and an assistant, would suffice?

Ensure Your Expenses are Supported. Consult the funding agency’s Use of Grant Funds policy to verify whether your expenses are supported. The Tricouncil (CIHR, NSERC, SSHRC)’s funding policy is available online.

If equipment requests are permissible, you may be required to obtain supplier quotes. Consult the relevant agency guidelines for specific requirements.

Create a Project Schedule. Visually organize your project schedule as a gantt chart. You can view some sample gantt charts in the Templates and Tools – Project Management section of this website. The gantt chart will help you determine who is required when, when to purchase supplies, and the start and end dates of each phase of the project, among other logistical details.

Double-Check Your Line Items. Ensure that all your line items are consistent with what you spelled out in the proposal – if some of your expenses are not readily apparent after reading through the proposal, they can probably be removed.

Justifying The Budget

Now that your project total lies within a reasonable range, your next task is to provide a brief explanation and rationale for all expenses. Often this section is not constrained by a page limit (although be sure to check the funding agency guidelines); use the space to provide as much relevant detail as possible. This is your chance to:

  • provide a general description of the line item
  • explain how the line item relates to the activities outlined in the work plan
  • verify the cost of line items by describing how they were arithmetically determined

If equipment purchases are allowable, the funding agency may require you to demonstrate that you have attempted to access the required equipment within your own institution. At UBC, you can check equipment availability using FRED, the Facilities, Resources, and Events Database and contact the relevant party to determine if you will be able to use the equipment for your proposed project. Perhaps there is an opportunity for collaboration. If access is not possible, you may need to explain why not. It is good practice in such instances to have a letter from your researcher’s department head attesting to your due diligence.

Templates & Other Resources

Budget templates are available on this website in the Templates & Tools section. Funding agency guidelines are subject to change without notice; please double-check the guidelines to ensure that the templates satisfy all the agency requirements.

Also visit this website’s Grant Facilitation social bookmarking page at for grant writing resources that include tips on preparing budgets. For information on using Delicious, see Suggesting Links Via Delicious.

Always remember to allocate time in your work plan for sharing a draft of the budget and proposal with some more experienced colleagues. You may set this up independently, or take advantage of HeRRO’s Internal Review service.

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