Budget Development

When creating a budget for any proposal, start with the proposed work. Without a solid understanding of the work that needs to be accomplished, the budget is nearly impossible to develop.

That being said, one cannot finalize the narrative without a completed budget. It’s important that the money matches the work. In instances where there are budget maximums (or even minimums), the narrative can promise work that is unable to be paid for in the budget allotment. This creates a burden on the faculty member, his/her program and the university. Money that is needed for a project that does not come from the sponsor is called cost sharing. The university does not allow cost sharing when it is not a requirement of the proposal as it negatively impacts the future F&A rate.

Budget Tools & Resources

  • SAGE: System to Administer Grants Electronically
    The SAGE Budget Tool helps you create an accurate budget for your grant proposal. It auto-populates data from the payroll and financial systems, helps you select proper rates, and calculate totals automatically.
  • UW Seattle Office of Research Budget Development Page – Provides more information on how to build out and plan your project budget.
  • Cindy Shirley helps PIs develop their budgets prior to submission. Email her at cindys00@uw.edu.
  • Leena Perera leena@uw.edu can help with answering questions on fiscal compliance – whether an expense can be added to a grant or not.


Budgets must address staffing. Here are few common questions to get you started.

  • Who will work on the project? Faculty, staff, students (grad and undergrad), and post docs.
  • “Key personnel” will include the most important people for a successful project. This normally excludes post docs and students.
  • What are each person’s tasks? Each person should have a reason to be considered a member of the project. Make sure these roles are clearly defined in the budget or justification.
  • How much time should each person need to complete assigned tasks? This can be an average yearly percent, number of person months or number of hours depending on the type of assignment.
  • Does each person work for the UW? If no, the individual(s) will be included under Subcontracts or as a consultant/service.
  • Are students included? Grad and undergraduate students can be budgeted as tuition, stipends, or hourly pay.

Effort is a very important piece of a grant and of work at an academic institution. Grant effort is recorded and scrutinized closely due to federal regulations. Always be sure that the amount of effort proposed is accurate. If awarded, the effort that is proposed is the effort that will need to be worked on the grant. Deviations of up to 25% are allowable for key personnel without sponsor approval (on most awards), but anything more will need to go back to the sponsor.

Personnel is also the largest category in most budgets. Therefore, accuracy is important to limit over-expenditures.

Fringe Benefits

The University of Washington has negotiated benefit rates.:


Define what supplies are needed for the project? Items can range from beakers to survey instruments and books. Contact companies for price quotes to assist in estimating costs.


Travel to a research site or to a conference to share your research can be included in your budget. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Is travel required by the sponsor? NSF normally requires one trip to Washington DC each year of the project for the PI to meet with the program officer. Mileage, airfare, hotel, subsistence, etc.
  • Is travel required for completing the tasks? Data may need to be gathered in the field. Account for the number of people traveling, cost of mileage and other travel items.
  • Will the research be presented at a conference? Account for number of people attending the conference, mileage, airfare, conference registration costs, hotel, subsistence, etc.

The UW Seattle Travel Office is a good source of information for budgeting trips.


Normally, the UW considers items that cost over $2,000 and have an expected life of at least one year to be considered equipment. Contact companies and manufacturers to obtain price estimates for equipment. Occasionally, sponsors will require quotes to be included in the proposal.


Are individuals outside the UW necessary for completion of the project? Do they take part in the design, outcome and reporting of the project? If so, a subcontract will need to be included in the budget. A detailed budget, scope of work and letter of intent are required. These costs are included as a line item in the budget.

In cases where they are not part of the methodology and are simply offering advice, they are consultants and we need a scope for work and a total cost with the price broken down accordingly ($/hr, $/sample, $/day). If the proposer required outside assistance, such as transcription, then that is considered a service.


If graduate students are going to work on a project, then tuition should be included in the budget (unless not allowed by the sponsor). For tuition costs:

Facilities & Administrative Costs

These are for covering costs that are necessary, but cannot be directly related to the project (electricity, administrative costs, etc). These costs are figured by taking the total direct costs (all the costs discussed above) and subtracting tuition, equipment and subcontract amounts over $25,000 (for the entire contract period, not each year) and then multiplying by our current F&A rate (54.5%). This line item in the grant is not for the PI to spend. The university accumulates these costs and then has a method for returning a portion to the different areas involved.

Unallowable Costs

According to federal circular A-21, there are costs that are normally not allowable for research grants. Items such as office supplies, cell phones, basic computers, banquet meals above per diem limit, and non-technical software are just a few commonly found.

If items fall within this category that may be necessary for project completion, an explanation as to how the item contributes to the specific aims is required within the proposal.