Budget Tips

1. Budget planning and project planning should proceed hand in hand. Don’t wait until you’ve completed the final draft of the proposal narrative to start the first draft of the budget – it’s important to know early on if you can accomplish the proposed objectives with the amount of funding available. If you need assistance, RSP preaward staff are available to help.

2. Always create budgets in Excel; do not use a Word table and a calculator. Excel budget templates are available on the RSP website. Contact RSP if you need a different/modified budget template.

3. You must submit a proposed budget as required by the funder’s instructions, in as much detail as requested. Typically, public funders will require a budget based on basic line item cost categories, such as Salaries, Benefits, Supplies, Travel, Other Direct Costs, and Facilities and Administrative Costs.

4. RSP needs a detailed budget for account set up, even if the funder does not require one in the proposal, so take the time to develop your budget in as much detail as possible. Your budget becomes your spending plan once awarded, so make sure you don’t leave out or over-budget important items. 

5. Budgets need to be as accurate as possible; don’t try to submit a bare-bones budget or a padded budget. This is poor project management. Use RSP budget templates because they have built-in formulas to calculate salaries, fringe benefits, etc. and include estimated annual increases.

6. Facilities and Administrative costs (F&A) at the full negotiated rate must be included in your budget, unless the request for proposals or sponsor policy specifically disallows them. F&A costs are not a “tax” on your project, they are the recovery of real costs to the university associated with doing research. 

7. The university, not the Principal Investigator / Project Director, is the grant recipient. That means all funding received at UNI must be spent in a manner consistent with other university funding. The funder may impose additional funding restrictions.

8. Required Budget Review:  All budget proposals must be reviewed by RSP prior to submission.  Email your draft budget and budget narrative along with a copy or link to the funder’s guidelines to RSP for review and feedback at least seven working days prior to the submission deadline. Visit the RSP website for other submission policies.

Budget Development Guidelines

Date Ranges

  1. The Project Period represents the period of time in which the entire project will be executed.
  2. Budget Periods represent the periods of time – often in 12 month increments – that expenses are calculated in the budget and disbursement of grant funds are expected.
  3. If you must determine your own project period, it is recommended that it begin with the Academic Year (Aug 1st), the Calendar Year (Jan 1st), or the University Fiscal Year (July 1st).  Project periods beginning during the summer session may start May 1st, June 1st, or July 1st.  We recommend that you begin a project period with the Federal Fiscal Year (Oct. 1st) only when required by the funder.



  1. The personnel category should include all University employees, including student employees.
  2. Calculate faculty and other nine-month contract salaries by using the current academic year’s salary as a base and the number of months and percentage of time to be spent on the project by each individual.
  3. To allow for sufficient funds in the future, choose a percentage to represent the projected increase earned each year.  Be consistent with the percentage used throughout each budget category.  Typically adding a 3% projected increase for each year is sufficient (the RSP preferred budget templates include an automatic 3% escalation).  Remember to build in an increase even for Year 1 which often starts a year or two in the future. 
  4. Academic salaries represent 9 months (regardless if you are paid over 10 or 12 months by the Payroll Office).  Summer salaries are calculated in ninths with 1/9th of AY salary  = 1 month.  At UNI, the summer is made up of three months:  May, June, and July.  Specifically, summer is the portion of May after the AY ends through July.  During the first weeks of August, prior to the date faculty to report to campus for the fall semester, faculty are not eligible for summer pay.  Note, some agencies – particularly the National Science Foundation – only allow two total months of salary per year to be paid from a grant.  Be sure to read guidelines closely. 
  5. Graduate assistant stipends are determined each year by the Graduate College. Remember to differentiate between graduate assistantships (which include a stipend and a tuition scholarship), graduate fellowships (part of training grants), and graduate student workers (who are paid an hourly wage).  Although tuition is not absolutely required, graduate assistantships should include stipends and tuition, and in the same proportion, e.g. 50% vs. 100%. The RSP preferred budget templates automatically escalate GA rates by 3% per year. Current assistantship rates are posted on the RSP Budget Development page.
    • For graduate assistants, full time or 100% effort equals 15-20 hours per week during the AY.
    • Summer graduate assistant stipends are calculated in ninths with 1/9th of AY stipend = 1 month.  Full time or 100% effort equals 15-20 hours per week for 8 weeks during the summer.  A graduate student will need to be enrolled in summer coursework to receive a summer assistantship.
    • The same person cannot be both a graduate assistant and a graduate student worker in a single department.
    • Undergraduates must be paid an hourly wage.
  6. For P&S and Merit employees, be sure to verify human resources classification.  Most often your department secretary will know this.  Identify P&S or Merit, temporary or permanent, full time or part time, hourly or salaried and select the correct category on the RSP budget template.
  7. It is recommended that you use the title of Principal Investigator or Project Director for the lead person on the project, and use titles such as Project Manager or Project Coordinator for other staff.  Again, be sure to read the guidelines in case there are any other specific instructions.


Fringe Benefits

  1. Fringe benefits must always be included when salary is included in the budget. 
  2. Fringe benefits and salary should not be combined in one personnel calculation.  Fringe benefits should always be calculated separately. 
  3. Verify accurate fringe rates for each individual based on their classification. 
  4. Be sure to note that faculty fringe rates for the academic year differ from fringe rates for the summer. 
  5. Current fringe rates are posted on by the Office of Business Operations at https://obo.uni.edu and are included on the RSP preferred budget templates.
  6. A 2% projected increase in fringe benefit rates is suggested for each year and included on the RSP budget templates.  Be consistent with the percentage used throughout the project years.
  7. Occasionally, proposal guidelines will require you to justify fringe benefit rates if they are over a certain percentage.  RSP can provide some sample language for this instance.
  8. GAs and hourly student employees are not eligible for fringe benefits.



  1. "Equipment" means an article of nonexpendable, tangible personal property having a useful life of more than one year and an acquisition cost of $5,000 or more.  Some funders may have a lower equipment value threshold, e.g., $2,000 or more.
  2. Equipment costs include the cost of the piece of equipment, plus the costs of any modifications, attachments, accessories, or auxiliary apparatus necessary to make it usable for the purpose for which it is acquired.   Also included are any costs to put equipment in place, such as transport and installation charges.
  3. Before requesting funds for equipment, a reasonable effort must be made to check the University’s inventory of equipment.



  1. Travel expenses should include all costs associated with transportation, meals, and lodging necessary to complete the scope of work.
  2. Travel expenses should account for travel costs for all personnel.  Include travel costs for consultants, if any, and participant (trainee) travel costs.   
    • Check proposal guidelines for specific allocation of travel costs.  (For example, NSF requires participant (trainee) travel costs to be allocated to the Participant Support budget category.)  If the funder does not specify, include all travel costs under ‘Travel’.
  3. Travel reimbursement rates are posted by the Office of Business Operations at https://obo.uni.edu.
  4. We recommend that you budget at the upper end of a reasonable range for travel.
  5. Be sure to check proposal guidelines for any specific travel reimbursement requirements.  UNI policy requires that you use UNI rates for budgeting purposes unless the funder’s rates are the lower of the two.


Participant Support

  1. Participants are individuals who participate in and benefit from the project, but are not research subjects.
  2. Often referred to as trainees, or scholarships/fellowships, these costs represent direct costs for items such as stipends or subsistence allowances, travel allowances and registration fees paid to or on behalf of participants or trainees (but not employees) in connection with meetings, conferences, symposia or training projects.
  3. These costs are interpreted as incentives for the individuals to participate in the project.  Incentives should only be used for participants, not to replace compensation or for providing services or supplies in place of wages.


Materials and Supplies

  1. Supplies are expendable, tangible personal property.
  2. Items such as postage, software, and photocopies should go in the Other Direct Costs budget category because essentially costs associated with these items pay for services or fees.


Other Direct Costs

  1. This category includes all other expenses that pay for services or fees such as postage, printing, and telecommunications, as well as graduate assistant tuition. It also includes:
    • Rental costs such as booth rental at a conference
    • Room and board for participants at a workshop (check with sponsor if cost should be included as a participant cost)
    • Honoraria – These must be paid based on standard salary/wage rate.  If a consistent amount will be paid to multiple individuals, the amount cannot exceed any one individual’s standard salary/wage rate for the same amount of effort.
    • Parking permits for on-campus visitors; keep in mind for workshop activities.
  2. Graduate assistant tuition (coupled with Graduate Assistantships) is calculated using the in-state graduate tuition posted at https://tuition.uni.edu.  Include a 3-5% projected increase in tuition for future years (the RSP budget templates include a 4% escalation).



  1. The contracts category includes 1) Sub-Awards to a third party partner for substantive programmatic work, and 2) Consulting Agreements with individuals who will give advice or provide a service for a fee.
  2. If you intend to establish a partnership with a consultant or sub-awardee, RSP can provide a simple Professional Services Agreement or more detailed Sub-Award Agreement template.
  3. Keep in mind that whatever administrative guidelines we are required to follow in response to a funder must be also applied to our relationships with subcontractors.
  4. Compensation paid to consultants must be based on standard professional rates (hourly or daily) and include the estimated effort.
  5. Partnerships such as service agreements with vendors who are not providing substantive programmatic work would be listed under “Other Direct Costs.”
  6. We recommend that you develop a separate budget in Excel for sub-awards and enter only the total in the Contractual line item.  Additionally, most funders will require you to submit the sub-award budget as an attachment.
  7. Occasionally, funders will have a required budget format to use that does not include a line for Contractual items.  If so, list the contractual items in “Other Direct Costs.”


Facilities & Administrative Costs

  1. Often called Indirect Costs, Facilities & Administrative (F&A) costs are those that are incurred for common or joint objectives and therefore cannot be identified readily and specifically with a particular sponsored project.  For example: departmental secretaries, office supplies, classrooms, electricity, security, and other general administrative costs such as personnel, purchasing, and services of the controller’s office.
  2. UNI’s F&A cost rate is negotiated with the Federal government and is currently 35.4% of Modified Total Direct Costs (MTDC), (13.4% of MTDC for off-campus programs).
  3. MTDC = Total Direct Costs less equipment, the portion of sub-awards greater than $25,000, participant costs, tuition, and scholarships. 
  4. To qualify as an off-campus program, more than 50% of the project activities must be performed in facilities not owned by the institution and where these facility costs are not included in the F&A pool, or where rent is directly allocated/charged to the project.
  5. Current F&A rates are effective July 1, 2021 – June 30, 2025. 
  6. Often, proposal guidelines (especially for training grants) require a reduced F&A rate other than our federally negotiated rate.  Use the F&A rate required by the funder in your calculations.
  7. Some agencies may not allow F&A costs. Please attach a copy of these guidelines when you submit the proposal to RSP for approval.
  8. A portion of indirect costs returns to PI(s) as incentive funds to encourage further grant seeking and scholarly activity. This amount can be calculated at 10.5% of F&A costs awarded. Incentive funds are deposited in an account for the PI(s) and can be used for any scholarly purpose even beyond the lifetime of the grant.