The Award Lifecycle

Developing a Budget

The overall approach to developing a budget is this:

  • Ask for what you need to do the work – not less, not more
  • Justify requests that are significant or out of the ordinary
  • Remember: reviewers emphasize project quality over budget
  • Follow sponsor and institutional guidelines and policies

It is also important to be aware of the following federal rules, which determine the appropriateness of listing an expense as a direct charge on a sponsored award:

Allowability – Is the cost permitted by sponsor and NIU regulations?

Allocability - Is the cost incurred solely to support the specific project being proposed, and necessary for its completion?

Reasonableness - Can the cost withstand public scrutiny, i.e. would someone not affiliated with the university find the cost reasonable and appropriate?

Consistency - Is the cost applied the same way on sponsored vs. non-sponsored projects and as a direct and/or indirect (Facilities & Administrative) cost

Common questions/basic considerations in developing a budget for the following categories

Budget item/question Answers & Resources
How do I budget faculty & staff salary? Full salary and fringe benefits should be budgeted for faculty and staff who participate on a sponsored project.  Salary and benefits are determined by the amount of time to be spent by the individual on the project (time and effort). Your Research Development Specialist will calculate salary and benefit amounts using the base salary for existing positions. In general, salaries for to-be-named positions should reflect market pay rates for the type of position and geographic area. The Bureau of Labor Statistics website, colleagues in your field, and/or your RDS may be good sources for this information. Budgeting administrative and clerical salaries requires special consideration. See Budgeting Administrative-Clerical Salaries.
How do I pay graduate students? Graduate students are budgeted as assistantships, which include a monthly stipend and tuition remission, both pro-rated to the appointment term. Graduate assistants are budgeted at full time (20 hours per week), three quarter time (15 hours per week), or half time (10 hours per week), and for a calendar year, academic term, semester, or summer only. Graduate student stipends are set by individual colleges and departments, and fall within minimum and maximum rates established by the Division of Research and Graduate Studies. Tuition remission is budgeted in accordance with NIU’s Tuition Remission Policy and Procedure.
Can I pay undergraduate students? Undergraduate assistants are paid an hourly wage plus appropriate fringe benefits based on the type of position to be employed. Undergraduate assistants can work a maximum of 20 hours per week while taking courses, and 40 hours per week while not taking courses. Hourly wages must meet state and federal minimum wage requirements and should reflect market rates for the position as much as possible.
Fringe Benefits
What are Fringe Benefits? In addition to salary, the associated fringe benefits are also charged to sponsored projects. Fringe benefits include Medicare, retirement, health, dental, and life insurance. Fringe benefit rates vary depending on (1) the employee's salary amount, (2) the type of salary requested, and (3) the benefits choices made by the employee.

Fringe benefits on grant budgets should be calculated as follows: - for summer salary, for faculty on regular 9-month appointments: 14.5% (Medicare and retirement only);

- for salary taken as extra compensation (when available: check with your RDS): 14.5% (Medicare and retirement only);

- for graduate assistant salaries: No fringe benefits;

- for undergraduate students and all personnel on extra-help appointments: 7.65% (Medicare and Social Security only)

For all other categories of personnel, including faculty release time and buyouts salaries of deans, directors and department chairs, the full normal fringe rate is used. Your RDS will calculate the appropriate fringe benefit rate based on fringe benefit information in PeopleSoft. In cases where a grant-funded position is to be filled by a to-be-named individual, we must budget fringe benefits for that position according to the applicable salary level and assume maximum benefits usage (see the NIU Estimated Fringe Benefit Chart, FY2015).
How do I pay a Consultant on the project? A consultant is not an NIU employee. This individual is hired to give professional advice or perform professional services for a fee. This line should also include any travel costs incurred by the consultant. Some sponsors may limit the amount of compensation for consultants. Please refer to the sponsor guidelines for further information.

NIU faculty who perform professional services on a grant or contract held by NIU should not be listed as consultants; they should instead appear on the personnel line as an expert or specialist and any travel they undertake should be listed on the travel line. Generally, these individuals will receive compensation in the form of summer salary, release time, or extra compensation.
How do I budget travel costs? Grant budgets may include travel costs when the travel is directly related to and/or necessary for the performance of the proposed project, and when the sponsor allows it.  Money is typically requested to attend professional/scientific conferences, for data collection or field work, and/or PI meetings.  Travel should be budgeted in accordance with sponsor guidelines and institutional and State of Illinois travel regulations.  Most federal sponsors require international travel to be budgeted separately from domestic travel. Items typically budgeted under the travel category include airfare, ground transportation, lodging, a per diem allowance (meals), and conference registration fees.  Federal sponsors require travel on U.S. Flag Carrying airlines at coach class rates. Ground transportation to and from the airport and for travel at the destination may include taxi service, mileagerate (see Useful Links) at or public transportation. If an overnight stay is required, lodging and per diem (see Useful Links) should be calculated according to state travel regulations. Travel for external consultants and project participants (see below) should be budgeted separately under those budget categories.
Can I travel to conferences? Yes, as long as (1) the sponsor allows the cost (check the sponsor budget guidelines), and (2) attendance at the conference is directly related to the project (i.e., you are going to present results or gather information that will inform the project’s execution or results).  SPA recommends budgeting $1,500 per person per conference for domestic conferences, and $2,500 per trip for international conferences in general, although these amounts may be altered for special circumstances. These amounts include airfare and/or ground transportation, lodging, meals, and registration fees. If you are flying, remember to budget for transportation to and from the airport.
What costs can/should I budget for field research? Field research often carries with it unusual travel requirements, and sponsors that support field research are typically familiar with and allow such costs to be budgeted. The sponsor’s budget guidelines should list any budget restrictions. Field research travel budgets will vary by the field site location (e.g., how remote it is, the social and political environment surrounding the location, the physical infrastructure of the area, etc.) and the length of time of the stay. Items budgeted for field research may include travel to the site (airfare and ground transportation to and from the airport, which may mean renting a jeep to get to a remote site), rental of a special vehicle and/or paying a driver to transport staff and supplies to and from the field location, and/or “camp fees” at an established field location (which include lodging and meals at a daily rate). Field research may bring additional needs, and your RDS can help you brainstorm what those may be.
Can I budget international travel? Your RDS will help you to budget appropriate amounts for international travel based on the purpose of the trip and your destination. SPA recommends budgeting $2,500 per trip to attend international conferences. Budgeting international travel for other purposes may need to be a bit more customized.  Federal sponsors and NIU regulations require coach class airfare on U.S. Flag Carrying airlines, unless a U.S. Flag Carrier is not available in the location (which is very rare). Most federal sponsors require international travel to be budgeted separately from domestic travel.
How do I budget to travel locally to conduct my project? Local project travel usually includes reimbursement for mileage rate (see Useful Links) at or public transportation. If an overnight stay is required, lodging and per diem (see Useful Links) should be calculated according to state travel regulations.
Materials, Supplies &  Equipment
I need supplies – what can I ask for? Supplies purchased with federal grant funds must be purchased solely to support the proposed project, and necessary for its completion. General or departmental supplies cannot be purchased as direct costs on federal grants. Small computing devices may be purchased as long as they are essential to the project. See Budgeting Computing Devices.
When is something a supply and when is it equipment? NIU defines Equipment specifically as a single item* having a useful life of at least one year and costing at least $5,000.  All other items are budgeted as supplies.
* The purchase of individual components that will ultimately form a single unit usually meets this definition as well.
What if I have a subcontract or a collaborator from another institution? Individuals who collaborate on a project are budgeted as Consultants. Funds budgeted for consulting typically include a daily or hourly rate and any necessary travel. In some cases it may be necessary to budget other consultant needs in this category; however, consultants are considered to be independent and usually provide their own supplies, equipment, and space. Note that NIU personnel cannot be budgeted in this category – they must be budgeted under the personnel category as described above. A vendor (an organization providing goods or a specific and narrowly defined service such as lab analysis or program evaluation) is budgeted under the Other category. When seeking vendor services, a quote specifying the service to be provided and the total cost should be obtained whenever possible to ensure that an accurate cost is included and to avoid the need to rebudget during the grant award. (See our Developing a Collaboration page for additional description of a Vendor) A subrecipient relationship (aka subcontractor) requires administrative arrangements to be made as the proposal is developed. The subrecipient organization should provide a subrecipient commitment form to NIU, including a budget, budget justification, and scope of work. This specifies an agreement between NIU and the collaborating institution with regard to the project costs and level of involvement of and work to be performed by the partnering organization, which protects against misunderstandings and facilitates development of award arrangements to the collaborating partner if NIU receives an award.
 Other Costs
My research requires payments to human participants Payments to research subjects are included under the “Other” category.
Do I need to budget tuition for the Graduate Student(s) on my project? How do I do that? It is current policy (see our Tuition Remission Policy and Procedure under NIU Resources/Forms) that funds for tuition remission be budgeted for graduate research assistants (GRA) included in grant and contract proposals unless the sponsor does not allow tuition remission. If the sponsor requires match, tuition costs may be used to meet that requirement as appropriate. Current tuition amounts are available on the NIU Bursar site. Full in-state tuition (18 credit hours for combined fall/spring semesters, 6 credit hours for a summer semester) should be budgeted for each GRA involved in the project for a full academic year. Tuition costs should be pro-rated for GRAs involved on projects for less than a full academic year. In-state tuition is calculated based upon NIU Office of the Bursar's rates. The tuition rate should be inflated by 10% for each subsequent year. Requests for the university to cover all or part of the tuition costs will be considered when inclusion of such cost places a hardship on the PI in completing the proposed project. To request such a waiver, complete the online Tuition Cost Share Request Form at least 15 business days prior to the submission deadline, and submit it to Sponsored Programs Administration for consideration. Please contact your Research Development Specialist to address questions concerning the completion of the form.
Facilities and Administrative Costs
What are indirect costs (aka, “overhead”)? Indirect costs (aka Overhead, Facilities and Administrative Costs) are the infrastructure and administrative costs associated with sponsored projects that cannot be attributed to any one individual project with any degree of accuracy (e.g., buildings and maintenance, utilities, departmental administration, sponsored programs administration, library resources, etc.). These costs should be included in budgets in order to recover the full cost of conducting a project. F&A is budgeted as a percentage of the total direct costs. The percentage used should be either (1) NIU’s federally negotiated rate, or (2) the rate allowed by the sponsor, if the sponsor allows a different rate that is documented. Your RDS will calculate the appropriate rate for your budget.
Cost Sharing
The sponsor is requiring NIU to provide financial support – how does that work? In some cases, a sponsor may require cost sharing – the contribution of in-kind or cash support to a project by NIU. In other cases, cost sharing may be a matter of practicality – i.e., the sponsor does not allow recovery of faculty salaries or some other item required for the project. Cost sharing should only be shown in the proposal to the sponsor when it is mandatory, or when a sponsor includes provision of cost sharing in the scoring criteria or there is some other compelling reason. Cost sharing disclosed to a sponsor in a grant proposal must be tracked during the award, and if the obligation is not met, there may be repercussions. In cases where cost sharing is required (and regardless of whether it is to be disclosed to the sponsor), approval from the head of the unit whose budget will provide the cost sharing is required, and it is strongly advised that the situation is discussed and approval gained in advance.

- In general, avoid cost-sharing except when required by sponsor or program guidelines

- If a project involves cost-sharing, make sure your dean/director/department chair are all involved in the discussion

- Cost-sharing specified in a proposal is subject to audit and must be documented