To have a successful proposal, it is important to prepare a budget that not only accurately reflects the real needs of the PI and project but also complies with state and federal guidelines. Such a budget will also reduce the likelihood of complications post-award.

Resources exist to help you, as a PI develop budgets, and this page provides a step-by-step guide, complete with forms and other helpful documents.

For one-on-one help, consult your Fiscal Manager or the Proposal Services Staff

Step 1: The request for applications for any given funding opportunity will typically detail the max budget, project duration, and allowable costs which are helpful beginning perimeters. Begin by determining how much you are able to expend in total and adjust the scope of your project accordingly. 

Step 2: Download a budget template and have a piece of scratch paper handy. If the Excel form is not helpful, begin with general categories of expenses on your piece of paper. The most common, acceptable categories are the following (in order): 

  1. Personnel: This category accounts for salaries of faculty and staff assigned to your project. Typically, faculty on 9-month appointments are allowed to request two months of summer salary and in some cases, a percentage of academic year time. This varies per agency but as a general guideline, salary funds cannot augment the base salary rate of the faculty member. Begin with a list of faculty assigned to your project and how much time you believe you need them for each project year in months or partial months. You can verify this amount of time with them after drafting your budget. You can also ask them for salary information at that time or request this information from OSP. For professional or administrative staff, you do not have to identify a specific person by name unless they are integral to the project, and salaries are determined using actual market rates for their position or by the MSU HR office. The department of labor and/or other similar sites post this information or you can contact HR for salary rates. Graduate student salaries are typically represented as stipends which are typically determined by the department but can be increased in a grant. 
  2. Fringe Benefits: are calculated using the most current institutional rates which can be found by consulting the OSP Info Sheet. These funds account for the cost of health benefits and other fees. 
  3. Equipment: This category accounts for any major equipment items you may need, which are defined as an item with a shelf life of five years or more with a cost of $5,000 or more. Some agencies do not allow equipment costs on grants, so check the RFA carefully. It helps to have details on the specific piece of equipment such as vendor, model number, and a price quote, especially when you are detailing your budget justification. 
  4. Travel: Travel costs can include funds for the PI and MSU personnel to travel to meetings, conferences, and other project-related events including field work. Travel must be directly related to the project and should include costs for transportation, per diem (meals), lodging, and any other fees. Break up your travel into separate trips vs. lumping all travel together (see sample justification). Approved travel rates can be found in the OSP Info Sheet and/or the General Services Administration Per Diem page for out-of-state travel. 
  5. Participant Support: If your project involves participants that will assist in the implementation of the project or serve as human subjects for an intervention, you may pay them participant support costs to reward them for their activity on your project and to offset costs of participation. These expenses may include incentives for participating, travel and/or per diem support, or other form of compensation. An example of this would be a $50 gift card to offset the cost for traveling to participate in a focus group. MSU has decided to move a majority of participant support costs to materials and supplies depending on the nature of the arrangement and the form of compensation. Check with your fiscal manager on this line item to ensure that expenses are categorized correctly. 
  6. Other Direct Costs: 
    1. Materials and Supplies: This category accounts for any basic supplies you may need for your project. Keep a list of needs such as printing costs, software, books, journal subscriptions, society dues, lab supplies, etc. and do your best to categorize them, especially if they are low cost, high number items. 
    2. Publication Costs: For this category, you will detail the cost for publications you anticipate coming from your project. For some disciplines the cost is minimal or none, and for others anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000 per project year is reasonable. 
    3. Contractual/Consultant Services: To begin, it is important to determine if a non-MSU collaborator is a subaward, subcontract, consultant, or vendor. OSP has developed a document to help you with this determination. If the collaborator is truly a subcontract, you will want to follow instructions for subcontracts. Please see the subaward page for detailed instructions. Generally you will want to discuss and outline the scope of work the subcontractor will perform, including specific duties and deliverables to the project. Based on this scope of work, you and the subcontractor will agree on a preliminary cost for services and you will detail this amount in the contracted services line item (i.e. $5,000 for Company X to provide surveys). Separate out all contracted services agreements vs. lumping them into one line item. 
    4. Computer Services: Detail any computing costs associated with your project. 
    5. Subawards: This category accounts for funds that will go to non-MSU collaborators on a project if they are defined as a subaward vs. a consultant or contractor. Please consult the subaward page for guidance on subawards. 
    6. Other: This category lists any support you plan to provide to graduate students such as tuition and fees, or other items that do not fall neatly into previous categories. Other costs can also be maintenance and repair, facility rental, etc. 
  7. Indirect Costs (IDCs) or Facilities and Administration (F&As): This line item accounts for the total indirect costs, or facilities and administration fees that will go to the university for the cost of supporting the project via infrastructure and human resources. The IDC rate for federal research is 44% of direct costs excluding equipment, tuition, and participant support costs. This sometimes varies by agency, so consult the OSP Info Sheet  for details as well as the specific request for applications as some organizations do not allow IDC's. 

Agency Specific Budget Guidance 

National Science Foundation 

National Institutes of Health 

Foundation Budgets 

Other Budget Resources

Sample Budget Justification (PDF | doc)

Sample Budget #1 - NSF 

Sample Budget #2 - NIH