Preparing Accurate Budgets and Thorough Budget Justifications
Explore this section of the guide for helpful resources related to the following:
- Creating budgets that are the best estimate of how we will accomplish our project goals
- Writing budget justifications in sufficient detail to explain project costs
The first section on developing and managing sound budgets is important since we are generally required to adhere to the budget’s structure for the life of the project. Budget revisions can be requested, but there are no guarantees that changes will be approved by the sponsor.
Read the Solicitation
The solicitation usually contains guidance on the budget requirements as well as any other restrictions mandated by the sponsor.
The following items are examples of the types of restrictions or guidance found in a solicitation that could affect the budget:
- Limits on the amount of funding and start/end dates allowed
- Allowable and unallowable costs related to salaries, equipment, and other budget categories
- Limits on certain costs (including salary, equipment, indirect costs)
IMPORTANT NOTE: Requirements or restrictions that affect the budget may be found in various sections, so do your best to review all of the solicitation to avoid missing any important information that could affect the budget.
Check Financial Compliance Standards
Whether you are helping prepare a budget or reviewing a budget, be sure to check all entries to verify that they follow sponsor requirements and meet university compliance and pre-audit responsibilities.
Make sure that you are familiar with all of the rules outlined in the Sponsored Programs and Regulatory Compliance (SPARCS) and Contracts and Grants (CNG) sites. Pay particular attention to the budgeting section of the SPARCS web site and the Cost Accounting Standards section of the CNG site. Click on both of the screen shots below to review each site and be sure to bookmark any sections that you want to check periodically as you work with budgets.
SPARCS Budgeting Guidelines
Click the screen illustration below to open the Budgeting Guidelines section on the SPARCS site. Click through all of the Budget menu items on the left side of the screen to thoroughly review each section.
C&G Cost Accounting Standards Page
Click the screen illustration below to open the Cost Accounting Standards (CAS) section on the C&G site.
Review the content now and you will also find more detailed information in Section 6: Financial Compliance of this SPA Guide.
More Information on Computers and Peripherals
You may also want to review FAQ’s on Computers and Peripherals, a 2010 handout from a Q&A session conducted by the Office of Contracts and Grants. You may also e-mail CNGHelpDesk@ncsu.edu if you have any further questions about the allowability of any charges.
Check the Math and Current Rates!
This simple advice will go a long way toward easier award management.
Watch out for the top four mistakes made here on campus related to proposal budgets:
- Using an incorrect fringe benefit rate
- Using an incorrect F&A/indirect rate
- Not calculating the correct F&A/indirect base
- Not double-checking the math calculations
To make sure that our budgets have the correct rates, be sure to continually check the following rate sites for revised rates rather than relying on printed copies that may be out-of-date.
SPARCS Link to Current Fringe Benefit Rates
Click the screen illustration below to access and save the SPARCS page containing the latest fringe benefit rates.
SPARCS Link to Current F&A Rates and Base
Click the screen illustration below to access and save the SPARCS page containing the latest F&A rates and base calculations.
Budget Samples and Templates
Take a look at the following samples and templates for your use. If you have any budgeting tools that you use in your college, please share the information or sample tool with us.
Click the screen illustration below to access and save the SPARCS budget template page. You can click on the templates from the SPARCS page or scroll down further here to open the Excel versions from this page.
You may use the following budget templates as starting points to build or revise your own. Be sure to verify the latest rates online before relying on any of the pre-filled percentages.
Click the first two Excel spreadsheet illustrations below to access university wide Excel Workbook budget samples created by the Office of Contracts and Grants. There are two versions: one for Colleges opting to budget at the detail level and one for those opting to budget at the summary level.
University Detail Version:
University Summary Version:
Click the two Excel spreadsheet illustrations below to access other Excel budget samples created by two Colleges here at the University. These will need to be updated with current rates before using.
College Template #1
College Template #2
Click the budget illustration below to access and review a sample University sponsored project budget in Excel format. Or click here to access PDF version. (Please remember that this is a sample budget only and may contain out-of-date rates such as travel, fringe, and other rates that can change periodically.)
Budget Justifications are an important component of a successful proposal. The justification must provide a thorough explanation of how the anticipated costs will support the project objectives and include details on how these costs were derived.
For example, if attending a conference is not part of the original proposal, including a PI’s related conference registration fees to attend a conference must be explained in the Budget Justification. Since conference registration fees must be in direct support of a project, it should specify that the PI’s attendance includes related activities such as presenting the project’s results or gathering information related to the project’s outcomes. (In addition, all costs associated with the conference must be verifiable and the registration receipt and conference itinerary detailing events and meals served must be retained for verification.)
Click the screen illustration below to access a Budget Justification Sample. After clicking the image to open the document in Word, you can click the document links to go directly to the related SPARCS web pages for related rates and other information as you review the sample.
Click the screen illustration below to access a Budget Justification Template that includes instructions and formatting that you can use in preparing your own Budget Justifications.
Proposal Budgeting Checklist
You may find the following checklist helpful in managing the budgeting part of the proposal process. Click the screen illustration below to access this checklist.
Rush Reviews Cause Errors
Do your part to seek required approvals with enough lead time to avoid rush reviews at all levels.
If you have a good method or software package that you use in your college, please share the information or sample tool with us.