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Tips for Creating a Budget

Many funding applications require you to submit a budget for your proposed activities. Depending on the nature of your proposed activity, you may be asked to list only basic costs (transport, room and board, fees, tuition, and miscellaneous costs, for example), or to create a detailed research budget that includes personnel and equipment costs. Carefully follow the instructions in the budget section of the application guidance. Ask to review the budgets of colleagues’ winning proposals to learn what types of information to include. Grant and office administrators in academic departments have extensive experience preparing budgets, and the Vanderbilt Sponsored Programs Administration (SPA) also has very helpful guidance about budget information.

Rules for Creating a Grant Budget

If the funder’s website offers a template for the budget, use it. It will save you the effort of trying to figure out what budget items should be listed and in what format the information should be presented. If a sample budget is available, review it carefully. On some sites you will be able to download the sample and substitute your own figures.

Budgets should be clear and very easy to read. Some basic rules apply:

  • Organize the information logically by budget category.
  • Don’t repeat information.
  • Line up figures so that they can be reviewed and calculated easily.
  • Include appropriate units, including length of time.
  • Provide exchange equivalents in U.S. Dollars (USD) unless instructed otherwise, and provide the exchange rates and amounts if you use foreign currency. Usually, USD is sufficient.
  • Provide a budget justification that explains why you are spending money on items. If your budget includes atypical items, provide additional detail to justify those.
  • Include all applicable expenses. If you don't include something, you will have to pay for it yourself. Be sure to include transport costs to and from airports, baggage fees, visa expenses, and library card/research access fees, for example.
  • Determine and list exact figures rather than guessing or rounding up arbitrarily. Reviewers typically react unfavorably to padded budgets.
  • Do not budget for a lower standard of living than you will be comfortable maintaining for the period of the award. For example, don't try to reduce the amount of your budget by proposing to live in sub-standard housing and eating street food for weeks or months if you are not used to this standard of living. Also, take into account the amount of time your research and study activities will take. For example, you may not have the time to prepare three meals a day for yourself. Don't forget to incorporate the costs of hosting colleagues for meals where appropriate.
  • In some cases, you may prefer to present a budget of all your expenses—which are usually higher than the funds available through the grant or fellowship—and then specify which costs you are asking the organization to cover and why.
Sample Basic Budget

Below is an example of a very basic budget for a two-week research trip to the National Archives in Mexico City, based on costs as of June 2016. The budget justification that would accompany the table would include brief explanations for specific line items, where needed (if, for example, you need to buy specialized equipment, or if a cost is unusually high or low).


Budget Item

Cost (USD)





Roundtrip economy class airfare, Nashville–Mexico City



Transport to and from airports (4 trips)



Local transportation to and from National Archives (subway, taxi)






13 nights @ $55/night






14 days @ $17/day






Photocopying, research fees, laundry, etc.





Resources for Large, Complex Budgets

Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide (National Science Foundation)

Sample Budget for an Institutional Award (National Endowment for the Humanities)