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Building Beautiful Budgets: 47 Project Costs Revealed!

Recently, I served as the lead for building a grant proposal's budget. I like building beautiful budgets in Excel and I use formulas. This is something I have done for decades. After a few days of toil, I shared my budget draft with the writing team. Nearly every cost and estimate was questioned, which was not the problem, at issue for me - the team questioned my expense categories.

I know the difference between Project Costs (short-term, one year or two years) and Program Costs (long-term, 3 years to infinity), but no one else knew. Here are my project costs categories revealed!


List all persons/positions to be paid with grant funds (salary and fringe benefits) and briefly describe their role in the project. If an employee will contribute time/effort to the project, disclose the percent of time/effort and the dollar equivalent of the contributed effort. Explain the types of anticipated salary increases (merit and/or range adjustment), the rate of increase, and the period of time to which the increases apply.


There are two kinds of travel to configure. In-state travel includes short distances, mileage reimbursements at .5035 per mile and other low per diem amounts, such as, one or two nights for lodging. Out-of-state travel includes medium to high per diem amounts, such as medium to long distance trips, multiple nights for lodging, airfare, and ground transportation.

Professional Development (a.k.a Staff Training)

These fees add up so don't forget national, regional and local registration fees, fees for professional development, related technical assistance, summits, one-on-one meetings and workshops.


Identify general categories, for example biology supplies, histology supplies, immunology, animal purchase and care. Describe the method used to estimate supply and material expenses (e.g., catalog prices, vendor quotes). For example, supplies are less than $5,000 per unit, including paper copies, binders, flip charts, markers, sticky dots, and other consumables (i.e., pens, notepads, paper clips).


List all equipment to be purchased for use on the project and provide the cost for each individual piece of equipment or distinct component. Equipment expenses are tangible, nonexpendable, personal property having a useful life of more than one year and an acquisition cost of $5,000 or more per unit.

Contractual/Consultant Services

Do not forget this category. Coordinator or research analyst, for the preparation of budgets, outcomes, national performance measure identification, and logic models. Create interim measures and special activities, such as contractual: 280 days x $200/day. Indicate the name of the consultants, the area of expertise, organizational affiliation, the daily rate of pay, number of days of service, cost of travel and per diem as appropriate.

Direct Costs

Depending on the grant, direct costs include items, such as infrastructure improvements, project studies, master plans, engineering/design, right-of-way, utility relocates, project evaluation, teacher background checks, mentor fingerprinting, etc.

Other Direct Costs

Other Costs are for services rather than items and include miscellaneous project specific costs such as honoraria, long distance phone charges, express mail charges, maintenance contract fees, payments to human beings for research projects and other costs that do not fit in other categories.

Federally Approved Indirect Cost Rate

The indirect cost rate is an amount used to offset the organization's costs for project staff salaries, project space usually listed in terms of square feet, of laboratory or office space, professional services, travel, equipment leases, insurance and bonding, professional dues, repairs and maintenance, and postage.

10% de Minimis Rate

If the organization does not have a federally approved indirect rate, non-federal entities may elect to use a flat de minimis rate of 10% of modified total direct costs.

Facilities and Administration (F&A)

Do not forget F&A on Subcontracts. For example, the TBD University takes F&A on first $25,000 of each subcontract.

What categories do you use to build beautiful budgets?

Danny Blitch, MPA, GPC is employed as a Grants Manager by the City of Roswell, Georgia and works as a grant development consultant. He is a co-author/editor of the book “Prepare for the GPC Exam: Earn Your Grant Professional Certified Credential.



By: Robert Henderson
On: 05/23/2017 15:24:17
The document is useful and we can use it with our faculty. However, there is one area that continues to see debate on our campus involving subawards. and where to put them on budget forms. They are not contracts and endless confusion can be generated if subawards land on the Contractual Line Item. I found fewer points of contention arise when those subaward costs fall on the Other Direct Costs line item. What do you think and where is a useful citation to guide us in the debates that will follow?
By: Myrna Dantes
On: 05/23/2017 15:39:39
My comment is: why will you start a budget from scratch when all funders have a budget template that list all the budget line items? The budget line items identified above are just the very basic line items. Thank you.
By: Michael Moore
On: 05/23/2017 17:30:12
Looks to me like you have it covered. I've been doing budgets a long time. In fact when I was a PI on the Small Business Development Center grant I created Pro Forma PLs, cash flows, and balance sheets in addition to a budget. Stick to your guns - you've got it right!

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