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Removing the Terror from Budgets

I read an etiquette protocol for dinner time conversations and socializing the other day. Never discuss religion, politics, or personal finances. Think of all the scary emotions, memories, and opinions these three subjects entail, especially these days. Even Linus from the Charlie Brown cartoon tells Lucy he does not talk about “religion, politics and The Great Pumpkin.” Fortunate for us, grant budgets do not have to be terrifying if you are prepared. 

I am like Linus when it comes to budgets. My husband said my eyes light up and twinkle when I “play with numbers.” So, like Linus, I want to share my “twinkle” with you.
Federal grant funders are terrified of fraud, waste, and abuse in their grant world. Consultants fear incidents such as a client adding extra items or making the total exceed the allowable limit. All of us dread a budget which does not match the grant narrative and fails to tell a story through the numbers.
Before starting the budget, read the Request for Proposals (RFP) budget and budget narrative instructions. Do exactly what they tell you to do. Also, for federal applications at least, read the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) to which the RFP refers. Pay close attention to allowable and unallowable costs.
Knowing and applying cost principles (allowable costs) lays the framework for your budget. The cost principles ensure the costs are reasonable and allowable. All this information can be found in the Office of Management and Budget Uniform Grant Guidance. As a non-accountant and budgeteer, I find this guidance turns dread into confidence while working on a budget.
Prepare the budget first (or at least a draft) before developing your proposal. Here is a Budget Builder Worksheet you might find helpful. The budget and need statement drive the proposal – they may be the most carefully scrutinized sections.
Here are some more tips to take the terror out of grant budgets.
  1. Know the approved indirect cost rate, and calculate it as part of your budget draft.
  2. Be specific to the job, pay grade, and rate when preparing budget salaries; apply correct fringe benefit rates.
  3. Be prepared to discuss salary and fringe for each position in the budget narrative before budgeting other allowable items.
  4. Be specific in describing budget line items (costs per unit, descriptive titles, vendor information as applicable, etc.).
  5. Include all allowable costs needed to successfully implement your program (because writing under the grant budget limit will not necessarily increase your chances of being awarded).
  6. Allow for inflation in yearly costs.
  7. Be aware of the post-grant award reporting requirements.
Now, get out there, feel the fear, and do those budgets anyway. Do not be afraid to ask for help, and remember to take deep breaths. Learn to love those numbers instead of battling them. That just causes unnecessary stress. Unlike Linus who has yet to meet the Great Pumpkin, you will develop a solid budget!
What budget tips can you add to make this a less terrifying process?
Dr. Judy Riffle owns Santa Cruz Grants & Consulting, LLC, and specializes in K-12 education grants.