Budget Justification Tips and Hints

Read this article for more tips on how to justify your budget. The section on common mistakes specifies a few pitfalls to avoid.

Budget Justification Tips


Include a description of what each person will be doing. This should be a descriptive summary, about two sentences per person. Employees should be grouped together if multiple workers of the same type (i.e. grad students) will be assigned the same tasks.


Fringe Benefits

For most employees, this includes social security, unemployment, worker's compensation, health insurance, retirement benefits, disability insurance, and life insurance.

  • Faculty - 30%
  • Temporary hourly workers (does not include students) - 10%
  • Grad Students - 3%
  • Undergrad Students - 10%



Items need to be in excess of $5,000 individually in order to be classified as equipment. This must include a description of what the equipment will be used for.



Travel should be classified into one of four basic categories:

  • Travel to research plots
  • Travel to regional meetings
  • Travel to national meetings
  • International travel

Travel needs to include the cost assumptions that you used to arrive at the total amount for travel. See examples in the budget justification example below.

Be sure to include:

  • Reason for travel
  • Length of stay
  • The destination for travel (if known)
  • The name or title of any conferences or meetings being attended while traveling


Materials and Supplies

Categorize these items into sections. The majority of items will be classified as either Field Supplies or Lab Supplies. Additional categories may be added as necessary.



List the type, number, and average cost of publications that will be on this proposal.



It should be stated who will be providing what service for fees. If it is unknown exactly who, provide whether this will be internal to NDSU, another government agency, or a private company. Also provide the assumptions used to create the budget, i.e. "20 samples to be analyzed at a cost of $15 each for a total cost of $300".

Fees may not be charged to yourself. If this is the case, you should be requesting money for the supplies and materials used to conduct the service and not a fee per unit.


Common Mistakes

  • Facilities and administrative costs (indirect costs) may vary from one proposal to the next depending on the sponsor and the items requested in the budget. The RFP should always be referenced for direction on this. This is a complex area, so please do not hesitate to ask questions on this.
  • Participant support costs on proposals should rarely be used. Please consult the departmental Grant Coordinator before including these costs.
  • Computers are not to be purchased on grants unless they will be used by somebody that will have 100% effort towards the grant and the computer will be used exclusively for that specific grant. Both of these exclusivity items must be mentioned in the budget justification.
  • Do not mention items that you are not requesting money for. For example, do not say "We will use our own tractor to pull the planter which we are requesting money for" or "if costs for this item exceed the requested amount I will use local funds". This implies a cost match that you are likely not intending to do.
  • The budget justification should always be in the same order as your budget.
  • The budget justification should always use the same format as the budget. Expenses should be under the same headings on the budget justification as they are on the budget. If the budget form uses different terms (i.e. Technical Support vs. Research Technicians) the two need to match.


Budget Justification Example

Herbie Hancock
Improving the Growth of Corn
Budget Justification


Salaries and Wages

Principal Investigators

Principal Investigators are responsible for overall project management and includes the development of econometric and other quantitative models. Also includes the supervision of the research at seven biomass plot locations



(4) of the Post-Docs will be doing research on

  • economics of reducing greenhouse gas emissions on Northern Plains agricultural economy and food supply
  • economics of producing corn-based and cellulose ethanol in North Dakota
  • analyzing the impact of bioenergy production and climate change policies on U.S. food production, agricultural competitiveness, and farm income.

(3) of the Post-Docs will be doing research on

  • plant species commonly found in mixed-species ecosystems
  • weed species with potential impacts on downstream processing
Graduate Students

(2) of the graduate students will be analyzing 

  • the impact of alternative biomass transportation systems on carbon emissions
  • transportation costs in shipping biomass from farms to processing plants

(1) of the graduate students will be

  • potting, seeding, and treating in the greenhouse for perennial crops
  • conducting fieldwork including planting, maintaining, and harvesting


Undergraduate Students

(8) will perform a variety of tasks including planting, plot maintenance, harvest, and data entry. Their hourly wage ranges from $8.50 - $10.50. 


Research Technicians

(2) of the research technicians will be 

  • analyzing the representative farm model for North Dakota to evaluate the impact of macro and agricultural policy changes in North Dakota Income
  • revising and updating the global econometric simulation model for corn and soybeans to analyze the impact of agricultural policy changes on U.S. production, consumption, and exports of the two crops.

(2) of the research technicians will work on field plot maintenance, harvesting, and compilation of data from the 7 study sites. 


Fringe Benefits

Fringe benefits are calculated at 30% for faculty, 3% for graduate students, and 10% for undergraduate salaries. 



Drill - $17,000 - an eight-row plot seeder drill is needed for seeding cool-season grasses.

Sprayer - $9,200 - a greenhouse hood sprayer is needed for screening herbicides on various bio-fuel and weed species.



Travel to Research Plots to include travel to the six plots for plot preparation, planting, maintenance, and harvest. A total of 30 trips to plots is planned and the average distance is 250 miles.

  • 250miles x $0.50/mile = $125
  • 3 nights hotel x $69 per night = $207
  • 4 days food x $25 per day = $100
  • Total = $15,300

Travel to Regional Meetings to include travel expenses for one PI and one Graduate student each year.

  • 700 miles x $0.50/mile = $350 mileage
  • (2)2 nights hotel x $75 per night = $150
  • (2) 3 days food x $40 per day = $120
  • Total = $890

Travel to National Meetings includes travel expenses for two PI's and one graduate student to attend the annual National convention for Biomass Production in San Diego, CA. 

  • (3) Airfare = $450
  • Ground Transportation = $150
  • (3) 4 nights hotel x $75 per night = $300
  • (3) 5 days food x $50 per day = $250
  • Total = $3,150


Materials and Supplies

Field Research Supplies

Bags, stakes, filter paper, fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides, pots, burlap sacks, envelopes, and foliage clipping scissors.


Lab Research Supplies

Small laboratory scale, pellet mill, HPLC columns, guard columns, chemicals, and glassware.


Greenhouse Supplies

Fertilizers, containers, and labels


There will be approximately seven refereed journal articles expected from this project at an average cost of $300 each.

There will be 4 extension publications produced at an average cost of $700 each.



Lab Analysis Fees

Analysis of quality of biomass crops for NDF, ADF, ADL and CP. Will be completed by a private company yet to be determined.

  • 300 samples x $20 ea = $6,000

Analysis of Foliar N and Soil analysis. Will be completed by the USDA.

  • 75 samples x $15 ea = $1,125

Analysis of Soil C, N total and C: N lab analysis. Will be completed by the soil science department at NDSU.

  • 530 samples x $25 = $13,250


Greenhouse Fees
  • $0.77 per square foot of bench space per month is charged for use of the greenhouse. This includes Supplies including but not limited to growing media, fertilizers, containers, and labels, Supplies including but not limited to growing media, fertilizers, containers, labels, and Salaries for student and contracted labor. 



  • Subaward to University of Minnesota ($30,475)
  • Subaward to Montana State University ($55,470)


Indirect Costs

Indirect costs calculated at 30% of Total Federal Funds


Source: North Dakota State University, https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/plantsciences/employee/grants/tips
Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 License.

Last modified: Monday, October 12, 2020, 5:47 PM