Proposal Budget Guidelines

  • The budget is the financial reflection of the project.
  • Begin to develop a budget for your research grant application and put all of the relevant costs down on paper.
  • It may be easier to prepare your budget justification first, to help you understand what expenses are needed for your project.
  • Identify cost categories, unidentified costs may cause loss of direct cost funding available to the project and may require sponsor approved rebudgeting.
  • Know your limits! Carefully read the program guidelines for budget criteria. You should look for limits on the types of expenses (e.g. no construction allowed), spending caps on certain expenses (e.g. travel limited to $5,000), and overall funding limits (e.g. total costs cannot exceed $300,000 per year).
  • The success of the proposal may hinge on the reasonableness of the budget.
  • You need to be able to accomplish the proposed project within the budget proposed.
  • Don't pad the budget, use actual and realistic projected costs. The cost is generally recognized as necessary to achieve the objectives of the project.
  • Costs must be Reasonable, Allowable, and Allocable.
  • The cost should be consistent with UC policy and the sponsor’s policy, e.g. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Uniform Guidance.
  • Costs can easily be allocated in proportion to the benefits derived by a specific project.
  • Reviewers look for reasonable costs and will judge whether your request is justified by your aims and methods.
  • Reviewers will consider the person months you've listed for each of the senior/key personnel and will judge whether the figures are in sync with reviewer expectations, based on the research proposed.
  • Despite popular myth, proposing a cost-sharing (matching) arrangement where you only request the agency support some of the funding while your organization funds the remainder does not normally impact the evaluation of your proposal. If cost-sharing is mandatory the program guidelines will address the requirement.

Direct Costs vs. Indirect Costs:

  • Direct costs are incurred in the performance of the project and must be directly attributable to the project and considered reasonable, allocable, and allowable. (Examples: Salaries, benefits, consultant costs, equipment, project specific materials, sub-agreements, and travel.)
  • Indirect costs (F&A or overhead) represent those expenses that cannot be easily identified to any specific project. (Examples: operation and maintenance of facilities, library expenses, space, utilities, office supplies, photocopying, & clerical support.) The indirect cost rate is determined by the type of project i.e. research, instruction, or other. The rate is also determined by whether the project is performed on-campus or off-campus.

Breakdown of a budget:


  • PI or co-PI’s summer salary or academic release to grant (release to grant is directed by and approved by the faculty member's department Chair and Dean and the amount of funds are dependent upon courseload).
  • Postdoctoral Scholar
    Has a doctoral degree; five years or less since PhD
    Provides an advanced academic and research training opportunity under faculty mentorship
    Provides support for a research grant
    Initial appointment of at least one year at 100% time
  • Professional Researcher
    Individuals who engage in independent research equivalent to that required for the Professor series, including those who make significant and creative contributions to a research project or provide technical assistance to the research activity. May be part-time appointment
  • Project Scientist
    Individuals who make significant and creative contributions to a research or creative project. Demonstrated capacity for fully independent research is not required, but a broad range of knowledge and competency is expected. May be part-time appointment
  • Specialist
    For academic appointees who assist in research in specialized areas and who do not have teaching duties. May be part-time appointment
  • Academic Coordinator
    Appointees who administer academic programs that provide service to research units. The service must be closely related to the research mission of the University. Duties primarily administrative
  • Graduate Student Researcher (academic title)
    A registered UC graduate student who performs research related to the student’s degree program in an academic department or research unit under the direction of a faculty member or authorized Principal Investigator. The GSR title should be used when the student is performing work that may contribute to the educational objectives of their degree program; and/or the student is expected to function as an active collaborator and/or fundamental contributor to the intellectual content of the research.
  • Student Assistant (non-academic title)
    The Student Assistant (graduate or undergraduate) is characterized by the generally temporary nature of appointments, the general absence of continuing responsibility for the work performed, and the diversity of duties that may be assigned. Under general supervision, they perform a variety of complex duties in support of academic research projects; perform clerical, manual, advising, and/or public contact duties that require the use of specialized skills, and may, in addition, coordinate the work of a group of lower level Assistants. The work for which the student is employed is unrelated to the educational objectives of the student's degree program, so the student is unlikely to participate in the production of papers, theses, dissertations, or academic presentations related to the research; and/or the student is not expected to play a collaborative role in research production, but is supporting the research by doing routine tasks, such as preparing bibliographies, inputting data, or supervising other students who are performing such tasks.

Fringe Benefits

UCSB uses a Composite Benefit Rate (CBR) for employer paid benefits which is included in the DHHS negotiated rate agreement for UCSB effective 11/5/18. A CBR aggregates individual benefits components and costs across a given employee grouping and represents them as a percentage of payroll. Employer paid benefits are pooled and charged at a single rate rather than the multiple charges currently assessed. Benefits included in the CBR are for Medical, Dental and Vision Insurance; Medicare & OASDI taxes; Post-Employment Health Benefits; Pension & Other Retirement Contributions; Worker’s Compensation Insurance; Unemployment Insurance; Disability Insurance; Life Insurance; Benefits Administration. Other benefits, such as Accrued Vacation Leave and UCRP, are budgeted separately if applicable.

 For GSR’s employed at 25% time or more we must include tuition/fees and gship on the grant.


Consultant services are primarily advisory in nature requiring professional expertise to solve clearly delineated problem. The use of a consultant is expected to be infrequent and the University does not control either the manner of performance or the result of the service. Typically, consultants will charge a fixed rate for their services. Payments for consultants are processed through Business Services (include rate, number of days, and any travel costs).

Supplies and Expenses

Costs incurred for purchased materials, supplies, and fabricated parts directly related to the project. Laboratory & field supplies, telephone toll charges, computer costs, specialized shop costs shall be treated as direct costs whenever identifiable to a particular cost objective.


Equipment is normally exempt from indirect costs. The University defines equipment as articles of non-expendable tangible personal property having:

  • A useful life of more than one year
  • A cost of $5,000 or more
  • (Tax, shipping and any transit costs should be also factored into the total)


  • Be Specific
    For each trip, provide specific breakdown (airfare, baggage fees, mileage, rental car costs, ground transportation, lodging, meals, etc.). Number of travel days & number of people traveling, trip purpose & destination.

Other Direct Costs

  • Equipment under $5,000 (such as computers/laptops)
  • Data Collection costs
  • Project specific materials identified directly to the project
  • Professional Service Agreements/Business Services Contracts
  • Honorarium
  • Publication/dissemination costs
  • Telephone tolls & fax
  • Maintenance agreements
  • Subject payments or incentives
  • Advertising for recruitment
  • Rental of meeting space and set up costs

NOTE: Clerical support, postage, local telephone calls & phone equipment, and photocopying costs cannot be charged to a grant unless they are for unusual or unique circumstances, fully justified, specifically approved by the agency, AND directly appropriate to the project (such as for a Center or major project).

Subcontracts, Payment of Services, Business Contracts, Purchase orders

  • Subaward: agreement with a third-party organization performing a portion of a research project or program. A subaward is often made to other educational institutions, or for-profit companies. A subrecipient works collaboratively with the prime award recipient to carry out the scope of work. Additional Subaward documentation (statement of work, budget, budget justification, compliance, fringe rate & benefit rate agreements, sponsor forms, etc.) is required at proposal submission.
  • Professional Services Agreement (PSA)/Business Contract: agreement with an entity or individual (that is not employed by the University) of proven professional or technical competence who provides primarily professional or technical advice to the University, and the University does not control either the manner of performance or the result of the service.
  • Purchase Order (PO): agreement for services with an entity providing services through conventional commercial channels (ex: transportation of goods/persons, film processing, tests and analysis, service/repair of laboratory or medical equipment).

Participant Support Costs (NSF only)

  • Participant Support costs generally include:
    Stipends, transportation, lodging and subsistence paid to or on behalf of a participant in a conference, meeting, symposia, training activity or workshop. (participant support costs are sometimes excluded from the indirect cost calculation). Facility rental, administrative support, supplies (including posters) and conference meals are generally not included under participant support costs.
  • Participant support costs are only relevant on research projects if the project includes an education or outreach component and it is approved by the agency.
  • Participant support costs should be detailed in the budget justification to avoid issues later.

Cost Sharing (if required by Agency)

  • Cost sharing is a contractual obligation committing the University to share in the costs of a sponsored project
  • Investigators may want to promise generous amounts of cost sharing, believing that it will improve the competitive advantage of their proposal
  • Proposals may only include cost share to the extent required by the program. Any quantified cost share in the proposal becomes a legally binding and accountable commitment to the sponsor by the University upon award and is then subject to audit under federal and other sponsor regulations. “Anything quantified in the proposal is auditable”
  • By using language in proposals that cites percentage of time, salaries, or specific levels of support, principal investigators can commit to cost sharing, often unintentionally
  • Once a cost sharing commitment is made, the principal investigator is required to measure, track, record, and report actual expenditures including account #’s and documentation annually, but could even be monthly
  • List breakdown of cost share expenses (actual and in-kind), agency/department contributing the cost share; include commitment memo from agency/department approving the cost share

Unallowable costs

These costs are those explicitly identified in OMB Circular A-21 & campus policy as unallowable, or those that do not meet the conditions of allowability.

  • Alcoholic Beverages
  • Alumni Activities
  • Automobiles for personal use
  • Attorney’s fees
  • Debts
  • Entertainment costs of a purely social nature
  • Lobbying costs
  • Fines and Penalties
  • Goods and services for personal use
  • Proposal preparation costs
  • Parking permits for personal use
  • F & A costs charged as Direct Costs – e.g. photocopies, mail, telephone, office supplies, and most clerical

Indirect Costs or Facilities & Administrative Costs (overhead)

*Click here for detailed information about Indirect Costs at UCSB

  • These are costs that are incurred for common or joint objectives and, therefore, cannot be identified readily and specifically with a particular sponsored project, an instructional activity, or any other institutional activity
  • ‘Administration’ is defined as general administration and general expenses, departmental administration, sponsored projects administration, student administration and services, and all other types of expenditures not listed specifically under one of the subcategories of Facilities (including cross allocations from other pools)”

Breakdown of a Budget Justification