top of page

Budgeting Basics for your Grant Application

Ah yes, the research grant budget. If you're like many early career researchers, this may make you cringe. But - it is a critically important part of a funding application - and in the research planning process overall.

In fact, I consider the budget to be so vital that I recommend you plan it even before you start writing your actual proposal (don't believe me? Check out this Science article from a range of experienced researchers who agree). Time and time again, I have worked with early career researchers who have spent hours perfecting their research grant text applications only to find out that they are wildly unable to fund what they have promised in their application (meaning they have to go back to the drawing board and rewrite considerable amounts of text to match a realistic budget).

The budget is also important because it is a concrete way to show funders that you have the capacity to succeed at delivering what you have set out to deliver: you're walking the walk, not just talking the talk. Funders want impact, and showing a feasible, well-thought out and detailed budget will give them confidence you have planned your programme for this. It will also be where 'the rubber hits the road' to backup claims you make in your text - for example, if you are collaborating with experts in the Vision Mātauranga section of many grant applications, supporting their involvement with funding is a direct way to prove to funders you are serious in driving meaningful co-design or knowledge transfer.

Let me give you an example... which budget would you prefer if you were a funder?

Basic Example Budget #1: $10,000

Budget Item


Field Work




Basic Example Budget #2: $10,000

Budget Item


Travel ($700 round trip flights x4)


Accomodation ($175 x 8 nights)


Project Consumables


Consultation with Kaiārahi Māori


Publication Fees


Conference Registration ($650) and International Flights ($1,650)


I hope this is as obvious as I am intending - both budgets have funding for field work and dissemination, but Budget #2 is slightly more detailed and will help guide your funder to understand how you plan to spend their investment. Some funders of course require quotes (especially for equipment grants) and detailed breakdowns of items like consumables. Further, many (most? all!) Universities and funders have specific budget requirements that you will need to adhere to - for example, this includes overheads (typically 112% of salaries), salary-related costs, inflation, restrictions on what can and cannot be included (e.g., capital expeditures, some equipment), specific rates for PhD or Master's Stipends, ... the list goes on.

So it is your job to make it clear how you arrived at the numbers you proposed. And, when you have correct numbers, you can start writing your bid with full confidence you are able to achieve what you have proposed.

The first place to start is to read the guidelines from the funder. You will quickly find out that funders vary wildly between what they will and won't fund, so take time to understand their guidelines. Also be sure to check out the FAQs, as there can be very useful hints to set your budget apart from the rest. Here are a few Marsden Fast-Start examples:

  • "Ensure that you provide sufficient resources in your budget to enable all team members to fulfil their role on the project (i.e. plan your project appropriately for the budget)." Translation: They want to ensure that people are dedicating enough paid time to this work to get good results. Make sure you always budget for consultants and collaborators that provide expert advice, such as lived experience experts, Kaiārahi Māori or other advisors.

  • "Note that international team members cannot receive a salary from a Marsden Fund Grant." Translation: If your budget is tight, you may be able to collaborate with a senior academic overseas to contribute valuable knowledge and credibility to your team while not breaking the bank.

  • "One of the secondary objectives of the Marsden Fund is to “contribute to the development of advanced skills in New Zealand including support for continuing training of post-doctoral level researchers, and support for the establishment of early careers of new and emerging researchers.” Translation: You can strengthen your bid by funding early career researchers and supporting the 'next gen'! So, make a point of this in your budget to evidence your commitment here.

The next place to go on your budget journey is to your University research office. University research offices will support you to develop a correct budget, and can support you with correct salary information and confirming salary requirements and related overheads/salary-related costs for subcontractors and collaborators. They will have budget templates you can use, and are usually quite happy to help you transfer this to a specific funder template. Get in touch with them early.

Then, dive in to salaries; this impacts your available budget the most. Again, using Marsden Fast-Start as an example, you can plan against a maximum of $120,000 per annum (exclusive of GST). Lets say you are a Postdoctoral Fellow, and are applying for a Fast-Start to secure your own personal salary. Using a salary of $85,000 (as an example), you will quickly start to see that you will not be able to fund anywhere near 1.0 FTE (coupled with overhead rates and salary-related costs), and you also won't have any funding to allocate to the other important costs you will need/want to fund to make your research happen at this high of an FTE. So - connect with your research office to see what FTE you will be able to afford (likely 0.2 - 0.5 FTE depending on your salary band) and then you can start budgeting the remaining amount.

On the topic of salaries, make sure you plan into your budget the time it may take to advertise and recruit - for example, if you have a PhD Student starting year 1, then you will need to be ready to respond to the funder if you cannot recruit an appropriate candidate in time, and then formally vary your project budget. Better to plan ahead for this possibility in advance to avoid this type of hassle.

After you have the salaries, subcontractors and their associated costs confirmed (with help from your Research office), budget everything else. Examples include travel (rental car, airfares, taxi, per diem, accommodation), consumables, equipment (rent, borrow or buy if allowed by the funder and/or University), dissemination/knowledge transfer acitivities, engagement, koha, kai/catering, miscellaneous costs (e.g., general consumables), etc.

Many funders then require a budget justification section - my best tip here is to use an intentional level of detail that links your budget plan to your outputs, outcomes and impact:

  • Boo: “Two economy flights to Melbourne.”

  • Yay: “Dissemination of results through presentation at the leading international conference XYZ; two flights requested will support attendance for the Primary Investigator and PhD Student. Opportunity for PhD to present and build capability........"

What to do in the case of a funder that doesn't specify the funding limit? Think about what you might need (realistically), and stay in a reasonable ballpark. Many funders list successful grants on their website that can give examples of costing amounts. For most early career researchers, this will typically fall between $20,000 to $200,000 (depending on the nature of your research e.g., many science fields are naturally more costly than other sectors). It is always a good idea to budget to the maximum amount awarded, within reason. Sometimes a small budget can be a strategic advantage.

Want more advice? Contact me if you would like to specific help on your budget planning, or comment in the Forum to keep the conversation going.


bottom of page