Developing a Budget


A budget provides details of the expenses necessary to complete the proposed work in the research plan.  Carefully read the sponsor guidelines, Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA), and/or the Request For Proposal (RFP) when putting together a budget, as each sponsor has their own set of budgetary requirements and templates.  Note: Whether a sponsor requires a formal budget or not, Harvard Chan School requires that an internal excel budget and budget justification to be uploaded in GMAS request at the time of SPA proposal review. 


As you begin to develop a budget and put all of the relevant costs down on paper, there are considerations :

  • What should be considered a direct cost or indirect cost?
  • What is the fringe benefit rate?
  • What is the graduate student stipend rate?
  • What Facilities and Administrative (F&A) costs rate should I use?

Below are some additional tips and reminders we have found to be helpful for preparing a research grant application, mainly geared towards the SF424 (R&R) application. (Note: these tips do not supersede the budget instructions found in the relevant application instruction guide found on the How to Apply - Application Guide page.

Direct Costs

Source: OSP Website

An expense is a “direct cost” if that expense can be identified specifically with a particular sponsored project or other activity with a high degree of accuracy.  Direct costs include categories such as salaries, fringe benefits, tuition, consultant costs, equipment, supplies, travel, subagreements, other costs.



Required information to complete a budget:

  • Name
  • Project role
  • Number of calendar months or percent effort per year
  • Base salary
  • Total salary requested
  • Cost of living increases

Note: be aware of the NIH salary cap and the NSF two month salary limitation (section 2.C.2.g)

Fringe Benefits

Fringe benefits are the associated employee costs such as health plan expenses, pension plan expenses and workman's compensation expenses, among others.  The University has negotiated fringe benefit rates with its cognizant federal agency (DHHS).


Graduate Students

Graduate student salaries do not have an associated fringe rate.  Instead, tuition, is usually budgeted with a commensurate tuition amount.  Tuition must be listed in the “other direct costs” category.


The University defines equipment as items that cost at least $5,000.  These items should be included as equipment in the budget and excluded from [MTDC].

  • List each piece of equipment individually
  • Describe the equipment and the application to the project
  • Provide prices and vendor quotes for each piece of equipment
  • If equipment is to be fabricated, itemize the individual component parts and labor costs, explain the basis for calculations, and file supporting documentation.  



Outline details for each trip:

  • List the number of individuals who will be traveling
  • Names of travelers
  • Purpose of the trip
  • Destination
  • Per diem rates for meals and number of days needed
  • Per diem rates for lodging and number of days needed
  • Ground transportation


Participant/Trainee Support Costs

Participant support costs cannot be budgeted if they are for Harvard employees.  This section is only for budgeting costs for trainees or conference/workshop participants from outside the University.

  • Tuition/Fees/Health Insurance
  • Stipends
  • Travel
  • Subsistence
  • Other
  • Number of Participants/Trainees

Materials and Supplies

Supplies are items priced under $5,000 (the equipment threshold).   

  • List each item  
  • Provide an estimated cost of each item

Publication Costs

Publication costs may include:

  • Costs of documenting, preparing, publishing
  • Making publications available to others
  • Findings and products of the work conducted under the award


Consultants are paid only to individuals who are not employed by Harvard University or have any other institutional affiliation.  

  • Name
  • Daily rate of pay
  • Number of days each consultant is intended to be paid


Computer Services

Include any computer based costs and internal computer service rates


Each subrecipient should appear in the Harvard proposal budget as a separate line item that includes both the subrecipient’s direct and indirect costs.  


Equipment or Facility Rental/User Fees

List the total funds requested for equipment or facility rental/user fee

  • Describe user fee
  • Justify the use of the facility and/or equipment

Alterations and Renovations

  • Itemize by category  
  • Justify the costs of alterations and renovations, including repairs, painting, and removal or installation of partitions, shielding, or air conditioning
  • Where applicable, provide the square footage and costs

 Other Direct Costs

  • Publication costs. This category includes expenses for publication in established journals. Costs for publication of a book, monograph, or other publication usually cannot be charged without prior approval from the sponsor.
  • Communication fees
  • Equipment maintenance
  • Rental costs
  • Tuition remission

Indirect Costs

These are also commonly referred to as Overhead, Facilities and Administrative Costs (F&A), IDC, or Indirects. Overhead rates are typically negotiated with the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) every 4-5 years.  The indirect cost rates are applied to either a Total direct cost or a modified total direct cost amount.

Total Direct Cost (TDC)

Total direct cost is the sum of all direct costs listed in the budget.  When applying to a non-federal sponsor, use the total direct cost base unless the RFA or sponsor guidance do not permit.

Modified Total Direct Cost (MTDC)

Modified total direct cost is used for all federal proposals.  MTDC is the sum of all direct costs excluding the following line items:

  • Subaward budgets (inclusive of direct and indirect costs) in excess of the first $25,000
  • Hospitalization and other fees associated with patient care whether the services are obtained from an owned, related or third party hospital or other medical facility
  • Rental/maintenance of off-site activities; student tuition remission and student support costs (e.g. student aid, stipends, dependency allowances, scholarships, fellowships.)  
  • Capital expenditures (buildings, individual items of equipment; alterations and renovations)


Other Resources