Lab Manager | Run Your Lab Like a Business

Ask Linda: Managing Laboratory Dollars

The purpose of a budget is to establish a forecast of revenues and expenditures to guide your efforts during  the next fiscal period

by Lab Manager
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Ask Linda, Lab Manager

Dear Linda,

I just learned that one of my responsibilities as the newly hired lab manager for our small research facility is creating a budget for next year. While I have some experience putting together a budget from a previous non-lab related job, I’m wondering if there are unique things to know and consider when putting one together for the lab. Fortunately, in its current state, our personnel and equipment requirements are fairly fixed and I don’t expect big changes or expenditures in the near future. That being said, I would still welcome any advice you can offer.

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Thanks in advance.

Dear Peter,

As you know, the purpose of a budget is to establish a forecast of revenues and expenditures to guide your efforts during the next fiscal period.

Prior to creating your budget, you should meet with senior management to learn of any possible constraint issues and funding requirements.

It is helpful to include staff members in the budgeting process or at least to make them aware of its progress. They might have ideas on the need for new equipment or additional staffing. Inclusion in the budgeting process can also make them feel part of the team, which may improve morale.

Items included in budgeting are total personnel costs, capital equipment, materials, supplies, and consumables. Additional budgeted items might include conferences and trade show attendance, and literature.

Once all the required input is collected, the proposed projects can be grouped into three categories: essential, nice to do, and do only after the first two categories are budgeted.

It also helps to develop fallback positions. Should higher-level managers require budget cuts, you can delete some of the third-category projects (to be funded only after the first two categories are funded) from the budget. This can eliminate tedious, sometimes acrimonious budget disagreements with higherlevel managers.

Some people think their superiors will be pleased if the actual spending of their group is substantially under-budget. However, spending drastically under one’s budget can result in understaffing, low morale, and poor productivity from overworked staff members.

However, having the actual spending come close to the budgeted amount indicates that you understand your business and its spending requirements.

Happy numbers crunching.


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