What to Do When Your Lab's Budget is Almost Spent, and the Year Isn't Over Yet
You're nine months into the year and your lab's budget is almost spent, now what?
1: Is there really a need to panic?
Maybe it’s not as bad as it seems. Perhaps your biggest expenses came early in the valleys in your purchasing cycle the shortage may not be the problem it appears to be.
2: Should you start looking for additional funding?
In "Preparing and Managing Your First Lab Budget" (sciencecareers.sciencemag.org), Megan T. Brown notes, “If you are consistently overspending your monthly supply budget and cannot seem to reduce costs, then you may need a second grant. Smaller grants that cover supplies are available from a number of agencies, and some are specifically targeted at new investigators. A small grant can also be a springboard to a second larger grant in the future.”
3: Are you monitoring your lab budget regularly?
A monthly assessment of the budget can help keep you on track. Regularly scheduled monitoring may not prevent all deviations or account for unexpected expenditures, but it can raise your awareness and lessen the chances of being unpleasantly surprised.
4: Is your staff aware of the budget?
“Budgeting is planning, and you’re much more likely to have your staff on board if you work through your plans together,” says Kay Snowden in “Nonprofit Budget Tips” (www.tsne.org). “Including others is a great way to increase staff accountability, expand financial understanding, and enhance buy-in.”
5: Can you manage on the remaining budget money?
Some simple tools can help you look at the financial picture for the remainder of the year. By using “what-if” analysis tools in Microsoft Office Excel, you can enter budget data and variables. Three kinds of what-if analysis tools come with Excel: scenarios, data tables, and goal seek. Scenarios and data tables take sets of input values and determine possible results. Goal seek takes a result and determines possible input values that produce that result.
Multidisciplinary labs use and share the same space and some equipment. Can you share and charge for use? Be creative and look outside your specific lab for ideas. However, be sure to know if this is allowable—in some cases it may affect your funding.
7: Can we talk?
The NIAID has an informative grants and contracts tutorial on its Web site. Part of the funding advice it offers is to “get help from others”— specifically colleagues who are successful grant writers. These same colleagues and mentors may be sources of advice on budget problems as well as budget planning.
8: Can thinking green help?
In "Consumables Don’t Cost the Earth," (Lab News, www.labnews.co.uk), the author notes that taking responsibility to reduce lab waste is in everyone’s best interest. “...changing techniques, new technologies, and the requirement for higher throughput assays has led to an increased usage of disposable, plastic laboratory products, primarily made of polypropylene. These include disposable tubes, plates, racks, and of course pipette tips.” By promoting a green outlook, you can save on consumables in the lab without being seen as a budget tyrant.