Wednesday, May 06, 2009

As if I have SO MUCH MONEY

Around the end of every accounting year for each of my various funded projects, I stress out over how much $ did I this or that, and how much $ will next year's this and that, and what $ can or cannot be charged to this account or that account, and so on.

Since my funding comes from a variety of sources with a variety of accounting year timings, increasingly I feel like I am having this stress all year long, rather than just once. So I recently decided that I really needed to do a better job of keeping track of my project budgets. The university sends statements but they are often cryptic, and the amount of information contained in the statement varies depending on the funding source. I have never found them very helpful even for figuring out where the money went, let alone in projecting how the money is going to go out.

Some years ago, a senior colleague/mentor showed me a complicated spreadsheet she used for keeping track of things, and it (both the spreadsheet and the concept of keeping track of big complex budgets) intimidated me so much that I never followed up by asking for a template or tutorial session or anything. But that was back when I had very little money and very minimal and simple expenditures so managing it all was easier. Now, I need something to manage the stress of managing the funds, because it's starting to keep me up at nights (sad but true).

In the last few weeks I've been nosing around friends and colleagues to see what systems or tools they are using for tracking project budgets, and the consensus seems to be:

nothing.

On the one hand, this makes me feel better, that it's not as if everybody lit on to some genius strategy of which I am lamely ignorant. On the other hand, really? That's weird. The people that gave me that answer range from very well funded to moderately funded, and one of them I know has very complicated budget situations. But it seems like most folks just assume everything will work out, and they wait for somebody to yell at them if and when it isn't working out.

I know some people that have had some kind of budget catastrophe this way, with money accidentally mismanaged and in one case, even disappearing (which I still don't understand) but that doesn't happen to most people, I guess. Still, I downloaded an open-source Quicken-ish account tracking software and am using it until I can find something even better (without having to build it myself).

Bah, budget management. Yet another thing they don't teach you in grad school.

12 comments:

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Anonymous said...

Wait until you realize one day that you have to spend $80K in about 4 days.

Then you don't get refunded.

dr_igloo said...

I'm glad to know I'm not the only one. Universities really should offer a course in research budget management to all new faculty.

Space Prof said...

Grad school teaches one how to write papers, and that's about it. The rest is up to us to figure out.

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Girlpostdoc said...

There is a LOT they don't apparently teach you in grad school. And the lack of training seems to continue in postdocdom. Lots of TT profs have been writing about how their postdoc experience doesn't prepare them for faculty positions. At my stage I can say budgets? Bah!

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Grant P. Writer said...

I suggest hiring a project manager, if funds allow, or budgeting one on your next proposal. They can be very useful in handling day-to-day project tasks and managing money. I know of one faculty member who had to hire one because he was so far in the red, the university made it a requirement that someone else manage his money. It is worth the expense if you can hire a competent person to handle that headache for you!

Anonymous said...

I constantly feel the same low-level stress about my multiple grant budgets. I swing from "OMG, I may not have enough money to pay for the supplies, analyses I need to do!" to "OMG, I have only two months to spend all that money!". I have no real tracking system, either. I simply rely on my department secretary and the university grants account office to provide me with current balances every month. The good thing is that the research gets done and the grant budgets break even.

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