Does Your Laboratory Budget Need an Overhaul? Consider Digital Solutions to Cut Costs
One topic that comes up no matter what lab in which I am working is the idea that many lab managers or PIs don’t seem to follow their laboratory budget. In my experience, lab members would typically just order what we needed or wanted without ever considering how much was being spent on a monthly basis.
A few times a year, our boss would come into our weekly lab meeting with loads of financial paperwork, looking frazzled. He would nervously tell us that we’d exceeded our “budget” and that we were going to have to cut costs until the next grant came through. There was never a plan or even a glance at where we truly needed to cut costs. Often times, we would even be told to borrow reagents of which we didn’t need a lot or to curb our altruistic efforts to help out the financially struggling lab next door. Though these were somewhat effective in the short-term, I often wondered what a lab would look like that maintained a well-planned laboratory budget. Here some of the top features that a fiscally sound lab would typically maintain to overhaul their laboratory budget:
Set a budget
It may seem like an obvious point, but your lab needs to have a comprehensive monthly budget if you want to get in control of your spending. New labs may have an easier job at setting a budget and sticking to it since bad habits haven’t yet been developed. More established labs might need to tackle a frivolous spending culture in addition to setting a budget.
When designing your budget, include input from lab members so that it is realistic and accurately reflects project needs. Categorize spending items based on priority: essential, nice to do, and do only after the first two categories are budgeted. When determining your monthly spending, use only funds that you are certain to have. Avoid including funds from grants that you hope to have or other income that is not guaranteed. If you end up having extra funds, then you can consider spending on some of your extra projects. Don’t forget to include personnel costs and traveling costs for conferences!
Now that you’ve put all that hard work into setting a budget, make sure you accurately track your spending to ensure that you stay within your budget. It may be difficult to update your budget daily, but aim to input all spending at least weekly. By tracking your spending, you can see when you’re getting close to limits and take measures to curb expenditures in order to stay within budget boundaries. It may take a couple of months for you to adjust to your new spending restrictions, but within a few months you’ll find that you’re saving money and becoming more conscientious about purchases.
Once you’ve identified where your money goes it will be easier to work on increasing efficiency and cutting costs. Laboratory workflows are often a source of inefficiency that can cost labs extra money and time. For example, poor recordkeeping and inefficient sharing of laboratory data can lead to unnecessary repetition of experiments, which can be costly in terms of reagent use and employee time. An electronic laboratory notebook (ELN) can help keep your experiments organized and accessible to all users so you may avoid unnecessary experiment duplication. A digital chemical inventory management system can help track chemical use so you have a comprehensive picture of all expenditures. By knowing how much chemical inventory you’re using, you can reduce waste associated with over-ordering and investigate how bulk ordering can save money for reagents used in large quantity.
The best way to control costs is to know what you’re spending by using a laboratory budget. Once you understand where your money is going, you can implement digital laboratory solutions like an ELN or a chemical inventory management system to help improve efficiency and cut costs. Visit the BIOVIA website to learn more about how the BIOVIA Notebook and BIOVIA CISPro can help increase efficiency in your lab.