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Sticking to your laboratory budget is an important part of any successful academic department or company. Getting your finances in order ensures you can be prepared for the unexpected, said Tarshae Drummond, a lab manager and research technician at Fayetteville State University.
“I need to see where your money is going, what you’re doing, and what’s coming in,” she said at the Eastern Analytical Symposium (EAS) on November 13. Right now, universities and companies are experiencing budget cuts and personnel shortages, all while combating soaring inflation rates–making it more difficult to manage their money.
Drummond recommended first setting a goal for team and figuring out exactly what you’ll need to spend money on over the next year. Common expenses, she said, include maintenance on equipment, staff salaries, new equipment purchases, and hiring. If you want to figure out how much you might need to spend, looking at the previous year’s budget is a good place to start.
“The most reliable way to forecast the future is to try and understand the present,” she said.
It’s a good idea to separate your budget into two categories: a wish list full of nice-to-haves and a list of must-haves. Once you’ve covered the budget for everything you need, you can see where there’s room to make cuts or changes so you can make those bigger purchases.
“Prioritize needs versus wants,” she said.
Drummond provided a few strategies–including buying in bulk, automating, and hiring temporary workers–that laboratory managers can use to save money when organizing their budget.
Although it may seem expensive upfront, automating your processes and buying materials in bulk can save you money in the long run. Drummond recommended buying materials that you use a lot, like gloves, in bulk. Additionally, purchasing equipment that automates testing can help you work faster, which will generate more income.
“Although automation may be a lot of money at the beginning it can save over time,” she said.
Equipment maintenance can also eat up a large chunk of your laboratory budget. Drummond recommended speaking directly with several vendors to get the best prices on equipment and seeking out companies that provide warrantees or have upkeep included in the cost. As much as you can, plan in advance for any expected equipment maintenance.
“We do invest in warrantees and maintenance agreements where they come in and they check the equipment,” Drummond said. You can also invest in refurbished equipment, which may work just as well as a new machine, but for a smaller price tag.
If you’re facing a staff shortage, Drummond said, consider hiring temporary workers who can help meet your needs in the interim. Working with other departments or teams on projects can also help save money.
If you have employees on staff that you’re looking to retain in the long-term, play to their strengths. Retention is important, she said. It can cost significant money and time replacing workers on your teams.
“You don’t want to lose valuable employees,” she said. “That affects your productivity in the department.”