In this day and age, as congress tries to push the debt ceiling higher on a seemingly annual basis and the US continues to lose ground in trading deficits, borrowing against the future is a popular tactic. In congress there is little to no incentive not to pass a massive debt load down to our nation's children since current congress people won't be around by the time those birds come home to roost. Perhaps it's fitting that I was reading stories about this phenomenon just before I sat down to do some budget planning for our current grant.
I was surprised to find out that NSF had funded the entire budget of our grant from Day 1. My impression was that the money comes in over a couple of installments, but either this is no longer true or I was just mistaken. In any case, all of the money is in my account, just staring back at me.
This is the money you could be spending on summer travel
This summer money is going to be tight for us. I'm going to have to make some calls on travel that are based on finances more than science and I won't be able to support my people to the extent that I would like. Barring a couple of small pots of money out there falling into our lap, that is the reality.
But with the full grant funded, technically, I have the ability to fix the situation by dipping into the future. It's easy to say that we'll have other money in hand by the final year of this grant and we'll be able to play the shell game to fix whatever I do now*.
But, Here Be Dragons, I believe. I have no idea what lays ahead and I think would seriously regret running into a shortfall on this project as we are trying to wrap it up in year three. And by shorting our efforts on this proposal, could I be endangering our chances of getting funded again? Probably.
I would be curious to hear how others have handled this situation, but my inclination is tighten the belt now and keep hammering out the proposals to get these other projects funded entirely under their own power.
*Of course, there is the ethical issues of using funds for project X to prop up personnel expenses related to project Y