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21 October 2016

Research Planning & Budgeting for Research

Budgeting for Genealogy 3-plan examples
Welcome to Part 3 of Budgeting for Genealogy. You can read part 1, here, and part 2, here.

My main goal with this post is to provide some real life examples. However, I'm also providing some additional "how-to" for those of you that may need it.

As I was preparing to write this post, I kept coming up with different variations of budgeting while planning. If you aren't going to be doing this research right away, this additional choice is good. This is the scenario most Occasional Genealogists (OGs) will be in.

How Do You Create a Research Plan?

First, you need to make sure you are following good habits with your research planning. Amy Johnson Crow has a fantastic post called "How to Build a Research Plan" that will quickly get you up to speed. Budgeting starts at step three of her five step plan. So, we'll jump in after steps one and two, that is, after you've set a goal and reviewed what you have. I don't want to keep re-writing what steps one and two are so I'll just call them "steps 1 & 2" to keep it quick but make sure you don't skip ahead in this post and skip over these vital steps.

There are a few options for how to budget while planning. Remember, the point is not to create a budget, the point is to be successful at research (i.e. achieve that research goal). The point of setting the budget is to put money where it will be most useful. If you're like me, the budget will get you to spend money. You, of course, might need a budget for the same reason you need a grocery budget, so you don't over-spend. I've never met a genealogist that was trying to spend less on genealogy, maybe just spend wiser. Make this work for you and don't feel you have to stick to just one option.

TRADITIONAL OPTION

Steps 1 & 2 are done, and you are ready to consider what you need to do. In a traditional budget, you decide how much you can spend and then allocate that money. If you are on a fixed budget (for genealogy or all your "hobbies"), this is probably your best bet. Just consider when you will actually spend the money. I only spend money on genealogy occasionally (my subscriptions are yearly, I bulk order most records, plus I rarely get to do my own research---the "occasional" money might be chunks, but it's probably not even monthly).

This traditional method is really because you only have $x.00 to spend. To allocate your money, I recommend doing an "in-line" budget. A budget within your plan. I'll describe that in just a moment because it's a method for the next option. The reason I recommend the in-line budget is you need to compare costs that will get you the same information, or towards the same goal. The other method described below, the "separate" method, could be used but if you allocate your money across several goals (plans), you might not "complete" any of them.

I'm assuming if you have a fixed amount of money to spend, you have some priorities within your genealogy projects, some goal you want to achieve above the others. The in-line method can also help you choose which plan you have the best chance of completing on a fixed budget. Once again, using the separate budget won't help you determine the cost to reach one goal.

However, if you have a fixed budget and don't mind spreading it across goals without "achieving" a goal, the separate method will work. This is more likely because you have a recurring budget, say a certain amount each month taken from your household budget. You may want to go ahead and spend that money on records even if you know you won't have time to use them this month. Once you review what you've ordered, maybe you will then focus on one project.

"Most Bang for Your Buck" OPTIONS

If you inherited the frugal tendencies of your ancestors like I did, you probably need to convince yourself to spend "more" money on certain records. This means you need to figure out what record (or option) will get you the most bang for your buck. You can "budget" for this in different ways.

In-line Budget Method

This is how I'd stick to a traditional budget, but it is also an option when you're creating a research plan and have a good bit of choice about what to do next to achieve your goal. So you're in the same place as I already described, steps 1 & 2 done, ready to decide what you need to do. This is where you're brainstorming ways to solve your problem or achieve your goal, whatever it may be.

Remember, this method is when you believe you have options. You might brainstorm a death certificate as one record that will give you the information you need, or a pension, or a child's 2nd marriage record, or a family Bible you've heard rumors about but don't actually know where to get it. These are all options you can "look into."

In other words, you need to research the records you want to use. In research planning, you'll determine if those records exist, how you can obtain them, and how long it will take. Simply add "cost" to that list of items. To make this "in-line," you simply record that cost within your (very specific and targetted) plan.

Here's a hypothetical example of what these items (as budget items) might look like in the midst of your planning process.
Death certificate: $15+$0.49 postage, ordered via mail from the state (pay by certified check, does that have a fee?), delivered via mail in 6-8 weeks
Death certificate: $15+$15 ordered online via [convenience service] and delivered by mail in 1-2 weeks
Death certificate: $15+$30 ordered in-person by [local researcher]. He can also request additional state vital records ($15/ea.), estimates he can get three more without charging add'l $30 (i.e. hourly fee), delivered via email within one week of my payment.
Civil War Pension: $80 from NARA, up to 100 pages, may take awhile for delivery
Civil War Pension: $50 from [local researcher], delivered electronically within one week of payment
[Name of Child]'s 2nd marriage record from [location]: $0 if on FamilySearch
[Name of Child]'s 2nd marriage record from [location]: $25 ordered from the county, delivered in 4-6 weeks via email.
Bible record: $???, takes my time to determine where it might be and then cost of obtaining
This is just an example (based on real experiences) to show you how the costs can vary but also how long it takes to receive a record. Recording both cost and the ordering and delivery process can change your perception of what is expensive or easy. Also, use a format that works for you. I just typed into the post, so I didn't format, much. I would probably always highlight the total cost (in some way) and easily be able to see special ordering steps or delivery time.

Separate Budget Method

This concept works the same as "in-line" but you record your budget options separately. I've created a budget printable/fillable PDF for this. It is available in the Resource Library, if you're not already a subscriber, .

I imagine as an OG you might fill in several lines for possible expenses before you actually order anything. This is a good way to see all your possible expenses (it can literally be "all" or just for a broad research project or just for a specific goal, your choice).

I like this idea if you have large expenses like DNA tests that you need to save for or decide about based on cost. I bet you have a budget like this in your mind if you've never written it down. As an OG, it will probably never be clear where the best place to spend some money is unless you write it down.

Factors for OG Budgets

There are a few more notes I want to provide about budgeting.

Saving

First, creating a budget (using any method) is also a good way to consider saving for research. This could be saving to hire someone, saving to pay for a more expensive record (or DNA test), or saving for a research trip. It is much easier to save for a specific amount and/or goal.

If you need to hire someone, consider saving just like you would for a research trip (you'd research what it's going to cost, then save, then spend the money). One advantage of saving for research is sometimes what you need becomes available online while you're saving. Then you have a larger budget to spend on something else!

"Spending" Time

One difference that might occur if you're on a traditional budget versus a "most bang" budget is how many different variations you record. On a traditional budget, you may need to look for the cheapest option, which can involve extra work.

Remember that your time is money. Consider if you're better off saving money on the cost of the record or saving your time and getting something more quickly (i.e. not worrying about finding the cheapest if it takes too long). This is a personal choice. Creating a budget is a good way for you to see this on paper.

In the hypothetical example above, I listed the variations I would think of first. Remember, in this example, these records are options to obtain a piece of information, not every record you could get. For the (unstated) goal, the point is to get one of these records. If it provided the information needed, the next step would be verifying that information is correct. That might mean ordering another of these records, or there might be new options. If those options are free or cheap, you'd go after them first.

Next Steps, Not Big Steps

Depending on your skill level, you may be thinking, "I need all those records!" Eventually, you'd probably want all of them. The point of the budget is not to see how much your research will cost you when you are "done," but to determine how to spend your money now. It's expensive to order all these records at once. It's ok to spread them out. This also relates to specific research goals. Think of your working plan as the "next step," not the "big goal."

Low Hanging Fruit

In genealogy, you want to go for the low hanging fruit, first. That means records that will directly answer your (specific) question and that are "easy" to obtain. Ideally, they will be fast and free or cheap.

If you get interrupted planning, it's hard to determine what the low hanging fruit, is. You need good notes and those notes need to include cost. However, another consideration as an OG is, if you don't have a lot of time to research, you might not mind waiting for several weeks for a record to arrive. It might be that long before you'd have time to look at it, anyway.

another consideration as an OG is, if you don't have a lot of time to research, you might not mind waiting for several weeks for a record to arrive

For OGs, I'd consider the fastest record to order as more important than fastest to arrive (unless, of course, you have a deadline for some reason). Perhaps you only have one record you are considering; there might be several ways to obtain it. The death certificate is a good example.

Usually, the three options above exist for vital records (standard ordering, expedited, or hire someone). Sometimes you can get vital records from the state, county, or a historical repository. That gives you lots of choices, likely all three options for each location.

I will pay some extra to order a record from home instead of having to get a certified check or get something notarized, too. I calculate the value of my time as worth at least what my professional hourly rate is. If I'm really short on free time, I figure it's worth even more.

Examples

Here is what the printable (also a fillable PDF) might look like.
genealogy budget example

If you haven't already,to get free access to the Resource Library where you can download the budgeting form.
I've used this "project," which is a broad project, to show including something outside "records." In this case, DNA tests. I've already ordered the atDNA test (I entered what I paid, a sale price, you don't have to list what you've already spent, though). I've listed the full price of the two options for Y-DNA tests. I'll only need one of those and I'll most likely wait until they are on sale.

I haven't worked on this project with any seriousness so I don't have a lot of ideas of records I need (I hope to create a full "planning" example based on this project, later, it's in worse shape than I thought). I know I used a deed index and haven't been able to get all the deeds. I've listed three ways I could obtain those deeds but I haven't done the research to determine the exact cost. This shows you what an in-progress budget might look like.

For me, the time it will take to get records myself is a major factor. That means this form isn't good for this project, for me. This simple list format would be good when I'm considering ordering an assortment of records---records I order, not items I could get myself. 

This would also work for me for a research trip. This could be a listing of records available at multiple repositories. I could create a list for each repository and include the costs of travel (and time) but the records would be the same on each list. Some repositories I have to pay for photocopies and others not (i.e. I can make free digital copies) so a list of all my costs would be helpful.

This next example is the research plan I alluded to in the last part (part two). I originally intended to use this example to show in-line budgeting. But it turned out all the Macon County, North Carolina deeds microfilm at the Family History Library had been digitized so my first phase of research is free. I've included this example below so you can see how I set up my options. I went ahead and entered the cost of requesting FHL microfilm for future reference (I will copy and paste this section for question #2 if it appropriately belongs in this same document).
genealogy research plan example
I created this plan back in 2009 and I've learned some great tips and techniques about research planning since then so I don't know if I'll stick with exactly this format for a plan. But I know I always needed examples when I was learning so here is one for you. I really liked a research planning lecture I attended at NGS Ft. Lauderdale in May. You can read my post about it here.

Inspiration

Writing this series of posts has really inspired me to incorporate budgeting into my research planning. I hope you take away the same type of excitement I've found. I don't see budgeting as one more thing to do but as a way to get me to focus on something that will directly lead to research.

Being an Occasional Genealogist is hard. Genealogy is easier done often and in larger chunks of time. I don't have those options anymore but I am way too addicted to genealogy to give it up.

Breaking research planning down into tasks I can do in short sessions gives me actionable work to do in the type of free time I have. Planning equips me to do research when I have the chance. The advantage of budgeting, as part of my planning, is it helps bring records to me and helps me identify what to do next with my money. That might be ordering records, a day research trip, or a bigger research trip.

I can justify the appropriate choice to myself and my family if I have all the information. A plan and budget give me that information.

What issues do you face with planning (or your budget) that are OG-specific?

 Planning and Budgeting for Genealogy | The Occasional Genealogist

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