I am aware that grants often only provide the earned money over a certain period of time. And if the money is not used up by the end of that period you lose access to it. Are there ways to effectively spend this money so it does not go completely to waste?

Note: A previous version of this question asked about setting up shell companies, which is why some answers address them. That part of the question was removed.

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    Despite all the double-speak, this is essentially what HJF is – StrongBad Aug 30 '19 at 15:07
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    One important option is to ask the funding agency for a "no-cost extension" to the period of the grant. This is just asking for more time to do the research without asking for additional funding. These no-cost extensions are frequently granted by NSF, DOE, and other funding agencies in the US. – Brian Borchers Aug 30 '19 at 15:21
  • I think there are lots of people whose full time job it is to answer this very question. They are smart people. They are busy all day long. They still make mistakes. I do not think it is a question for which you can get a useful answer on stack overflow. – emory Aug 30 '19 at 21:06
  • @StrongBad So, what you’re saying is “set up a not-for-profit org that gives out grants to researchers in your field, then donate the remainder of your funding to it”? – nick012000 Aug 31 '19 at 3:42
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    @nick012000 HJF doesn't give out grants, they manage them. It turns out that part of that management looks an awful lot like money laundering and let you spend money after a grant ends. – StrongBad Aug 31 '19 at 18:20

Things to do (to the extent allowed by the terms of the grant)

  1. Buy work laptops or other equipment.

  2. Visit someone, send a student to visit someone, or invite a guest.

  3. Depending on how quick the "quickly" is, go to a conference or organize a small workshop, or a summer/winter school.

  4. Hold a networking event with your research group, or together with another group of possible collaborators, possible or actual.

  5. If you have suitable publications, buy golden open access for one of them.

Things not to do

Try to get the money to yourself (except NSF grants in USA and summer salary). Try to keep it for later. Try to use it on something out of scope of the grant, like personal benefits without scientific value.

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    One might summarize it as "Things to do: accelerate spending on expenses acceptable under the terms of the grant." E.g. computer purchases are not necessarily allowed. – Anyon Aug 30 '19 at 11:53
  • @Anyon Added a general disclaimer. I believe some specific ideas are useful here, given the question. – Tommi Aug 30 '19 at 15:02
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    Isn’t PI summer salary (a common and completely allowed expense on NSF grants) a form of “trying to get the money to yourself”? Conversely, as far as I know NSF grants in my discipline do not generally permit using grant money to buy laptops these days. This answer seems factually wrong. – Dan Romik Aug 30 '19 at 18:04
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    @DanRomik The question does not specify NSF, and a work laptop of mine has come from grant money. – Tommi Aug 31 '19 at 6:30
  • @DanRomik But I added the NSF expectation. – Tommi Aug 31 '19 at 6:31

You are allowed to spend grant money on exactly what the scope of the grant allows and nothing else. If you have leftover money you may ask for extensions in some cases. Departments have personnel whose job it is to help with this exactly. If your department doesn’t then ask a senior colleague or the department head. Misuse of grants is at best an ethical infraction and at worst grounds for immediate termination. I’m not a lawyer but specifically funneling money to a shell company sounds criminal.

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    For NSF and NIH grants, the term to search for would be "No-cost extension." – user109454 Aug 30 '19 at 12:46

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