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Expense management made simple for foster home


Conduct primary and secondary research
Develop wireframe and high-fi design
Conduct user-testings
Manage UI defects


October 2021 - May 2022 (7 months)


Project Manager: Tyler Calabrese
Tech Lead: Zayyad Yunus
Designer: An Ho
Developers: Austen Money, Hamza Ali, Jonathan Liu, Thomas Lai,
Loc Mai, Anya Bhatia, Pablo Duran, Llona Lahdesmaki, Matt Hui





Simply Smiles (SS) is a non-profit organization that builds and manages children’s villages that allow Indigenous children who have been separated from their birth parents to remain in their home community.


The current process of submitting expenses for parents and reviewing them for SS admin is time-consuming and prone to error

​SS is opening a new home in South Dakota. With the rising amount of homes and parents, they need a more efficient way to keep track of their expenses, both for reimbursement and tax purposes.


Our goal is to simplify the process of:
1. Submitting expenses on the foster parent side
2. Reviewing expenses on the admin side


A budgeting iOS application for foster parents & an expense tracking web platform for Simply Smile accountant


  • Manage budget effectively with a visualized overview

  • Log expense in only 60 seconds

  • Notifications come only when you need them


  • Manage all households in the format that all accountants know and love - Excel table

  • Export report CSV format

  • Get notified about cost overruns in real-time



I’ve conducted interviews with Stephanie, Simply Smiles head accountant, and 2 current parents to understand the current expense management workflow and their expectations for the upcoming platforms.

From the conversation, with the help of persona and journey map, I identified some significant patterned behaviors that lead to the ineffectiveness of the current process.

1. Foster Parent 

Parents spend without knowing exactly how much they have left in their budget.
It takes the head parent 1.5hr/week to process expenses.

2. Simply Smiles Admin

Errors are most likely to happen when SS admin enters data from emails into the Excel template since each home uses a different format.
Overrun happens frequently because the admin is only notified once a month.


Based on the behaviors, pain points, and goals that we have gathered, I have identified 4 main opportunities and summarized them in the How Might We format for the ideation workshop.

1. Foster Parents

How might we help parents log expenses quickly and accurately?
How might we help them know exactly how much to spend?

2. Simply Smiles Admin

How might we automate the data entry process?
How might we notify the admin about overrun timely?

​To gather as many ideas as possible, we organized an ideation workshop with the participation of SS accountants, our project manager, and our tech lead. We used the Crazy Eight activity to gather as many ideas as possible and then evaluate each based on their level of effort and impact.

The chosen ideas from the workshop act as a solid base for me to design the key features.


Parent Application

1. Remind as you go

  • Cost overrun was the biggest problem in the current process. To limit this issue, parents need to be more aware of the remaining budget.

  • Putting the balance near the Continue button will allow parents to compare their spending with the budget without having to exit the flow.


4. Add expense with 1 click

Having the add expense button placed on the menu bar allows parents to log new expenses conveniently, no matter what screen they are on.

2. Customize notification

  • Budgeting apps don’t work because it's too easy to ignore the repetitive push notification

  • Since the parents only go shopping once or twice per week, they will only need to log expenses on those days

3. Review! Review! Review

Parents cannot edit the expense by themselves after they have submitted it. To limit data entry errors, it’s necessary to have a review step before submission


Admin Web

1. Match with the real world

  • Since the accountant is familiar with the table/Excel format, it’s best to maintain that design for the web view.

  • By doing this, the accountant won’t have to spend lots of time learning a new display and finding information

2. Flag budget overrun

  • When there is a budget overrun, the account listing will turn red along with a warning icon in real time

  • This will provide a clear visual cue for the accountant and mark the exact account that needs their attention.


To gather feedback, I conducted 3 user testing sessions with 2 SS accountants, 1 session with 2 SS parents, and 1 public review and made design changes accordingly.

Parent Application

1. Simplify budget management view

  • The #1 feedback that we got is that the home page is too busy. Some information is not necessary and it does not help the parents make decisions quickly.

  • The new design clearly displays the budget status and flag overrun categories.

2. Edit receipt photo

  • When going shopping, parents do not only shop for SS, but for themselves as well.

  • Because of this, they will often need to make notes and crop the receipt photos so that the pictures only include SS expenses.


Admin Web

1. Improve color contrast

  • Adding a different color to the side menu helps make the layout of the page more distinguishable

  • SS accountants use an older Window display modal so the screen contrast is not prominent

2. Remove the card-view

SS accounts reviewed that they would not use the card view feature because it’s very hard for them to locate the houses and the information is spatial.


Overall, I think I did a good job of understanding the customer's needs and delivering the end result quickly and effectively. However, if I were to do the project again, I would be mindful to:

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