November 02, 2016
by Sergio Ibarra Bolaños

This Weird Dinosaur Inspired Simple’s Spending Plans

Simple Finance Budget Manager Sergio Ibarra Bolaños was struggling to get employees interested in budgets, until he met a dinosaur made out of cleaning products. Here’s how he gave budgets—and his thinking—an inspirational facelift.
Illustration of cleaning products dinosaur

Gravel crunched as we pulled off the dusty highway and into the empty parking lot of the Museum of Clean in Pocatello, Idaho. My wife and I were en route to Yellowstone National Park with our two children, one on the verge of adolescence and the other toddlerhood. After miles of spilled drinks, smeared food, and dirty diapers galore, a roadside slice of Americana dedicated to cleanliness seemed like the perfect place to stretch our legs. We were about to go where few had gone before—the last place I expected to have an epiphany that would change the way our teams approach budgeting at Simple.

Outside, the Museum of Clean looks like a city library. From precise masonry to careful landscaping, its namesake shines in every detail. It reminded me of chores. Approaching the museum, I forced an enthusiastic smile for the kids while secretly questioning my wife’s motives for suggesting that we stop there.

Inside, we were greeted by a gigantic dinosaur skeleton made from cleaning-machine parts. Like a robot tyrannosaur zombie, it commanded the room and demanded attention. Vacuum cleaner head…ribcage made of tubes…extension wand spines…weird claws. It lurked among a half-dozen of Idaho’s leafiest potted plants. Someone had spent a lot of time carefully creating and positioning this monstrosity, and I couldn’t take my eyes off it.

Museum of Clean dinosaur

Road-weary and feeling like an imposter in this museum dedicated to cleanliness, I stared at the dinosaur and let my mind wander. For me, a professional finance junky charged with helping Simple’s teams create Spending Plans, that means thinking about money. More specifically, I began to think about how this incredible dinosaur in this unlikely museum had both captured and disarmed me.

Seeing it helped me loosen up around the idea of “clean.” I would have had a very different response had my first sight been a sign that read, “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” The dinosaur just said, “Look at me.” And it struck me that just like “clean,” the word “budget” often conjures up negative images and feelings of avoidance.

The dinosaur led to an attitude shift for me. It got me to laugh and put my guard down. That in turn made me think about all the overly guarded discussions about budgets I’ve experienced. In conversations about budgets, there’s often an idea of a tug-of-war with the “budget makers” on one end trying to get more of the rope to their side and the “budget receivers” on the other just trying to keep the length of rope that they have. I thought, what if we could all just drop the rope and stand beside each other and look at it together? Who’d go first?

I stared at the dinosaur’s teeth and eye sockets—painstakingly carved into the vacuum shell. Given all the attention to detail, the museum’s dinosaur had clearly engaged its creator. Someone had seen these instruments of clean a different way and shared their vision in a truly approachable way. The dinosaur invites engagement around the notion and objects of clean, and engagement is my ultimate ambition for Spending Plans. Getting our hiring managers what they want, helping them get what truly matters to them, is at the heart of Spending Plans. And inspiring budget managers to get their hands dirty and work alongside me helps make the plans work for everyone.

We finished touring the museum and I left with a fresh perspective on clean—and on budgets. Back on the highway, I thought about how we might apply some of the ideas at Simple. My first job would be to come up with a way to get my colleagues to look at their budgets with pleasure, or at least without pain.

Illustration of spending plans

I started by introducing a change of perspective and a name to reflect this change. We officially renamed “budgets” “Spending Plans” as a way to avoid some of the internal bias and fears associated with budgeting. Then we designed a beautiful experience that would draw my colleagues into working on their Spending Plans. At Simple, we take craft seriously, so when we designed the interface for Spending Plans, we wanted to make the experience represent our values. This meant working with our Design team to choose the right colors for the graphs, consulting with our copywriters to ensure our introductory message and instructions lived up to our company tone, and collaborating with our Studio team on illustrations and stickers to brand this whole effort.

Finally, I made a request of my colleagues. I asked them to trust in me and have me be the one to fight for them to get resources. In return, I asked them to be as realistic as possible with their requests.

And it worked!

We brought down the normal budget process time from four months to two weeks! Yeah, you read right. TWO weeks! The trust that we’ve built with our departments has also had a big impact. We’ve been staying on course and have actually been getting money back from many of our teams. Voluntarily.

We learned a whole lot in the first year of Spending Plans. We are about to kick off our second year: We have the same undying commitment to support the mission of each of our departments, a better system, and new stickers…which bear the image of the creature that started it all.

Simple's new spending plans stickers

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