ADHD and your Finances: Changing your Mindset about Spending
By: Christopher Gonzalez
Christopher Gonzalez is a Registered Nurse and Graduate Student Nurse Practitioner at MGH Institute of Health Professions. Christopher is also an adult with ADHD. He wrote this article to share his personal experiences and tips with other adults living with ADHD.
The messy pile of bills near the front door (some of them unopened); the panic and shock of seeing an unexpectedly low bank account balance; the regret and shame of an impulsive purchase that you now realize you didn’t really need in the first place. And, my least favorite: Wondering how all my non-ADHD friends have their financial acts together, and why I struggled so much with my own finances.
You’ll find that many adults with ADHD have in common the same “stories” of their lives – shared experiences where traits of their ADHD have gotten them into financial binds. After all, people with ADHD are more likely to be in debt, and more likely to have trouble curbing impulsive spending. Difficulty planning, distractibility, shopping addiction and poor impulse control are all traits more common to people with ADHD that can contribute to these situations.
Here are some small but realistic, do-able steps that you can put into place without too much effort. While these may seem like insignificant steps, they can make big differences in your financial “mind-set,” which is the most important change for people with ADHD.
Let’s start with those bills:
Tip #1: Manage your mail
Go paperless. Eliminate paper bills and have e-mail reminders sent to you. Most banks and credit cards have an option to go paperless. My philosophy is, “Throw it away if you can get the information online.”
Open every piece of mail as soon as you get it. This especially applies to tax documents, which usually arrive sporadically from December to March. Set these aside in a special bin as soon as you receive them. Keep things simple: don’t worry about sorting them, as you’ll run the risk of frustrating yourself. In fact, I urge you to invest in a paper shredder (about $30). Shred any junk mail as soon as you get it, to reduce the clutter.
Do some simple planning. Use an electronic calendar program like Google Calendar to mark when you get paid each month, and when big bills are due (mortgage/rent, automotive, credit cards, utilities, etc.). This way you can foresee when money comes in and goes out, preventing any surprises. Think of money in terms of “In” (paycheck) vs. “Out” (bills and other expenses) so you can have a mental picture of the natural “ebb and flow” of your bank account.
Now let’s talk about how you think about spending. As I said before, difficulty with impulse control is a known trait of many people with ADHD. This is nothing to be ashamed of; scientists now know that this is due to a dysfunction in the frontal lobe of the brain. However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t practice being mindful of impulsive tendencies you may have when it comes to shopping.
Tip #2: Change your thought processes about spending
Be honest with yourself and ask yourself questions such as:
o “Do I really need this?” and “Do I already have this?”
· Groceries. Open the fridge, and practice making grocery lists before you leave the house. When I’m at the grocery store, before I enter the checkout lanes, I re-evaluate what’s in my shopping cart and pull out several items that I know I can do without. This saves me at least $15-$20 per shopping trip.
· Clothing. Again, planning is key. Take a mental inventory of what you wear on a regular basis, and what’s in your closet. While you may see an item of clothing on sale, ask yourself if you really need it, or if you already have something similar.
o “Could my money be better spent?” Check the calendar you set up. Are there upcoming bills that you should be saving for? Will an impulsive purchase now make your life harder in a few days when the bills are due?
o “Do I have a place to keep this when I get home?” This tip in particular goes hand-in-hand with clutter reduction. Many people are tempted by sizzling sales or “great deals” on items that they don’t even have room for.
o “Do I really want this?” Think of the “future you” with the new object that you want, and try to visualize if having the object will make you feel any happier or will greatly change your life. Then, sleep on it. Promise yourself to wait just one day, and often you’ll find your impulses will fade.
Tip #3: Set up external forces to keep you “in check”
Open an online savings account. The benefit of these “online banks” (find a reputable one, such as Capital One 360) is that they generally make it a hassle to transfer money out (making it harder for you to spend). Some banks can take days to transfer your money to you – this is a good thing, as it forces you to follow the tip above – “sleep on it.”
Set aside a small portion of your paycheck. If you have direct deposit at work, most employers will allow you to deposit a certain amount of your paycheck into a second account, such as an online savings account. Start small, say, $50-$100 per paycheck. In a few months you’ll be surprised how much you’ve saved, without even realizing it.
Tip #4: Ditch the guilt and shame: Stop blaming yourself
I find that most books that give financial planning tips aren’t well suited for people with ADHD. They focus on the nitty-gritty details – complex budgeting formulas, Excel spreadsheets, etc. – all of which carry the risk of causing intense frustration in a person with ADHD, or even worse, causing them to simply give up.
The strategies I provided above aren’t necessarily about focusing in on details – they’re about finding small, incremental ways to change the way you think – not necessarily even about money. The key is to be honest with yourself about your needs and wants.
My advice is to start small. Don’t implement all the above tips at once; choosing just one of these strategies and trying it for a month will give you a sense of control (especially in an ADHD life that often feels out-of-control). Even small successes will give you the momentum you need to keep going. Gradually introduce the other strategies as you gain confidence in yourself and your abilities to manage your finances. You can do it.