Thinking finances as you enter the adult world with ADHD


Renting one’s first apartment, paying for gas and electricity bills, and buying one’s own groceries is much like a rite of passage.

Moving out from under your parents’ wings can feel exciting yet also come with its own set of challenges. When you add the responsibilities of making wise financial choices to the realities of dealing with ADHD, things can seem especially daunting.

But all is not lost. It is possible for people with ADHD, young or old, to become self-aware and create new financial habits.

“In my experience, I think modeling good habits is really the best thing that you can do,” says Allison Tyler, a licensed social worker and author living in New Jersey.

Tyler advises that people with ADHD learn how to earn and value money. “Talking about creating a savings account, talking about having a 529 (plan) or college fund, talking about what you have to do for retirement, setting money aside every month, and building a nest egg … I think those are conversations that are really important to have.”

Becoming a master at managing your own money doesn’t require being a financial expert. Instead, having some self-awareness, along with knowledge of how ADHD affects your spending and the right support team, can help you better navigate the transition from living with mom and dad to adulting.

Why Money Management Feels Like a Chore

If you feel like “I should know this already,” yet struggle with impulse control, procrastination and disorganization when managing your money, you’re not alone.

The British newspaper and news website The Guardian recently reported on a survey commissioned by the digital bank Monzo and conducted by YouGov. The survey found that people with ADHD are four times more likely to spend on impulse. The research found that ADHD can greatly affect people’s spending habits and cause them to buy on impulse, miss bill payments, or spend more than they earn.

That is because making wise financial choices requires strong executive functioning skills. Skills like organization, planning, and goal-setting are often underdeveloped in people with ADHD. Without these skills, creating a financial plan, knowing how to best spend your money, and keeping spending within your means become tasks that require immense time and effort.

For many, this can cause shame and embarrassment or the feeling of “I should know this.”

In a recent episode of the Financial Gym’s Financially Naked Podcast, Amalia Sirica, a New York-based mental health counselor, talks about how the shame and embarrassment created can result in fear and avoidance. Checking your financial accounts and your credit score causes more and more anxiety. And a feeling of dread can begin to set in when you think about your finances.

Cultivating Self-Awareness for Better Money Habits

One of the first things Sirica advises is creating self-awareness around your financial habits. Because of how your parents managed money, the patterns and habits you’ve created may feel comfortable despite not being ideal. On top of that, you may have internalized messages about being disorganized, lazy or stupid.

All of this together can make changing your habits around money and spending feel unattainable. Yet bringing awareness to how you use and manage your money can go a long way in responsibly paying for expenses, establishing good credit, and achieving your goals. Small baby steps like automating bills and savings can make all the difference for a young person living with ADHD.

Sirica also suggests taking a deep breath before making a large purchase, implementing a waiting period before deciding to buy, or planning gifts ahead of time.

Knowing your learning style can also help you identify strategies for your spending. This is what Wendy R. Tilford, an education consultant based in Houston, advises for her students with ADHD.

“That’s critical in the process,” Tilford says about learning style evaluations that can be administered to people with or without ADHD. Tilford recommends using these evaluations to determine how the student receives or retains information best. “Once you know what works best … you can choose a financial education or management system that will much likely stick.”

For example, she says, someone who is a “kinesthetic learner” may prefer putting cash into an envelope for weekly spending money. An “audio learner” may prefer to record a notification to remind them when something is due. Going it alone, though, maybe a challenge for some. That’s why they may need professional help.

Who Can Help You Manage Your Spending and ADHD?

Therapists, life coaches, and financial advisers are just a few of the people you can look to for help with planning and managing your finances.

Mike Poulin, a Level 2 certified financial trainer at the Financial Gym, for example, works with his ADHD clients to identify their goals, create a financial plan, and educate them on how to make the best financial decisions. When looking at people’s personal finances, he advises that they think about what’s important to them before even thinking about the numbers.

“There are so many things we’re told in our society … you need to buy a house, you need to start a family, you need to have kids. And that’s not everyone’s actual dream,” he says. “The first thing that I do is I really make sure that my clients understand what they want from life.”

After that, Poulin advises young people who are in the market for a new job first figure out their fixed expenses and living costs to determine what salary they think they need. Instead of working their spending around their salary, he suggests working their potential salary around their spending so that what they earn aligns with the life they want to live. Within three to six months of working with him, Poulin’s clients with ADHD display a boost in confidence, less financial anxiety, and a better understanding of how their money can help them reach their goals, he says.

For many of us, money can be a deeply personal and sensitive topic. ADHD can make managing money and getting a handle on your personal finances to feel insurmountable.

Yet it’s not impossible to do. Whether you’re just graduating from college or finally moving into a place of your own, understanding your spending habits, what works best for you, and tapping into professional resources available can make managing your money feel like a walk in the park. Even with ADHD.


Financially Naked Podcast from the Financial Gym

The Guardian

Everyday Health

Psych Central



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