Five secrets for managing money for those with ADHD

Kara Gammell
Finances expert
6
minute read
Do you know someone who could benefit from this article?
Posted 28 October 2021

The occasional late payment or bounced direct debit can usually be chalked up to forgetfulness, but if you're an adult with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) you may find managing your money to be a constant struggle. 

I can relate - I was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 23. 

Despite the name, ADHD doesn’t exactly result in a “deficit” of attention, but more an issue regulating it. It’s a disorder where a lack of the neurotransmitter dopamine leads to impaired executive functions (mental processes that enable us to plan, prioritise, avoid impulses, remember things and focus) and causes symptoms such as impulsivity, hyperactivity and inattentiveness. 

Change your thinking to change the pattern 

While people with ADHD are often quick thinkers, incredibly creative, and great at tackling urgent tasks, we do struggle with anything that we find “boring”. 

So, it’s unsurprising that this can play havoc with our finances. 

Experts refer to this as the ADHD tax: People with ADHD are more likely to forget paying a bill on time, which means we may have lower credit scores. 

As a result, it can be harder to get a good mortgage or car loan - or any loan at all. 

What’s more, those of us with ADHD may be paying more for car insurance due to a having more accidents or speeding tickets. 

We may also have to spend more on eating out because we don't have the executive function to prepare our meals in advance, at home. 

These little things all add up into a hefty bill, if calculated over time. 

It’s taken me a long time to realise that my lack of traditional organisational skills isn’t a character failing, 

I simply have a (highly inheritable) condition that makes it harder for me to do. 

I also wear glasses, but I don’t feel bad about the fact that I don’t have 20/20 vision. I pop in my contact lenses each morning rather than “just trying harder” to see without them. 

I spent my early twenties living pay cheque to pay cheque, and in hindsight, the negative consequences led to feelings of shame, and I wound up putting my head in the sand. 

It was only when I started writing about personal finance for a national newspaper, did I realise that my brain is not broken, it just needed a different manual for managing money. 

The good news is that I have spent the last 15 years developing my own ADHD-friendly methods for being good with money – and they really do work. 

Here are five of my favourite tried and tested tricks that keep my finances on track. 

1. Make it harder to impulse buy 

Fact: Being impulsive might be considered one of the most common symptoms of ADHD and can sometimes mean you buy stuff when you probably shouldn’t. 

Frequent online shoppers may have our credit card numbers stored on our devices or on certain shop's websites. 

SO, when it's time to check out, buying is way too easy. 

The fix: Un-store your information so every time you want to order something online, you must find your credit card and type in the info; this might be enough of a speed bump for you to slow down and think about whether you really need this item. 

Alternatively, save yourself the hassle of going through all your shopping accounts and simply contact your bank for a new card. 

The new card will have a different number. 

So, if you’ve registered your old card’s details online, these will no longer work. 

Resist the urge to update them. 

For other tricks that can help you stop overspending, see our article on Psychological hacks your can use to stop spending Click Here 

2. Go hands free 

The fact: Since many of us with ADHD can struggle to focus on tasks that do not interest us, it can be hard to get around to analysing your finances. 

The fix: For this type of task, I like to go hands-free and use Emma, the money management app. 

This free-to-download app uses open banking to combine your information from your bank accounts, savings accounts, credit cards and any investments, meaning you’ll soon be able to cancel those wasteful subscriptions, avoid overdrafts, track debt and increase your savings. 

By analysing your personal finances, it’ll recommend ways to conserve money so that you can get back on track. 

The best bit? Setting it up is fairly straightforward and takes just a few minutes. 

3. Just 15 minutes 

The fact: Task Initiation is harder when you have ADHD, because tasks take more energy to get started – and managing your money can easily get overlooked. 

The fix: So, try the “Fifteen Minute Rule”. 

The concept is simple but it really works. 

When it comes to tasks that you’re always putting off tell yourself: “Anyone can do 15 minutes.” 

And then do it - start with just 15 minutes. 

Fifteen minutes is a length of time that isn’t intimidating - once you get going, chances are you’ll not stop when you hit the time limit. 

Imagine a ball sitting on the top of a hill, for instance. 

To get the ball rolling, you need to put some energy into pushing it first. 

Naturally once the ball is rolling down the hill, it will pick up momentum as it goes alongside. 

So, think of it this way: the task is the ball and the 15-minute rule is the gentle shove that you need to get going. 

And guess what? Suddenly, you’ve ticked another thing off your financial to-do list. 

For a person with ADHD, having a “body double” can be a seriously powerful motivator. 

4. Automate for ease 

The fact: ‘Time blindness’ is common for those of us with ADHD, and means that no matter how hard we try, we can struggle to correctly estimate how long it takes us to do something. 

This can lead to lateness - and when it comes paying bills this doesn’t bode well. 

The fix: Rather than just ‘being slack’, time blindness is simply a result of less activity in the prefrontal cortex (the area of your brain that's in charge of things like focusing and making decisions), among other cognitive impairments. 

So, make it easy and pay all your bills by Direct Debit so you don’t fall behind. 

Go one step further and set up a standing order for your savings. 

And remember, many people say they can’t save because they don’t have any cash left at the end of the month – so have your savings go out on payday. 

It means the money is out of your account before you’re aware of it and you have to live on what’s left over – and after a while you hardly notice the difference. 

For a person with ADHD, having a “body double” can be a seriously powerful motivator. 

5. Buddy up 

The fact: ADHD paralysis describes the state of procrastination experienced by many of us neurodivergent people; when you know you should do something – and want to – but can’t seem to actually make any progress, let alone actually get started. 

And it’s not because you’re lazy, it’s caused by a lack of dopamine. 

The fix: I’ve always been a big believer that it’s “better together”, whether it’s a university study group, collaborating on a creative project at work or simply having a regular running buddy. 

It turns out that there’s a reason for this and while many people enjoy this type of working, for a person with ADHD, having a “body double” can be a seriously powerful motivator. 

A body double is someone in the same room - whether physically or virtually - when you have tasks to complete; and not just housework or a project at work, it works for budgeting, paying bills or financial planning too. 

If you don’t have someone you can rope into working with you, try Focusmate (www.focusmate.com), a website that connects you to others who find having a “buddy” sets them up for success. 

You choose a time to work, and Focusmate pairs you with an accountability partner for a live, virtual coworking session that will keep you on task. 

You get three free sessions per week, but you can upgrade to a paid subscription if you find out it’s a game changer. 

Please share this with someone who'd benefit from it.

Don’t forget that while you may think that this article is brilliant, it is intended for information purposes only and should not be mistaken for financial advice or recommendations.