401(k) plans, credit cards, student loans, oh my!
As much as I’d like to start with the usual “money management can be difficult” type of opening, it just doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel as if there is one word that can describe what it’s like to gain control over your financial situation when living with ADHD.
I’ve spent more than half of the year trying to grasp the concept of savings accounts, mutual funds, and the ever mysterious 401(k). It’s taken an entire rewiring of my brain to understand concepts like putting my hard-earned money away. I mean, there are like 32 sales on concert tickets right now! What do you mean I can’t touch those funds right now? C’mon!
Over time I have learned to use a few steps to try and beat the system (and my brain) to help me save money. Although these are my personal tips, it might be useful for others with ADHD too.
Everyone is in a different financial situation, and it doesn’t matter what stage you’re at — the most important thing is to first decide what it is you want to take the reins on. For some, it’s paying off student debt. For others, it might be building an emergency fund or perhaps saving up for a new house or car. Whatever it is, try to focus on one goal at a time.
It’s also important to set tangible goals you can achieve in small increments. For example, “save an extra $200 a month” is probably a more realistic goal than “make $1,000,000 this year.” Make your goals precise and attainable, and this whole process can be a much less daunting experience.
I need to be real for a minute: ADHD comes with a sort of impulsivity that our materialistic society loves to capitalize on. Obviously, I’m not saying only people with ADHD spend impulsively.
We’ve all done it at some point, but online marketers are getting smarter by the day (I would know. I work in online marketing!). They make us think that there’s only 10 minutes left on this once-in-a-lifetime 40 percent off sale for whatever item they’re dying to sell you.
This is a classic sales tricks: Urgency + making us think we’re getting a great deal = a difficult-to-resist situation for those of us who really struggle with impulse control.
The first thing to understand is that the 10-minute timer is for show. It’s literally just a piece of code on the page that has no actual bearing on your sale. If you refresh your page, in most cases, the timer will magically reset to 10 minutes.
The second thing is to recognize that a 40 percent sale isn’t necessarily a sale. In some cases retailers even mark up an item’s price before slapping a big flashy sign that says “SALE” on it.
You might already be drowning in credit card debt but think, “I didn’t really need this item, but this sale seems too good to be true.” You then charge your card, and the salesperson wins. You think you saved money, but all you did was rack up more debt. Guess what — it was too good to be true.
The first step to conquering impulsive spending is to unsubscribe from all marketing e-mail lists you’re on. In fact, stop reading this and do it right now. You’ll thank me later. You’re not missing out on any deals. I promise.
Next, follow the 24-hour rule: Any time you want to purchase something, wait 24 hours and see if you really need it. Nine times out of ten, you’ll probably end up deciding that you don’t.
Know your weak points. If you look up “budget tips” online, you’ll find thousands of articles telling you to “spend less money on lattes.” This tip can get a little redundant, but you should probably take a hard look at your current spending habits. Apps like Mint are great for tracking your spending and analyzing what you might be spending too much on.
I spent the last three months tracking every single transaction I made and re-evaluated my spending patterns. Turns out, I spent way too much money on going out.
My ADHD can sometimes make me a bit of a social butterfly, so I’m quick to say “Hell yeah!” to everyone who asks me to get brunch or dinner. In Los Angeles, where a kale smoothie costs $14, this can add up really fast.
If you find that you’re prone to spending quite a bit on eating out, make it a point to invite someone over for dinner instead. Even one less expensive dinner per week really adds up.
Automate, Automate, Automate
My ADHD makes it hard enough for me to remember most things, much less to save a little every pay cycle. Even though I know I need to save money, I’m fantastic at making excuses, and sometimes I just flat out forget.
Automation helps me get around this. I was able to set it up so that every pay period a certain portion of my check goes directly into my savings account. I take this a step further and put it in an entirely different bank that is separate from my checking account, so I’m required to take extra steps to access this savings.
Of course, this method of automating doesn’t always have to go to savings. Depending on your priorities, you may want to put aside a certain amount every month to pay off a debt, build an emergency fund, start saving up for a house, or anything else. The point is, you’re using tools to force yourself to put aside extra money each month for your priorities.
You can also try automating your bill payments so you’re never late. I’ve forgotten more times than not to pay my cell phone bill and was happy to find out I get a $5 discount every month for setting up automatic payments!
“There’s an App for That”
Many apps claim to save you money, then charge a fee to download them, likely offsetting any savings you’ll have made. Still, there are some fantastic apps I strongly recommend for helping with saving money.
Honey is both a free app and a Chrome extension that has a lot of cool features. It searches other websites for whatever item you’re about to purchase to make sure you’re getting the best price possible. It has several codes built in for every checkout to potentially get more discounts. It notifies you of price drops for items you set alerts for.
The ADHD Factor: Honey has saved me quite a bit of money over the years, but it’s also a great tool that helps me control my impulsive ADHD spending habits. I tell myself, “maybe this price will go down in a few weeks” and set a price-drop alert on an item. Within three weeks, one of two things will happen: The price of the item will change and I’ll get a better deal, or I’ll decide I don’t need that item anymore.
Many banks have a “keep the change” type of savings where they round up each of your transactions to the dollar and put that extra amount into a savings account (i.e., a transaction of $9.90 will add $.10 rounding up to a $10 transaction).
Acorns takes this a step further and invests that “extra change” into a portfolio of stocks, bonds, and real estate. You can even select how aggressive you’d like your investments to be, and they’ll design a diversified portfolio that you’re comfortable with.
These amounts may seem small at first, but you’ll be surprised how quickly it adds up. Every transaction you make, day-by-day, becomes an investment.
The ADHD Factor: The concept of “passive savings” is awesome for me as someone with ADHD. I frequently get caught up with the four dozen projects I’m working on at once, so it’s easy for me to forget how important it is to save, and these micro-savings make saving and investing much less daunting.
This is the app I mentioned earlier. It’s like having a personal money coach. It provides you with colorful charts that track your spending over time. It lets you set budget goals. It sends you texts reminding you to pay your bills on time. It even tracks your credit score!
The ADHD factor: As someone with ADHD, I loathe having to go through detailed banking statements to try and analyze numbers and patterns. Mint does all of this for me and presents it in a very ADHD-friendly, digestible way. I’m also a huge fan of the texting service for bills. ADHD forgetfulness is a real thing, so frequent reminders to pay bills on time are a huge help.
The takeaway: Good money management with ADHD is possible
The most important thing on this list to understand that it’s possible to take the reins on managing your money. Last year I ate through the already small savings I had. Even when I would pick up extra shifts or gigs, I was still in the red every month. I thought I would never get out of debt and change my spending habits, but with a bit of research and discipline, I’ve been able to get on track. With tax season upon us, there’s never been a better time to really buckle down and start taking control of your financial life!
For more information on how to manage ADHD, reach out to your doctor or healthcare team.
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2017). Adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/adult-adhd/symptoms-causes/syc-20350878
ADHD-US-NP-00048 APRIL 2019