Money management, including budgeting, saving, paying bills and saving for the future, requires organization, patience, attention to detail, planning and consistency. All of these are problem areas for adults with ADHD. The very thought of finances and monthly budgets can put some adults with ADHD into tailspin of emotions, leaving them feeling insecure, guilty and incompetent.
With practice and determination, adults with ADHD, however, can be successful at managing their money and sticking to a household budget. The following are five common problems adults with ADHD have when managing money and some tips to help improve these areas.
Not Having a Clear Vision
Everyone’s lifestyle is unique to their situation, it is important to know what your priorities are and what you want to spend your money on. For example, CHADD’s Managing Money information sheet states “Every good financial plan begins with a vision of an ideal lifestyle.”  The information sheet suggests each person take time to think about what their ideal would look like. For example, it asks, how would you spend your days if you never needed to worry about money? Taking the time to reflect on what you want out of life, can help you become motivated to better manage your money.
Your vision should be specific and detailed. A vague idea of “I want to be rich” isn’t enough. Your vision needs clarity and details. Where do you want to live? What type of home do you want to live in? What type of car do you want to drive? Or your vision may have different priorities. You may want to send your children to the best schools, or you may want a smaller home but want a personal assistant or have the newest gadgets. No matter what your vision is, it is unique to you and should reflect what will make you feel good and be aligned with your values.
You may want to write down your vision or use pictures to help remind you of what you are working toward.
Having a clear vision helps to motivate you to create a budget and take specific steps to help realize your goals.
Not Knowing Where to Start
So many times, when we don’t know where to start, we simply don’t. Instead we stay stuck in the same cycle, going round and round and not getting anywhere. It is overwhelming to figure out a starting point in getting your finances together, especially if you have ignored them for a long time and they are a mess.
But ignoring financial problems won’t make them go away, and usually makes them worse. If you have begun by creating a vision, then you have already made a start. But while it is easier to create a vision of your ideal future, it is harder to figure out how to make that future a reality.
As with all goals, breaking them down into sections can help to make them more manageable. Using the vision you have created, break down goals into short-term, mid-term and long-term goals. What do you want to accomplish immediately? What goals are you hoping to manage over the next five to ten years? Long-term goals are those you want for your retirement.
Think of it in terms of three buckets.
- In the first bucket, your short term goals, you may have things like paying this month’s bills or buying the new washing machine.
- The next bucket, the mid-term goals may include things like buying a new car.
- Your final bucket, long-term goals, include retirement.
Each of your buckets needs to have some deposits placed into them. Your budget will help you determine how much you can afford to put aside each month.
Not Knowing How You Spend Your Money
It sounds strange, but most people don’t really know where their money goes each day and each month. For example, do you know how much you spend in gas for your car on a monthly basis? How about how much you spend to buy coffee each morning or how much lunches cost?
Frequently, we spend our money without thinking much about how much we are spending and how that money may be put to better use.
You may want to keep track of every expense for an entire month. This is actually easier than it sounds. By using a debit card, you can track your expenses by checking your monthly bank statement. At the end of a month, categorize your expenses, such as:
- Monthly bills, rent or mortgage, utilities, car payment, etc.
- Gas and car maintenance and repairs
- Eating out (including the morning coffee and lunches)
Using your bank statement, place all your expenses into a category to find out exactly where you are spending your money.
It is easy to say we don’t have the money to start saving for retirement, but consider that buying one cup of coffee each morning before work for $1.00 costs over $250.00 per year (if buying only on work days). By understanding how you spend your money, you can begin to make changes to make sure each of your buckets receive some money each month.
Not Having a Budget
Understanding how you spend your money is only part of the solution. The next part is to actually create a monthly budget based on your income and necessary expenses. Include money to be placed in each of your three buckets as part of necessary expenses. (Remind yourself of your goals to help motivate yourself to contribute to your future.)
So many adults with ADHD have a hard time sticking to a budget because of impulsive spending. According to CHADD, impulsive spending is “any purchase you did not intend to make when you left the house that morning, any purchase that is not part of your budget, or any purchase you don’t need.”  Impulsive spending can wreak havoc on your budget and put an end to your financial goals. If impulsive spending is one of your problems, CHADD offers some tips:
- Don’t use credit cards or ATM cards and stay away from ATM machines. Don’t carry your checkbook with you.
- Stay away from areas you know you may impulsively spend such as malls or favorite shopping web sites.
- Make a list before you go shopping.
- Use a calculator when shopping to add up your purchases as you go along.
- Allow yourself a certain amount of time before making purchases.
- Find activities you enjoy that don’t cost money.
You may need to cut up credit cards or give your card to someone to hold except for in emergencies. Some people have kept their credit card in frozen block, which means they must allow time for it to thaw before using it.
For more information:
“10 Secrets of Millionaires’ Money Management”, 2009, April 14, Kimberly Palmer, U.S. News & World Report
ADD and Your Money: A Guide to Personal Finance for Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder, 2009, Stephanie Moulton Sarkis, New Harbinger Publications
  “Managing Money (WWK17)”, 2004, Author Unknown, National Resource Center on AD/HD
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.