How to manage money with ADHD
After personal finance journalist Kara Gammell was diagnosed with ADHD twenty years ago, she realised that this was a big reason that she wasn’t good at managing her money. Here Kara shares some of her top ADHD cash hacks and explains how you can rewrite the manual for your financial future after a diagnosis.
The occasional late payment 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.
And I understand how hard it can be. Not only am I a financial expert, but I was diagnosed with ADHD when I was 23 – over twenty years ago.
Its symptoms include restlessness, impulsivity, hyperactivity, and issues with concentration.
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” - which doesn’t bode well with managing money or balancing a budget.
According to research by digital bank Monzo, those of us with ADHD are almost three times more likely to miss bill payments occasionally than someone without the condition.
We’re also more than three times more likely to find it difficult to stick to a budget and are four times more likely to impulse-spend than the general population.
What’s more, three-quarters of us with ADHD were found to suffer from anxiety linked to our finances compared with the general population and three times more likely to struggle with debt.
Given that I have lived with all the symptoms described above, it is hardly surprising that I spent my early twenties living pay cheque to pay cheque. In hindsight, the negative consequences led to feelings of shame, and I wound up putting my head in the sand.
Only when I started writing about personal finance for a national newspaper, did I realise that my brain is not broken. But that, like the estimated 1.8 million UK adults living with ADHD, it just needed a different manual for managing money.
The good news is that I have spent the last 15 years testing my own ADHD-friendly methods for being better at managing money – and I can honestly say, some of them 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 is generally 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.
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 tool uses open banking to combine 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 maximise 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 straightforward and takes just a few minutes.
To find out more about other ways to go hands-free with your finances.
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: 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.
15 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.
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.
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, that 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.
Or 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. After a while, you hardly notice the difference.
What’s more, some current accounts offer to round up your spending to siphon off cash for your savings pot.
I bank with Starling, and have opted into to Round Ups, which does what it says on the tin: rounds up my spending to the nearest pound and adds the spare change into a savings space of choice.
For example: if I spend £14.50 on a train ticket and it will round it up to £15, and the extra 50p goes into my savings.
To reach your savings goals even faster, try multiplying the spare change you save – increase to x2, x5 or x10 in your app.
Setting it up is easy. Just head to ‘Spaces’ at the bottom right of your app either create a new Saving Space or choose an existing one then click ‘Manage Space,’ then ‘Round Ups’ and switch the toggle on.
For more about offers from banks that will help you automate your savings, check out this article by financial journalist Esther Shaw.
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.
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