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The ABCs of ADHD & Money

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Having ADHD is like a view askew – you don’t quite see things the way other people do. When it’s good, it’s like watching fireworks from a convertible with the seats way back. You’re with your favorite person, and it’s a warm summer night. When it’s bad, it’s a spiral of chaos, shame, and self-recrimination. It’s hard to find a way of being with all that going on.

What is ADHD?

World-renowned brain expert Dr. John Ratey compares living with untreated ADHD to “driving in the rain with really bad windshield wipers.” Sometimes things come into clear focus, but it’s a blur of colors and shapes most of the time. Neurologically, ADHD is a result of the dysregulation of the reward system, primarily dopamine. Consequently, many of us struggle with impulse control, distraction, and poor time conceptualization which translates into real struggles with relationships and activities of daily living – including money.

My Life on ADHD

For me, I collect passions like some people collect baseball cards or banana stickers. One day, I decided that I wanted to check out dragon-boating. I lived and breathed that sport until I discovered a roller derby league in my home city. Then I thought skiing would be fun. The professionals call this hyperfocus – a process of intense fixation or interest in an activity for an extended duration. When it’s like this, every fiber of my being is intensely focused on this one thing, which is intoxicating.

Hyperfocus is a way of self-medicating; endorphins flood my brain, and I am rewarded.  Unfortunately, it’s expensive to focus that hard. Sometimes, I’m too distracted to pay bills on time, I’m spending too much on costly hobbies, or I’m neglecting my career because I feel bored and unfulfilled. Combine this with my ability to use charm, humor, and occasional brilliance to sidestep most of the usual consequences for being flaky, and it’s a problem. When I figured out how ADHD impacted my life, I was able to start fixing it.

My Money on ADHD

For example, my ADHD leads to particular problem areas with money. I’m disorganized and easily overwhelmed by financial processes that require multiple steps. So, something like signing up for e-filing with Revenue Canada requires me to sign up online, locate several documents to verify my identity, and then wait for a code to be mailed out to input that and complete setting up my account. God, just typing that almost puts me in a coma.

One of the first things I did was collect all the random stacks of stuff I threw onto side tables and put them in an accordion file. I hated this with the fierce intensity of a thousand suns because each abandoned tax form, unopened envelope, and leftover bill represented more problems. Nonetheless, it went into the folder so I can organize it a couple of days later. I wanted to gather first and arrange later, so it wasn’t overwhelming. It works better this way.

Another challenge of mine is the amount of impulsive spending I do – especially when I am stressed. I know we all do this to an extent, but it’s easy to cross a line, and I do it too freely. In this case, I tapped into my love for all things bright and shiny and turned to the budgeting app YNAB to help me tame my wild money. If you know anything about this YNAB, you know there is a bit of a learning curve that goes into using it. I love technology, and this gave me the inspiration I needed to get myself unstuck.

Setting Goals on ADHD

Something I’m constantly working on is goal-sticking. I can do goal-setting until Christmas comes in July, but following it through is a whole other story. My constant need to engage in the new and exciting is a barrier to success with the old and boring. This is a hard one for me because I don’t know what I want. Do I want to buy another house? Do I want to have another career or to go back to school?  It’s hard to plan when there’s no goal guiding the process. I’ll figure it out, but I’m just not there yet.

In Conclusion

Probably the most important thing about managing money with ADHD is to treat the condition properly. That might include a doctor-supervised medication regimen, talk therapy, and behavioral strategies, but unique to each person. Interestingly, Clinical psychologist Russell Barkley posited that 80 percent of people diagnosed with ADHD are also diagnosed with a coexisting disorder (learning, psychiatric, or developmental). So, getting a complete mental health assessment and treatment is key to your success.

*Yes, the reference to Kevin Smith’s production company is entirely intentional.

Photo by Clay LeConey on Unsplash


2 Comments

  • Reply Angie |

    I’ve actually had the opposite experience. I’ve found my ADHD really jumpstarted and kept my debt payoff momemtum (and now NW accrual) going. Luckily (?) my hyperfocus got concentrated into spreadsheets, starting with a debt snowball spreadsheet, then turning to monthly budgets and spending analysis, diving deep to really understand the tax code, monthly net worth tracking, etc. It also directed me to find tons of mini ways to pay down debt (lots of $5 and daily payments!). It was a big motivation updating the spreadsheets and seeing all the little bits add up. Later on, this turned into really seeing (and tracking) my money to work for me instead of against me.

    • Reply Lindsey Boycott |

      I love that you dove right in. It’s like you looked at your financial situation and went all “challenge accepted” on it. I also like your suggestion about finding ways to make mini-payments on your debt – I’ve never tried this. How did you get started?

So, what do you think ?