When I think back to my finances in my 20s, I see one big hot streak of me being a hot-ass mess.
Along with experiencing financial trauma I was trying to work through, I was also dealing with an undiscovered bipolar diagnosis that encouraged my shopping sprees. Another thing I was dealing with in my 20s that I didn’t know about? I didn’t know I had attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, also known as ADHD.
ADHD is a neurodevelopment disorder that impairs your brain’s executive function and self-regulation skills.
Your executive function controls your ability to pay attention and plan out your day and time. This part of your brain also helps you prioritize your tasks, make decisions, helps you follow through on tasks related to your goals.
The self-regulation part of your brain can help you healthily manage your emotions, follow habits that you need to keep yourself healthy, and regulate your impulse control to avoid making risky decisions.
Growing up, I didn’t have the traditional symptoms of ADHD, so no one ever flagged me to get tested. In the '90s and 2000s, ADHD was associated with being something that only happened to boys.
As a result, no one paid attention to the many symptoms I experienced and labeled me lazy because I was disorganized. I was also hyper and immature because I had a harder time controlling myself when it came to my emotions. As I got older, controlling my emotions, specifically aggression, became harder and harder to do. If I were mad at you, I would come for you like Daemon Targaryen on a good day.
If you’re a woman getting an ADHD diagnosis in your late 20s and beyond, you’re not alone.
The rise of telehealth providers during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic made getting a diagnosis easier. To keep the COVID-19 virus from spreading, the US became more relaxed with the ability to diagnose and see patients online. The rise in new patients has happened so fast it’s even led to a national Adderall shortage, which is the number one drug used to treat those with ADHD.
After receiving an ADHD diagnosis, you may realize that your symptoms have been influencing not only your money management but your relationship with money itself. If this is you, it’s okay.
Self-awareness is the first key to managing your ADHD lifestyle, which includes your finances. Read on to find out the tips that can work for you and even get advice from an expert.
First, admit your brain thinks differently. “The ADHD brain is driven by what's happening in the present moment, so thinking about a financial goal that's a year or decades into the future can be incredibly difficult," Lindsay Bryan-Podvin (she/her), LMSW shares.
Bryan-Podvin, a licensed financial therapist and the voice behind the popular website Mind Money Balance, works with many ADHD patients who experience shame and embarrassment because, for whatever reason, the general money advice on TikTok just isn’t cutting it for them.
For those with limited executive function, it can be extremely difficult to remember to pay a bill or put money aside to build up their savings. Since our executive function is already limited, sometimes we don’t have the energy to manage anything in life, let alone our finances. That's where automation comes in.
When we leave our finances on the back burner, we get hit with overdraft fees and cancelation notices. Bryan-Podvin recommends that one of the first things you should do is automate as much of your finances as possible.
“Set up autopay for bills and savings goals (like automatically contributing to a retirement fund or moving money from checking into saving) and move everything to electronic delivery (ADHDers tend to get buried under paperwork),” says Bryan-Podvin. I know this is true because I am staring at a stack of papers I need to “sort and file.”
One of the apps I recommend if you're just getting started organizing your finances is Mint. Mint is a free tool that helps you manage your money by connecting to your bank accounts to help monitor your spending. This app can also alert you if you're spending too much in one category, like Uber Eats.
To avoid letting these financial tips languish on your to-do list that will get lost after reading this article, enlist the help of body doubling. “Body doubling is when you partner up with someone else while working on completing a task,” she recommends.
Her favorite tool to do this virtually is FocusMate. FocusMate is an online platform that helps you find an accountability buddy to work alongside each other. After setting a timer, you and your partner work until it goes off, and you can share your progress.
I routinely did this with my mentor/boss at my old job. She would usually have my work with her in the boardroom where I could spread out, eat snacks, and fidget while completing an assignment.
As if it’s not enough learning that our brain operates differently, we also must be aware of our secret talent…the ability to hyperfocus.
Hyperfocus is a state of mind when you concentrate so hard that you lose track of time and anything else around you. So, those times when you get a week’s worth of work done in one afternoon? You can thank hyperfocus for that. You can also thank hyperfocus for when you leave the dogs outside or the stove on while cooking (not that I know about either of those incidents).
While hyperfocus can be our superpower, it can also be our downfall. It’s easy for us to hyperfocus on things that are new and shiny to use, which can include a new financial concept, like a particular budget you want to try out or a shopping challenge.
“A client with intense hyperfocus on spending less might go down a rabbit hole of which 'no spending' plan is best for them, spend hours and hours creating elaborate Excel sheets or try and research the best tools to help them decrease their spending," Byran-Podvin points out as an example.
Since your brain is wired differently, give yourself some grace when things take longer to implement or get used to. One of the ways I attempt to pace out my hyperfocus state is to set a timer (this is the one I use that specifically helps with ADHD), so I can remind myself to take regular breaks.
I also set goals at the beginning of the day to see what I still have left on my to-do list. This helps ensure I address my other priorities and make notes if I need to return to something later.
Realize that aspirational spending is the reason you don’t make those smoothies.
Have you ever bought a blender in hopes of becoming someone who drinks smoothies all day, even though you hate berries? What about buying a yoga mat that will turn you into a yogi, despite hating silence?
Aspirational spending is purchasing items that you think will make you a better version of yourself. I've been guilty whenever I buy something to help me make a YouTube video. Guys, I’ve only made one in the past year.
A study published in July of 2022 by the Guardian states that those with ADHD are four times more likely to impulse buy than their peers who do not receive an ADHD diagnosis. Impulsing shopping can deliver a hit like no other to those of us with neurodivergent brains, so it’s quite easy for us to not only aspire to become a new person but buy a hundred items that are guaranteed to help us do so.
Bryan-Podvin encourages her clients to have a “spontaneity” fund. “At the start of the month, you can pull a certain amount out of the ATM, say $50. That $50 can be spent however you’d like, over the month. But once that $50 is gone, they have to wait until the next month to replenish it.”
Grabbing cash out of the ATM is a great way to keep your spending habits in check, and I’ve dedicated a whole chapter to my upcoming book on the benefits of the cash envelope budgeting method.
Being diagnosed with ADHD can have you feeling a lot of mixed emotions. It’s normal to feel relieved because it’s not you not being able to “just get it together.” It’s also normal to grieve how differently your life could have been had you gotten the help you needed sooner. I advise you to let yourself feel both ends of the spectrum and start doing one small thing to help your finances feel more manageable, then going on from there.
You can check your account balance once a day to see your balance before going to Target. Or, decide to learn how to make your finances into a game by making a budget visible on paper.
Not to brag, but many of us with ADHD are very creative people with high energy who are not afraid to take life into our hands and run with it. As Dr. Seuss says, “Oh, the places you will go,” and that includes you downloading that app that puts aside money for your lattes while simultaneously paying your bills.
TL;DR? Here's a quick summary:
• ADHD brains work differently. Don't feel bad if traditional financial advice doesn't work for you.
• Executive function can be a struggle, so automate your finances as much as you can to make it easier to keep up.
• Try body doubling. Working with a partner on your finances can help you stay focused.
• When you're getting into your budget or planning your next money moves, use a timer, set goals, and take breaks.
• If spending cash for a dopamine boost wrecks your budget, try setting aside a spontaneity fund.
• It's okay to feel a lot of things if you're newly diagnosed with ADHD. Try doing one small thing for your finances today.