by Michael Romaniuk, PhD, and Cristen Marek
AS SOON AS THE TURKEY IS OFF THE
THANKSGIVING TABLE, the holiday shopping season begins.
During the hustle and bustle of the season, we are bombarded with
messages encouraging us to buy everything in sight. For many, this leads
to overspending, which results in stress and other problems when the new
year rolls around and the bills come in.
While this problem plagues many people, holiday overspending can be an
especially acute issue for some adults with ADHD. Impulsiveness,
impatience, poor planning, poor money management skills, lack of
self-control, or the use of shopping to fulfill psychological needs can
heighten vulnerability to overspending.
Holiday spending can be better controlled. Know your personal
vulnerabilities and be aware of the marketing strategies used by
merchandisers that can cause overspending. Also, utilize some strategies
to overcome the common pitfalls of the shopping process. By implementing
these suggestions, you can get through the holidays with your wallet
STRATEGY #1: Know
yourself. It is important to understand how ADHD
affects your life in general and your spending behavior in particular.
For example, for some, overspending may be linked to key weaknesses
associated with ADHD, such as impulsiveness, impatience, poor planning,
lack of limit setting, and poor adherence to structure or rules. For
others, shopping and spending may satisfy psychological or social
needs—making them feel better when they’re sad, helping them
fit in or gain attention, and providing stimulation to counter
STRATEGY #2: Know your
enemy. Merchandisers have expertise in getting people to
part with their money. Advertisers know how to make their products
highly attractive. For instance, they use highly stimulating visuals
that heighten excitement, stimulation and attention to novelty. Some
adults with ADHD may find these tactics particularly difficult to
resist. In addition, sales pitches (examples include free gifts, fifty
percent off now, offer closes in ten minutes) are aimed at getting
people to act immediately.
STRATEGY #3: Know the
consequences. Many adults with ADHD have a “here
and now” time orientation and often do not consider the future
consequences of spending in the purchasing process. Obviously,
overspending may have short-term (for example, credit card finance
charges and late payment fees) and long-term (such as no private
schooling for children due to large debt) consequences. Additionally,
overspending may have interpersonal consequences. Free spending can
tarnish your image, jeopardize trust, or lead to arguments with family
members. Consideration of potential financial and interpersonal
repercussions can motivate you to spend within limits.
STRATEGY #4: Plan.
Devising a shopping plan and operating within limits are keys to gaining
control over your holiday spending. Your shopping or spending plan
should be developed in advance and should identify specific tasks that
need to be accomplished. It should also have a timeline that includes
deadlines to keep you on pace and help you avoid the last-minute
shopping that usually results in overspending.
STRATEGY #5: Divide and
conquer. Shopping involves two separate
phases—selection and purchasing. Impulsive spending is most likely
to occur when selection and purchasing occur at the same time, since
merchandisers want you to act quickly. In order to spend more wisely,
separate the selection phase from the purchase phase and conduct
selection outside of the store. Do your research at home by reading ads
or searching online to narrow your choices and make your selections.
Also consider going on “window shopping days” just to get
ideas and narrow choices. Don’t even bring your wallet on those
days because you’re just pricing. Bring a notepad and write down
your selections and the intended recipients. You can return later on
“purchase days” to execute your selections. By giving
yourself more time to think and decide in the non-pressured environment
of your home, you are more likely to make informed choices and less
likely to overspend.
STRATEGY #6: Stick to your
guns. As noted earlier, you can control your holiday
spending by establishing a shopping plan and sticking to it. The
following limit-setting strategies can help you maintain your
1. Limit exposure.
Don’t make as many shopping trips. Don’t subject yourself to
the temptation of seeing items not on your shopping list and making
point-of-purchase decisions. Before you enter the store, remind yourself
that you are walking directly to the item on your shopping list, paying
for it, and leaving. Don’t browse the store to see what is there.
Save that for your “window shopping days.”
2. Limit options.
Make a list and check it twice. Be specific about your
gift selection or alternative choices and identify a price or spending
limit. This is where your research and selection activities will pay
off. Keep this rule in mind—“If it’s not on my list, I
won’t buy it.” Also, get it right the first time to avoid
returns. As for “wish list” suggestions from others or pick
up on clues they may drop. Having to return something brings you back to
3. Limit social
Don’t take a companion who will pressure you to buy. For instance,
if you have difficulty saying “no” to your children’s
constant begging or pleading, leave them at home. Either go alone or
take someone who will support you in sticking to your shopping plan.
4. Limit your ability to spend.
If you have extra cash in your pocket, you are more
likely to find something to spend it on. Also, if you have a credit card
instead of cash, it’s still a problem because you have purchase
power—the ability to spend beyond your means. To avoid
overspending, limit the amount of money or purchase power you bring into
the store. For instance, leave your credit cards and checkbook at home,
and only bring enough cash to make your purchase. Or use a debit card
that accesses only your budgeted amount of funds for holiday
5. Keep tabs.
Your spending plan should include your spending limit for each item.
Monitor your progress by writing down what you actually spend and
compare it to your budgeted amount. This immediate feedback can
reinforce your successes or point out difficulties that need to be
addressed before they get out of control.
6. Use the rule of
Try to get prices from three different sources before finalizing your
selection. This not only gives you time to contemplate your decision,
but also gives you the benefit of knowing you got a good price.
7. Slow it down.
Avoid making quick decisions or acting too quickly.
Getting advice or opinions from others will help you consider all of the
factors and avoid rash decisions. Sleep on it; give yourself a night to
think things through. Beware of the seduction of convenience
(online, catalog, or television shopping), which may result in
HOLIDAY OVERSPENDING can
create serious problems for some adults with ADHD. Spending pitfalls can
be avoided through knowledge, planning, setting limits, and implementing
appropriate strategies. The result will be fewer financial, personal,
and interpersonal difficulties when the holiday season is over.
• Plan in advance
• Window shop first
• Set a budget
• Limit shopping trips
• Stick to the list
• Limit your spending ability
• Monitor your progress
• Don’t make quick decisions
• Don’t shop when you are sad or bored
Michael Romaniuk, PhD, is a clinical psychologist at Akron
General Medical Center, where he leads an adult AD/HD support group.
Cristen Marek is a freelance writer affiliated with Canisius College and
a summer research fellow at Akron General Medical Center.
An earlier version of this article appeared in the
December 2003 issue of Attention magazine.
Copyright © 2003 by Children and Adults with
Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD). All rights reserved.
Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission from CHADD
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