Categories: 2010, August
by Russell A. Barkley, PhD, with Christine M.
Adapted from Taking Charge of Adult ADHD by Russell
A. Barkley, PhD. Copyright © 2010 by the Guilford Press. Reprinted
with permission of Guilford Press, www.guilfordpress.com.
YOU DON'T PLAN TO END
UP in financial trouble. You may, in fact, keep
resolving not to go shopping today and not to buy anything advertised in
an Internet pop-up. You might tell yourself today is the day to transfer
some money from checking to savings. Maybe you tell yourself while
you're at it you might as well see if you have any bills that are
So why don't you follow through on those convictions? Because ADHD won't
let you. It's time to take charge—of your ADHD and your finances.
Start by bringing into crisp focus how the deficits caused by ADHD steer
you wrong—and how you can steer yourself back in the right
Money and the mind's eye
Impulsive shopping can become compulsive shopping when your nonverbal
working memory is weak. You can't picture what happened the last time
you bought an expensive item you didn't need. You can't bring the future
into sharp enough relief to put off the purchase till you've saved the
cash. You haven't developed the self-awareness to realize that walking
into an antique store for you is like opening the gates of hell. The
mind's eye is particularly important in controlling the impulse to buy
things you don't need or can't afford.
Try to resist spending money by keeping a photo of a long-term goal (a
vacation spot, a home, a bike for one of your kids, etc.) in your pocket
to pull out whenever you feel the urge to buy. You might train yourself
to say out loud before you pull out your wallet, "Hmmmmmmm, do I really
need this?" Then you could turn on your imaginary wide-screen TV and
watch a film of yourself opening your credit card bill last time you
Your finances and the mind's voice
Remember, the mind's voice is your backup when the mind's eye
is myopic. If you find yourself feeling the urge to pull out your credit
card and you really can't call up a visual picture of what happened last
time you overspent, interview yourself. If you're in a store, leave and
do this on the sidewalk. You won't get hauled away for being delusional;
people will just think you're on your cell phone when you talk to
yourself about whether this purchase or withdrawal is wise.
If you tend to put off bill paying even when you've set an alarm to
remind you to do it, this is another time you can talk to yourself about
why you need to do it right now. The mind's voice is also the facility
that allows you to formulate and use rules. Set certain rules about
spending and saving and then repeat those rules to yourself quietly when
under pressure from your ADHD to break them. Or write them down on a
card you keep banded together with your credit card so you can't access
the credit card without the rules card.
The mind's heart in the world of money
Are you an emotional spender? Are you the person who always buys a round
of drinks at the pub when you're feeling great? The one who "needs" a
new outfit when down? If you're mad at your landlord, do you "show him"
by "forgetting" to pay the rent? Does not having cash to go out with
friends make you feel so bad that you decide to put the charges on your
You're going to have to pull out your whole bag of mental imagery and
self-talk tricks to recognize when your emotions are carrying you away
and how to get control. Also, try to stick to a healthy lifestyle. Sleep
deprivation, overconsumption of caffeine or alcohol, drug use, lack of
exercise, and poor diet can all make you more vulnerable to daily stress
and make it harder to control your emotions.
Don't forget that you can use your emotions for good, too. Hate bill
paying? Feel the future: Do everything you can to feel the relief of
getting it done. Can't motivate yourself to put money in savings when
your paycheck is burning a hole in your pocket? Feel how great it will
be to take it out when you pay for your Caribbean vacation.
Financial planning and problem-solving in the mind's
For many adults, ADHD or no ADHD, money matters are for "bean counters"
and "number crunchers," which is usually a not-so-nice way of saying "I
don't know how"—how to do financial planning, how to budget, how
to oversee your investments, how to stop getting hit with late fees and
hassled by collection agencies.
Make money management physical. Use tangible objects and graphic tools
to manipulate the numbers whenever possible. The last section of this
article and the “Curbing Your Spending” sidebar will give
you some ideas. But remember the basics too: Make lists of steps to
complete financial tasks you find daunting. Record your spending habits
in your journal so you can take a look back at the patterns that are
hurting you and any that are serving you well.
Fortunately, you've got a lot of resources at your fingertips for taking
back control of your financial present and future. There are many
strategies for discouraging spending. Tools and cues can help you meet
your financial obligations on time. You can set up systems that enforce
saving so you don't have to fight the urge to spend everything you earn
over and over.
A new approach to money management
Here are a few ideas for getting started on a better path:
Let your spouse, partner, or even
parent manage your money. This option is something to consider
if you feel overwhelmed by the problems you're having and find it
impossible to control your spending or other financial habits. You can
always agree to do this for a preset temporary time period or until a
certain goal—such as paying off a debt or accumulating a certain
amount of savings—is reached. Turn over your paycheck to this
person, let the person allocate sufficient cash to you to meet daily
expenses, then work together to see that monthly bills, loans, and
credit cards are paid regularly.
Budget! Make a monthly budget sheet that shows
ALL your monthly expenses, including one-twelfth of your annual expenses
(those that you may pay just once per year, such as taxes, car
insurance, and home owner’s insurance). You need to have a monthly
financial plan with all your bills listed in front of you so you can see
what you owe. This budget needs to be less than what you make per month.
Keep this budget out on your desk at home so you can refer to it often.
Spending as you go each month is a recipe for disaster, not to mention
having your utilities turned off and your car repossessed.
Start living within your means
today. Do not spend more each month than you earn and then try
to use credit cards, loans, or other means of borrowing to see you
through the month. You need to get your living expenses below ninety
percent of your monthly earnings while saving that remaining ten
percent. Enlist the help of a trusted relative, an accountant, or a bank
employee in figuring out your expenses and what method is best for
Set up a system of accounts and
deposits for enforced savings. Have your employer put ten
percent of your pretax earnings into a retirement plan (tax deferred)
such as a 401k, 403b, Keogh, or IRA. Then have your after-tax paycheck
direct-deposited into your checking account. Once there, have your bank
move ten percent of it into a savings account automatically each month.
You also need an emergency savings account for those unexpected expenses
such as car repairs and medical expenses not covered by insurance. The
less you see of your cash, the less you can spend it impulsively.
Try to get health and disability
insurance through your employer. If they don’t have it,
try to find a similar job that does. If you can’t, consider
working for the local, state, or federal government, which nearly always
provides these as fringe benefits. Unexpected medical bills can kill
your chances of financial independence.
Balance your bank statement
monthly without fail. Don’t just wing it or guess. Having
little idea of how much money you have at any one time in your
account(s) is one of the biggest causes of bounced checks, credit card
overuse, and debt accumulation. You keep getting caught with less money
than you thought you would need and so borrow to make up the shortfall.
And those forms of piracy known as high overdraft fees that banks now
charge can mount up quickly, siphoning off cash you actually need and
maybe even result in your exceeding what typical balances you have in
Keep all receipts as you get
them. Put them in your wallet. Each night when you take your
wallet out, take these receipts and put them in a file. You can use this
file to help keep track of what you are spending and to store the
receipts that will be very useful for preparing your taxes and getting
the most of your available deductions.
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