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How to Avoid Impulsive Spending and Budget Without Stress

Paying bills, budgeting ahead, and feeling secure in your finances can be a stressful endeavour for neurotypical people, but when it comes to those of us with ADHD or ADD, the task can be downright daunting.

Though ADHD and managing money can seem like polar opposites, it doesn’t have to be this way.

Most online guides to effective financial planning and budgeting are not written with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in mind, but this is not always obvious, and attempting to follow their suggestions can leave people with ADHD feeling listless and even more stressed out than before.

This easy-to-follow guide to ADHD budgeting is designed to help people struggling with ADHD symptoms like impulsivity, restlessness, and forgetfulness, turn the process of money management into a rewarding, manageable, even enjoyable practice.

Learn how to manage money with ADHD without unnecessary stress by following the simple steps outlined below; and remember, if it all feels too much, there are always money management professionals you can turn to!


Why is it so hard to manage money with ADHD?

Managing your finances tends to require patience, self-control, careful organisation and focus – things which people living with ADHD and ADD (attention deficit disorder) often struggle to employ. Given that ADHD can also often be linked to other mental health issues, like depression, anxiety, and autism, it is particularly important that budget plans for ADHDers establish mental wellbeing as a priority. As our blog has previously explored, financial wellness and family and individual wellbeing are intrinsically interlinked.

As such, instead of presenting you with a list of budget plans, tasks, and tips for you to rigidly follow, we’ve structured our ADHD budgeting guide to showcase the various challenges ADHD symptoms can pose to money management, followed by individual solutions to each.


ADHD budgeting: An engaging and practical guide on how to manage money with ADHD

Adults living with ADHD – both diagnosed and undiagnosed – may find that they have problems with the following:

  • Organisation
  • Time management
  • Following instructions
  • Focusing on tasks and seeing them through to completion
  • Dealing with stress
  • Feeling restless
  • Impatience
  • Impulsivity, assessing danger, and risk-taking

We’ve sought to provide simple budgeting solutions to the most intrusive of these symptoms, so that you can take back control of your finances, become money-savvy, and start saving for the future without triggering undue stress or negative emotions.


Challenge 1: Following instructions

Money management plans designed for neurotypical people tend to take for granted that the reader already knows why it is important for them to budget, and therefore follow the instructions they outline. But what about for people with ADHD? We can find it especially challenging to follow advice if we don’t know how it applies to our own unique situation.

Solution: Redefine the concept of ‘budgeting’

A simple solution to this challenge is to first redefine or reframe the idea of budgeting. For example, instead of thinking of budgeting as a set of rules being imposed on you, you can start to think of it as a set of rules you are imposing on your money to make it go further, helping you to achieve your short- and long-term goals. Think of money management as an act of self-care: something you do to better take care of your mental health, and something which you can shape to fit your headspace, rather than the other way around.

One of the easiest ways to do this is to ask yourself: Why do I want to keep a budget? You may wish to manage your finances better because you have plans to buy your first home, move to a new city, or to go on holiday. You may simply wish to be less stressed.

Once you have the answer(s) to this question, following the budgeting instructions you set for yourself suddenly becomes less of a chore, and more of an exercise in self-love.


Challenge 2: Impulsive spending

Undoubtedly one of the greatest challenges to ADHD and money management is the compulsion to spend money we don’t have; to buy things impulsively in order to satisfy sudden urges and the desire for little dopamine hits.

In a capitalist economy, producers are constantly vying for our attention with flashy ads, special offers, and an endless stream of new products for us to buy and exciting services to try. The impulse to engage with these things can be hard to resist at the best of times, but for people with ADHD it’s like being sat at a table overflowing with our favourite foods when we’re at our most hangry.

Unfortunately, impulsive spending is a surefire way to quickly drain your bank account, leaving you – at worst – without the cash to pay your bills and rent, or event to buy groceries.

Solution: Redirect the impulse and come back to it later

So, how on earth are we supposed to avoid impulsive shopping? Especially when it can feel so good and is so incredibly accessible in the age of smartphones and one-click online purchases.

The solution here is two-fold:

  1. Instead of following through on the impulse straight away, try giving yourself 24 hours to make the decision. You could even take a screenshot on your phone of anything you come across which you impulsively want to buy, and keep it in a folder or on a Pinterest moodboard marked ‘Wishlist.’ Whatever it is you have your eye on will still be there for you to buy tomorrow, if you still want it then, but we suspect that taking the immediacy out of the impulse will leave you realising the thing isn’t actually worth your money.
  2. You still need something to fulfil that impulse, though, right? The desire for a quick dopamine hit isn’t just going to go away. Instead, try redirecting your impulse. Whenever you feel the desire to spend money on non-necessities – in other words, ‘wants’ – do something that gives you a free dopamine hit instead. This could be dancing to your favourite tune, texting a friend, or rewatching your favourite reel on Instagram.


Challenge 3: Time-keeping

Most adults with ADHD share many of the same monthly expenses as neurotypical people, from utility bills to rent, council tax, phone contracts and more. Remembering when to pay and how much to pay can be exceptionally difficult for those of us who struggle to keep track of time. This can lead to overdue payment penalties and rapidly accruing interest on credit cards and loans.

Solution: Automating your outgoings

One of the premier joys of money management in the internet age is that you can do so much of it digitally, helping to make the process quick and painless. A great way to avoid missing important payments – such as to your landlord, utility company, or credit card company – is simply to make those payments automatic.

Choose a day each month which is most convenient to you for essential bills to come out of your account. Next, using apps like digital banking and your utility app, set up direct debits or standing orders to ensure that the correct amount is paid, on time, every month. You could for example choose to have rent, utilities, phone contract, Wi-Fi, Netflix and other monthly payments all come out the day after payday.

Pro Tip: If you find it difficult to differentiate between essential and non-essential spending when presented with one lump sum in your bank account, consider opening a new account solely for these automated payments, then transfer enough money to cover essential outgoings into this account at the start of each month. Similarly, you can create a weekly allowance for your non-essentials, so that you have a specific pot of money to turn to when treating yourself!


Challenge 4: Organisation with a short attention-span

Alongside impulsivity, organisation with a short attention span is one of the biggest challenges to ADHD budgeting. With so many things demanding your money every month, from big essential spends to regular treats like coffee and cake at your local café, it’s hard knowing how to structure your finances and plan ahead. You can easily become swamped with receipts, overstimulating you and making financial organisation feel like an impossible task.

Solution: Get creative!

Let’s face it, spreadsheets are not ADHD’s best friend. They look dull, feel complicated, and can quickly lose your attention. The same goes for number- and math-based approaches to budgeting. But who says we have to budget the same way that neurotypical people do?

Growing up with ADHD, we get to know our inner-workings pretty well – both from experiences of over-stimulation and stress and from our obsessions. As such, a positive solution to the problem of losing attention during organisational tasks is to turn the whole ADHD budgeting process into something fun.

Whatever it is that floats your boat, calms your mind, and focuses your attention – be it painting, singing, drawing, writing, designing, or playing computer games – try bringing an element of this into the budgeting process.

The most important things to organise here are:

  • Your essential monthly expenses: Including rent, utility bills, groceries, debt repayments, and insurance.
  • Your non-essential spends: Things you ‘want’ but don’t ‘need’, like dining out, going on vacation, buying new clothes, drinks at the bar, or adding to your vinyl collection (guilty!)
  • Your ideal monthly savings: Money you put aside to save up for long-term goals, like buying property or a car, putting your children through college, getting married, and setting aside money for retirement.
  • Taxes and other similar contributions: Especially important for those of us self-employed people with ADHD is to budget appropriately for end-of-year taxes and other contributions, such as National Insurance payments in the UK, or contributions to a pension scheme.

In order to take back control of your finances, you’ll need to separate your average monthly outgoings into these three categories. That way you can see where you’re overspending or under-saving, whilst giving yourself a much clearer idea of exactly what proportion of your wage packet needs to go where.

How you organise this, however, is up to you. Some ADHDers may find adding an element of gamification really helps, whilst others can benefit from painting pie charts and diagrams. Still more of you may prefer to work with sticky notes and on paper, while others will benefit more from digital budgeting apps – of which there are many – with handy colour coordination, digital cash ‘pots’, and more.

Pro Tip: If you struggle to save – seeing any money left over after your necessary monthly expenses as free game – then try opening a savings account and creating a standing order to automatically transfer a certain amount of cash into it each month. The sooner you ‘hide’ your money from yourself, the more likely it is you’ll forget it’s there in the first place. Over time, this tip can help you accrue a healthy amount of savings to be spent on those long-term goals.


Key takeaways for ADHDers struggling to become financially stable

ADHD and managing money doesn’t have to be a problematic combination. By reframing your approach to budgeting as something you are in control of, and which you do as an act of self-care, is the first step toward taking back control of your finances as someone who struggles with impulsivity, time management, patience, and organisation.

Other top tips for how to stick to a budget with ADHD include making the budgeting process fun and creative, automating your most important monthly outgoings, and finding effective ways to redirect those risky impulse buys.

Just remember, at the end of the day you don’t have to face money management alone. You can always rely on partners, friends, and family to help you achieve financial security, and if you feel you need a more professional approach, then seeking expert financial advice can take stress completely out of the equation.



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