1. You’re not bad with money, you just have ADHD.

May 28, 2024

Episode Description

How does ADHD impact your financial habits and behaviours? In our first episode of Dopamine Dollars we will explore the fundamentals of ADHD, the effect it has on our money, and unpack why traditional financial advice might not always fit our neurodivergent needs.

What You’ll Learn

  • What ADHD is, and the different types that exist
  • How ADHD impacts your ability to manage your money
  • The basics of executive function & how it impacts our habits and behaviours
  • Impulsivity and it’s connection to ADHD & money
  • Why neurotypical finance advice doesn’t work for neurodivergent folks
  • How to start letting go of the shame you might feel around your financial situation

Important Links

Get your copy of Keeping Finance Personal here.

Follow me on Instagram @ellyce.fulmore

Follow me on TikTok @queerd.co

Check out my website www.queerdco.com

Episode Resources


It’s not just a math problem. It’s really about understanding how your brain works and finding those solutions that work for your brain.

Hi friends, and welcome to Dopamine Dollars, the podcast where we dive into the emotions, science, and real life impact of managing your money and your life when you’re neurodivergent. I’m your queer AuDHD host, Ellyce Fulmore, and today we are talking about the basics of how ADHD impacts your money.

Y’all. I am so freaking excited for this podcast. I have been talking about launching it for over two years, so I cannot believe it’s just finally happening. And I’m so excited that you’re here. This is going to be a lot of fun. I want to make a couple of disclaimers before I get started. The first one is that I mentioned in the trailer for dopamine dollars that this podcast is going to dive into a lot of different types of neurodivergence. But the main focus will be ADHD and autism in most of the episodes, as those are the most prevalent in my community and also the types of neurodivergence that I hold. So if you didn’t know, I’m diagnosed with ADHD and I am self diagnosed autistic. I haven’t dove into talking about autism very much, and I’m excited to talk about it more. But yeah, we’ll just kind of feel it out as we go through the podcast. And I will be doing some dedicated episodes on other types of neurodivergence. And there’s also a lot of comorbidities between all of these different types of neurodivergence. So in most cases, someone who has something like dyslexia or dyscalculia will also have ADHD and or autism, just based on the stats. But I just kind of want, wanted to set the stage right now and let y’all know that it’s mostly going to be ADHD and autism, but I will definitely sprinkle in other aspects of neurodivergence throughout. So yeah, those are my disclaimers and let’s get right into the episode.

In the beginning of my own financial journey, I was doing all the quote unquote right things when it came to my money, but I was still struggling. I had $35,000 of debt that I was trying to pay off, $15,000 of that, which was high interest, but I couldn’t seem to stop impulse spending. I also knew how important it was to follow a budget because at this point, I had been on my own financial literacy journey for a few years now, but I still would struggle to stick to a budget and I would just get bored of every single one I created after a few weeks and it seemed like everyone else around me had their money figured out. But for some reason, I couldn’t seem to understand and implement financial education in the same way. Now it turns out the reason wasn’t because I was bad with money like I thought. I just had ADHD.

ADHD stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The American Psychiatric association defines ADHD as, a, quote, developmental disorder characterized by symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. End quote. The name is misleading because people with ADHD don’t necessarily have a deficit of attention, but rather the inability to focus their attention. ADHD coach Brett Thornhill says, quote, it’s like your brain keeps switching between 30 different channels and somebody else has the remote, end quote. With ADHD, you can present more hyperactive symptoms, more inattentive symptoms, or have a balance of both. In addition to these types, ADHD exists on a spectrum and can impact people in different ways to varying degrees. ADHD is very real, very challenging, and can often be debilitating.

“I think a lot of people don’t understand that ADHD is a full blown disability. I am debilitated by this constantly, every day for the rest of my life. It’s the trade off of me having creative abilities, but I want to understand I am not fit for society. Society is not built around this.”

Before getting diagnosed with ADHD and understanding the effect it had on my money, I used to think that something was wrong with me, that I was missing some key thing that everyone seemed to have figured out. But it turns out that my money challenges are not unique. 65% of folks with ADHD say that having ADHD makes managing their money more difficult. And folks with ADHD are also two times more likely to suffer from anxiety linked to finances, three times more likely to struggle with debt, three times more likely to miss bill payments, either occasionally or often, three times more likely to struggle with sticking to a budget, and four times more likely to impulse spend than those who don’t have ADHD. It was never my fault that I was struggling so much with my finances. It was the fact that the majority of the financial education systems and tools out there are designed for and by neurotypical folks. So let’s talk about some of the examples of how having ADHD impacts your financial habits and behaviors.

There are a lot of challenges that come along with ADHD, but we are just going to touch on a few. For this episode, keep in mind that everyone experiences neurodivergence differently, and any identities that you hold are constantly interacting with each other. This is where the aspect of intersectionality comes into play, which I will talk about more in future episodes. But basically every single aspect of identity that you hold, you’re experiencing those simultaneously. You can’t pull out certain identities, so some of the examples I give might not exactly apply to you, and that’s okay. We just want to kind of get the general idea across and also start to get you thinking of how your ADHD might affect your money, or the ADHD of someone in your life might be affecting their money.

Let’s start with executive function, because this is the big one and also one of the aspects that is affected across all different types of neurodivergence. ADHD impairs your executive function, which is the set of cognitive processes involved in planning, time management, prioritization, organization, self control, and more. Executive function is what enables us to effectively accomplish what we want to do and reach our long term goals. It’s basically like the manager of your life.

“Executive dysfunction is such a bizarre phenomenon to explain to people who don’t have it. I want to do the task. I’m tired of not doing the task. Do the task. Do the task. Just do the task. You’re anxious because you haven’t done the task, but alas, I cannot.”

When your executive function is impaired, this will directly impact your ability to organize your money and stay on track with financial goals. If you struggle to stay organized and plan ahead when it comes to your money, this might lead to forgetting to pay bills on time, or difficulties achieving long term goals. If you get overwhelmed easily, that makes it harder to make financial decisions, which can lead to earning less, amassing more debt, and having less savings over time.

So let’s say that one of your goals right now is to build up a safety fund, also often referred to as an emergency fund. Executive function is involved in literally every step of that process. First, you need to figure out how much money you need to save in total, using the benchmark of three to six months worth of your monthly expenses. And in order to do that, you need to actually organize your expenses. You have to gather your bank statements, record them all down somewhere, you know, do some math to add it all up, up. And then even once you have that number, then you have to go ahead and plan. Okay, what’s my timeline like? When do I want to reach this goal? And based on that timeline, how much would I need to save each month in order to get there again. Using your executive function, you also need to stay organized and on top of your finances and your budget in order to reach that goal. You also have to know when to prioritize saving money and when other priorities are actually more important. So maybe you need to skip a month of saving because you have other financial priorities that kind of outweigh it, not to mention the time management, task switching, and more that’s involved in actually doing all of those tasks I just mentioned.

Struggling with executive function is especially frustrating because we observe other people doing these tasks with ease, but for us, it can feel like climbing mount Everest. Not only are all of these financial steps a big, overwhelming task to actually start, but it’s also difficult the whole way up the mountain.

Another big challenge with ADHD is impulsivity. Impulse spending is very common in folks with ADHD, and a big reason for this is dopamine. Folks with ADHD have lower levels of dopamine, which means we are essentially hardwired to constantly seek out more dopamine. And shopping and spending money is an easy way to access dopamine. I do have a whole episode on dopamine coming up, so I’ll dive into this in more detail then. But in terms of that impulsivity, research shows that folks with ADHD are more prone to impulsively spend and use avoidant or spontaneous decision making styles when shopping. They also can tend to get stuck in a scarcity mindset and reject a more rigid structure surrounding money. Some folks might use impulse spending to actually balance that rigidity out, which could also explain the difficulty that a lot of folks have with sticking to strict budgets.

But I also want to mention at this point, if you are someone who is AuDHD, I think we have an interesting kind of intersection point between the two, and your brain is kind of battling itself when you have both ADHD and autism because that ADHD part of your brain wants to reject a rigid structure, right? And you might turn to impulse spending as a way to get rid of that rigidity and have more spontaneity, but then the autistic part of your brain wants that structure and actually thrives off of that rigid structure. So I’ll probably have to do a whole episode on specifically ADHD and autism and money and how those parts of our brain tend to be incompetent with each other. But we’ll just move on for now because there’s too much to talk about there.

In her article titled ADHD Symptoms and Financial Distress, Chi Lau, researcher and associate professor of finance, says, quote, ADHD symptoms essentially increase the cost of self control needed to perform various tasks that are necessary to maintain good financial health, end quote.

And most of the traditional finance advice out there isn’t going to properly address the root of the issue in these cases. Let me tell you a story to illustrate this. I’ve told this story a few times, so some of you might have heard it before, but I think it’s just a really great example of how a lot of times when it comes to financial advice and being neurodivergent, we are given advice that just has to do with the numbers and the math and doesn’t take into account our identity of being neurodivergent and how that’s actually impacting our money.

So when I was in university, I was notoriously bad with time management. I would wake up basically ten to 15 minutes before I had to leave the house for school. So I wake up, I’m, like, scrambling, running around like a chicken with my head cut off. I would brush my teeth, throw on some clothes, grab whatever I needed, and basically just run out the door. As a result of this, I often didn’t have time to make coffee at home or pack my lunch, so I ended up buying coffee and lunch out at school. In fact, the only time I was successfully really able to get into the habit…

Oh, my gosh.

Did y’all just hear that?

There’s a bird that literally comes on top of our roof and, like, aggressively jackhammers with their beak, this, like, metal part, and it just reverberates through the whole house. I hope that’s picking up on the mic so that you can hear that. But I also hope that he stops doing that because I’m trying to record a podcast.

No, he’s still going. Okay, we’re gonna have to take a slight pause.

Okay, everyone, we are back from the little break. Hopefully I don’t sound too different, because in this time, I have ate a whole meal. And if you didn’t know what you eat and drink in a day can actually affect the way your voice sounds. Something I learned when recording my audiobook. But let’s pick up where I left off. I think the bird has settled down.

So I was talking about the fact that I was spending a lot of money because I was buying coffee and lunch out at school instead of making it at home. And in fact, the only time I was successfully really able to get into the habit of making coffee at home was when I got a coffee maker that had a timer, where you could basically set the timer to start brewing the coffee at a certain time so that when I came downstairs in the morning, the coffee would already be ready. So that was a tool that I implemented later that did help me with that.

But even in the act of packing my lunch, you might think, you know, that’s, that’s not that hard. Like, you could prepare your lunch the day before, and I would do that, but I had to actually take the stuff out of the fridge, put it into my backpack, and the act of doing that, I wouldn’t have enough time to do, or in my brain, I didn’t have enough time to do part of that issue.

And, you know, if, you know, you know, when you wake up and you’re running late, it’s like, not only do you not have very much time, so you’re aware of that and trying to go as fast as you can and, like, really just do the crucial, important things, which, you know, in my mind, brushing my teeth and putting on clothes that weren’t pajamas was more important than packing my lunch, right? So it’s like doing those things, but then also, you’re very overwhelmed and running around, which just makes you forget more things. So you’re also more prone, like, I was more prone to actually forgetting my lunch.

So in this example, I ended up spending a lot of money every day on coffee and lunch at school. And this was obviously adding up very quickly for me as a student who doesn’t have a lot of money to spend on these things. I had, like, part time jobs through university, but I was mainly living off of student loans. And because I was spending more money than I actually was making every month, I also didn’t have additional money to put toward other financial goals, like saving money or even starting to pay off my student loans or anything like that. And if I were to ask a traditional finance expert, say, call up Dave Ramsey on his show and ask him, you know, what should I do? Like, here’s my financial situation. I’m spending this much a month. I’m not able to save money because of it. What do you suggest?

One of the first things he would tell me to do is make coffee at home and make my lunch at home. Stop spending so much freaking money on takeout.

“Stop acting rich. You don’t have any stinking money. Act like a broke person. Why? It’s easy. You’re a broke person.”

Like, I would get something along the lines of that. And you know, that I would be, you know that I would be shamed. Like, Dave Ramsey would be like, that’s so stupid. You’re buying coffee out every day. Like, that’s your issue. But in the example I just shared, the issue was actually the time management. That was what I was struggling with, and that’s the issue that actually needed to be addressed, right? So solving the time management, finding tools and systems to help me with time management would automatically save me money. Like, I would automatically then be spending less money because I didn’t want to buy coffee and lunch out. I wanted to make it at home because I wanted to save money. So if I was just able to get to the root of the time management and have systems for that, I would be spending less money.

And this is why it’s so important to understand how your neurodivergence affects you and what approaches will help you find financial success.

Looking at the research, it might seem to point to the fact that people with ADHD are just bad with money, but their financial challenges are not because they are less smart or incapable of making good financial decisions. It’s the aspects of ADHD that are making finances difficult.

Symptoms such as disorganization, forgetfulness, unreliability, trouble planning, challenges with task completion, and poor time management contribute to difficulty paying bills on time, creating and sticking to a budget, managing cash flow, and maintaining good money habits. It’s not just a math problem. It’s really about understanding how your brain works and finding those solutions that work for your brain.

Beyond all the examples we just covered, there are also big emotional reasons that make achieving financial stability more difficult. I think that almost everyone has felt financial shame at some point in their lives. But for folks with ADHD, I think that shame is intensified because not only do we hold the typical shame around our financial challenges, but we also have shame around the fact that we do things differently than neurotypical folks. We’ve been compared to neurotypical standards our whole lives, and our financial success is no exception. You might have heard a lot of things like you’re lazy, you’re unmotivated, you’re just bad with money.

We hear these narratives because we’re not living up to these neurotypical standards, and that’s what basically everything we do is measured against. And this shame often holds us back from asking for help or even facing our own bank account. It’s not that you’re bad with money, but rather that you don’t have the right tools to support you.

I want to share a short little excerpt from my book, keeping finance personal, specifically from the ADHD chapter. Just because I love this example. And I think that it really illustrates this idea that we just don’t have the right tools.

“If I put a bowl of soup in front of you and handed you a fork, you’d be like, what the heck, Ellyce? I clearly need a spoon. You recognize that trying to eat soup with a fork is ineffective and silly. That doesn’t make the soup inedible or the fork a useless utensil. They just aren’t the right fit for each other. The reason you haven’t had success with traditional finance, education and tools as someone with ADHD is because they were all designed for the neurotypical brain. You were handed a fork and told to eat your soup, only to realize that everyone else is eating a salad.”

The key to managing money as a neurodivergent person is finding the methods and techniques that actually work for your brain, and I hope that this podcast will help you do that.

Thank you so much to everyone who listened to this episode. I do have a little fun bonus section that I’m going hoping to include in most episodes where I’m going to answer a question or two from the community about whatever specific topic we’re talking about that week.

And so the question, the first question today that I want to answer is from Amanda, and they asked, how do you create space for impulse slash going with the flow slash freedom in finances?

So I love this question, and we’re definitely going to have episodes that are focused on, like, impulse spending and budgeting and all of that. But to give you a brief answer here, basically, I think that it’s really important to have fun money within your budget. And specifically how I like to do this is by having something called an allowance card.

So I have a separate spending card. By separate, I mean that it is separate from my typical daily banking. And I use this card specifically for fun money, so I can use it to buy whatever I want. It can be buying coffee, it can be buying new clothes, buying something, you know, on impulse. Anything I want. It can be a go with the flow purchase. Basically, there’s no restrictions on how I spend it. And actually, the goal is to not feel guilty when spending it.

This money is money that I’ve allocated in my budget. So I transfer this money onto the card every month. And because the card is separate from my other banking, it’s harder to dip into my savings and, like, transfer extra money on it. And like I said, this is my, this is my fun allowance card. And so I find that this is a great way to create space for that freedom, because this way you have this money that you know is specifically to spend on whatever you want.

And I think we’re going to just do one question today because it’s the first podcast episode and also I think this is going to be a bit of a long episode. If you would like to get one of your questions answered on the next episode, make sure that you’re following me on instagram because I will be posting question polls in my stories for upcoming episodes. So that is how you can submit your questions ahead of time and hopefully get them answered on episode.

Alright friends, that is it for this episode. Thank you so much for listening to Dopamine Dollars.

And remember, you’re not bad with money, you just have ADHD.