The ABC of ADHD & Money


    by Lindsey Boycott

    Having ADHD is like having a distorted look – you don’t see things the way other people do. If it’s good, it’s like watching fireworks from a convertible with the seats far back. You are with your favorite person and it is a warm summer night. When it’s bad, it’s a spiral of chaos, shame, and self-blame. It’s hard to find a way with all that’s going on.

    What is ADHD?

    The world-famous brain expert Dr. John Ratey compares living with untreated ADHD to “driving in the rain with really bad wipers”. Sometimes things get clearly focused, but most of the time it’s a blurring of colors and shapes. Neurologically, ADHD is a result of the dysregulation of the reward system, mainly dopamine. As a result, many of us struggle with impulse control, distraction, and poor timing, which translates into real struggles with relationships and activities of daily living, including money.

    My life with ADHD

    For me I collect passions like some people collect baseball cards or banana stickers. One day I decided I wanted to try dragon boating. I lived and breathed this sport until I discovered a roller derby league in my hometown. Then I thought skiing would be fun. The experts call this hyperfocus – a process of intense fixation or interest in an activity over a long period of time. If so, every fiber of my being is intensely focused on that one thing that is intoxicating.

    Hyperfocus is a method of self-medication; Endorphins flood my brain and I’m rewarded. Unfortunately, it is expensive to concentrate this hard. Sometimes I’m too distracted to pay bills on time, I spend too much on expensive hobbies, or I neglect my career because I feel bored and unfulfilled. Combine this with my ability to use charm, humor, and the occasional brilliance to get around most of the usual ramifications for flaky, and it’s a problem. Once I found out how ADHD was affecting my life, I was able to start correcting it.

    My money with ADHD

    For example, my ADHD leads to particular problem areas with money. I am disorganized and easily overwhelmed by financial processes that require multiple steps. So when I sign up for electronic filing with Revenue Canada I have to register online, find multiple documents to verify my identity, and then wait for a code to be sent to enter and complete my account setup. God, just typing almost puts me in a coma.

    One of the first things I did was collect all of the random piles of things I threw on end tables and put them in an accordion file. I hated this with the fierce intensity of a thousand suns because every tax form, unopened envelope, and bill left over posed more problems. Even so, it ended up in the folder so that I can organize it a few days later. I wanted to gather first and arrange later so it wasn’t overwhelming. This is how it works better.

    Another challenge for me is my impulsive expenses – especially when I’m stressed. I know we all do this to some extent, but it is easy to cross a line and I do it too freely. In this case, I’ve used my love for anything bright and shiny and turned to the budgeting app YNAB to help me tame my wild money. If you know anything about this YNAB, you know that there is a certain learning curve to using it. I love technology and that gave me the inspiration I needed to get rid of myself.

    Set goals in ADHD

    Something I work on all the time is setting goals. I can set goals until Christmas comes in July, but pulling it off is a whole different story. My constant need to deal with the new and exciting is an obstacle to success with the old and boring. It’s hard for me because I don’t know what I want. Do I want to buy another house? Do I want to get another job or go back to school? It’s hard to plan when there’s no goal to guide the process. I’ll find out, but I’m just not there yet.


    Probably the most important thing when dealing with money with ADHD is getting proper treatment for the condition. This can include medication supervised by a doctor, talk therapy, and behavioral strategies, but it is unique to each person. Interestingly, clinical psychologist Russell Barkley postulated that 80 percent of people diagnosed with ADHD are also diagnosed with a coexisting disorder (learning, psychiatric, or developmental disorder). Therefore, a thorough mental health assessment and treatment is key to your success.

    * Yes, the reference to Kevin Smith’s production company is intentional.

    Photo by Clay LeConey on Unsplash


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