Money & Budgets

“What Costs More: The ADHD Tax or the Shame It Brings?”

“I can set my bills to autopay. I can scrutinize my bank statements. I can remove eBay and Amazon apps from my phone; I can keep due dates in a planner and stick Tiles to everything I can’t tie down. But I can’t fix everything. I’d have to rewire my ADHD brain.”

Woman sitting on credit card with long bill, feeling shame about late fees, the ADHD tax
Woman sitting on credit card with long bill, feeling shame about late fees, the ADHD tax

We turn to paper plates when our dishes pile up (which is often). I left a can of Coke next to my Chromebook, which ended predictably. My therapist never sent me an appointment reminder; I now owe her for a full-cost, out-of-pocket session. We forget to plan dinner, and shell out for fast food more often than I like to admit. My rooftop car carrier is affecting my gas mileage, but I keep forgetting to take it off. I should also inflate my tires. That subscription service is billing me again because I forgot to cancel it.

The costs of life with ADHD are as plentiful and persistent as they are frustrating.

Our disorder costs real money — not only to diagnose and treat, but simply to navigate. ADHD costs real-world, money-in-the-bank cash, and all of us who have it know that. According to Reuters, 57% of us miss loan payments. More than half of us have a bad credit rating, and 71% of us have not saved for retirement. And then there are the consequences of our impulsivity — 62% of us, reports Reuters, shop impulsively.

But we’re also more likely to engage in less measurable but no-less-costly behavior. We buy clothes that don’t fit, then forget to return them. We drop cash on hobbies, and they gather dust when we (inevitably) move on. We need something tomorrow, so we pay overnight shipping fees. They call this “the ADHD Tax.” It’s real, and it’s expensive.

“Do You Know How Much This Costs?!?”

It started when I was a child: I lost things. Lost things need to be replaced; replacing things costs money. Lots of children might use extra pens. They might need a new ruler. But they don’t misplace their school ID. Their textbooks don’t disappear. Their locker keys don’t walk away and their brand-new sports equipment doesn’t stay at the away game. Kids with ADHD — especially undiagnosed ADHD — often have parents yelling, “Do you know how much that cost?!”

[Download: ADHD Symptoms – A Free Self Test for Adults]

But all children grow up. Like me, you probably grew from the kid who lost things to the adult who paid extra fees and fines. I still remember my first: I overdrew my checking account by mere cents. Because my bank sent statements to my university address rather than my parents’ home, I didn’t know until two months and $300 in overdraft fees later, when my father called. He shouted that a store across the state was threatening to have me arrested, my grandfather had to cover my overdraft fees, and what the hell was wrong with me?

I sobbed and shook through a 200-mile drive to settle up with Wal-Mart. My family shamed me for months. I was nineteen years old, and I don’t remember how many times I’ve overdrawn my account since. Sometimes the bank attempts to push through one large bill I didn’t anticipate, bounces it, then bounces three subsequent purchases my balance would have covered. I’m fleeced for four separate overdrafts. Each overdraft carries its own fee. A financial tangle like this can cost hundreds of dollars, and I probably don’t have to tell you that. You likely know.

What Costs More: The Fees or the Shame?

Those extra fees aren’t limited to overdrafts. They come from the library — maybe you’ve stopped going because you owe so much. They come from your utility company, your phone provider, your landlord, your kids’ school, your own school. You didn’t pay on time, so you owe more money. That’s the ADHD Tax in action. Neurotypical people pay far less money far less often.

[Listen: ADHD Podcast – Money Management & Personal Finance Expert Help]

Things don’t get done now so they cost more later: that ADHD Tax again. You don’t go to the dentist, so that tooth needs a root canal instead of a filling. You put off that trip to the post office, so you pay extra for priority shipping. You don’t buy a wedding present, so you drop $200 on napkin rings (six months ago, your neurotypical brother spent $20 on tea towels). You said you’d go see that concert, but you forgot to buy tickets. Now you’re paying scalper prices. Gas? You thought you could make it another few miles, but your light came on, so you’re stuck buying from the station just off the Interstate, where it costs an extra ten cents a gallon.

You didn’t eat all those groceries. You never used those impulse buys. You bought a pack of pens, forgot you bought a pack of pens, and bought another pack of pens. You lost your phone; you killed your houseplants; you forgot to turn off auto-renew, and you’re on the hook for another year of service you didn’t need. Of course, neurotypical people do these things. But they don’t do so many of them, and they don’t do them so often.

Neurotypical people generally don’t bleed money and get nothing in return. We pay extra. We run faster to keep up. Then we miss the benefits neurotypical people enjoy. We don’t cut coupons or compare prices: we’re too intimidated or it simply doesn’t occur to us. We don’t file for tax breaks. We don’t list potentially valuable stuff on eBay — we’d forget to mail it — so off it goes to Goodwill. We pay the tax. Then we miss the rebate.

It’s painful to write. I wince to add up so many costs, so many line-items that wouldn’t hit my budget if I were neurotypical. I can set my bills to autopay. I can scrutinize my bank statements. I can remove eBay and Amazon apps from my phone; I can keep due dates in a planner and stick Tiles to everything I can’t tie down. But I can’t fix everything. I’d have to rewire my ADHD brain.

I am a person with ADHD living in a world built for neurotypical people. My brain does not work like theirs. Therefore, I will pay extra. All of us with ADHD know it. We’ve all absorbed terrible shame about money issues: about saving it, spending it, and losing it. We can’t fix the ADHD Tax. But we can stop blaming ourselves for paying it.

ADHD Tax: Next Steps


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1 Comments & Reviews

  1. Thank you for this article. It does help assuage the shame to know that I’m not alone, and I’m forwarding this to a couple of close friends as you’ve explained the challenges better than I. A few more examples from my own life: forgetting to keep track of mileage and expenses, and then forgetting to submit expense reports so that I didn’t get reimbursed. Losing track of time so the parking meter runs out, then not paying the $10 parking ticket on time so it becomes $50 or $100. When I stopped using the library because I couldn’t get the books back on time, I bought more books. I’ve been a free-lance web developer for over 25 years but I forget to track all my hours and hate writing invoices, so sometimes I bill people as much as a year late and charge only 50-75% of the true total. Ka-ching!

    I was just diagnosed last year at age 70, and though I made a good salary for quite a few years, I have no savings other than my home equity. I would give so much to have learned sooner just why these seemingly simple tasks were so difficult for me.

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