Money & Budgets

Neurotypical Budgeting Tips Don’t Work for ADHD Brains. These Do.

Bravely facing your current cash flow — the money that comes in and goes out — is the only way to gain control of your budget. That takes an ADHD-friendly written budget — and adherence to these other budgeting tips that work for ADHD brains.

Budgeting concept - a calculator with cash and coins

Many folks with ADHD don’t like to look at their finances for one simple reason: It’s often not good news. Even though they know better intellectually, they like to believe that it will all work out — fingers crossed. The problem is that they have skipped over the very first rule of money management: Money loves attention!

Many adults with ADHD are masters at avoiding direct contact with their finances. They ignore bank statements or let the mail pile up for months in a game of financial Russian roulette: “If we don’t see the bills, they don’t really exist, so we don’t have to deal with them.”

The hard truth is that bravely facing your current cash flow — the money that comes in and the money that goes out — is the only way to gain control of it. That takes an ADHD-friendly budget of some kind — plus these other budgeting tips that work for ADHD brains.

Budgeting Tips for ADHD Brain

1. Rethink How You Define Budgeting

The word “budget” raises hackles for many folks with ADHD; it elicits images of scarcity and rigidity. But a budget is merely a projection of what you expect to receive and spend. The power comes from comparing your predictions against the actual money that ebbs and flows each month.

[Read: Stop Crunching Numbers, Start Making Budget Plans]

Coming up with a budget involves:

  • Knowing your monthly take-home pay
  • Calculating essential monthly expenses (housing, utilities, groceries, loans, etc.)
  • Subtracting step 2 from step 1 for an idea of how much discretionary spending you have per month
  • Knowing payment due dates

The more often you check in on your progress, the more likely you are to notice when you are going off the rails. Ah, the lure of a new car or a stand-up desk. But do you have the “extra” money for it this month?

Checking your bank balance every few days, however, is not the same as budgeting. That is monitoring your spending after the fact. Even looking over your bank statement is a post-spending task. Paying attention to money is all about timing, so pay attention to cash flow weekly. If you perk up only when you get an overdraft notice, it’s too late!

2. Separate Expense Categories in Ways That Work for You

Folks with ADHD are “pile people.” We like to separate our expense categories so they don’t get muddled.

[How to Spend Less When the ADHD Brain Wants More, More, More]

One option is the “jam jar” method of tracking expenses. Under normal conditions this is a cash system: Cash is put into different jars or envelopes for each budget category (think gas, phone, electricity, water, etc.). It’s visual and visceral, always a plus for those with ADHD.

If you prefer not to handle cash, there are software programs that mimic jam jar budgeting like, which uses virtual envelopes, and, a free budgeting program.

There are other fun and useful ways to keep track of expenses. In my previous business, I successfully tracked my cash flow on 3” x 3” sticky notes – it wasn’t fancy, but it worked. Then my executive coach demanded that I move to spreadsheets; it was a disaster.

Some people open multiple bank accounts to keep their budget categories separate: one for vacation, for savings, for household expenses, and for emergencies. If this idea appeals to you, make sure the bank does not charge service or minimum balance fees on each account.

A paper-and-pencil budget is sometimes best for an ADHD brain. I recommend The Too Busy to Budget Financial Organizing System (#CommissionsEarned) by Kathy Miller. It has fill-in-the-blanks pages for income and expenses, plus a calendar to log the actual versus predicted numbers.

The watchword for ADHD-friendly budgets is “simple.” Some complicated online programs or methods carry a steep learning curve. If you find yourself bogged down, you’ll be less likely to continue paying attention to your money and budget.

5 Steps to ADHD-Friendly Budgeting

These steps take time, but after the first two steps, it is smooth sailing. The beauty of this system is that you can predict when expenses will occur. You will also know when cash is running short, so you can adjust your spending to avoid overdrafts and late fees.

Step 1: Gather Income and Expenses

Step 2: Subtract Expenses From Income

Step 3: Put Due Dates on Calendar

Steps 4 & 5: Track Expenses & Monitor Cash Flow

Budgeting Tips for Adults with ADHD: Next Steps

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