Money & Budgets

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

Nearly 13% of ADDitude readers have lost their jobs since mid-March; others have been furloughed or are otherwise concerned about finances now more than ever. Here are some easy ways to save some money while sheltering in place.

A man on the computer using his credit card to make a purchase

With statewide stay-at-home orders in place, I find my finances are strangely out of whack. I’m not spending much money on some things — eating out and getting a haircut — but my cash flow has changed because I buy two weeks of groceries at a time.

Since so many people have lost jobs and are struggling to stay afloat, I thought it might be helpful to tick off a few money-saving tips that work for ADHD brains.

#1: You don’t want to hear this: Start a budget.

You can’t know how to save money if you don’t know how you are spending money. I use the website and software called You Need a Budget (YNAB). Right now, YNAB is offering a free one-month trial. The program gets you on track to stay current with bills and have a cushion for next month. It sounds impossible to the ADHD brain, but it works.

#2: Stay away from online stores, as tempting as they are.

Have you been bombarded with online sales emails? Buying jacks up our dopamine-deprived ADHD brains. New! Exciting! Expensive! And most of the time we don’t feel the pain of our impulsive buying decisions until the credit card bill hits at the end of the month or our debit card is declined at the gas station. If you didn’t need it in January, you can live without it now. Recycle sales catalogs immediately and send email offers straight to junk mail.

#3: If you do need to buy something online, avoid paying full price by using a price comparison app. is one;, Amazon’s free comparison shopping site, is another. I haven’t used yet, but the site offers lots of discounts. The Honey browser extension also works well for many people. Comparing prices engages the ADHD brain: Doing research is so much fun. And I like stuff even better when I pay less-than-retail for it!

[Click to Read: Stop Spending So Much Money!]

#4: Put the brakes on your impulsivity.

Without the structure of regular hours at a job or with the distraction of children who are home trying to e-learn, many of us have lost our ADHD compass. Strategies that once worked no longer do. When we are “floating,” our impulsivity goes wild. We decide we deserve to go on vacation after all the crisis ends, and we book a trip to the Bahamas. Or we decide it’s time to buy that garden tiller so we can plant a garden (that’s an excellent justification, right?). The truth is that, even with fewer daily expenses and a stimulus check, we need to be cautious about impulse buying. Re-establishing your old routines will help.

Get up at your usual time. Shower and get dressed. Put your shoes on. Set a time frame for tidying the house or walking the dog (actually dogs do a good job of reminding you). Tune in to one of the dozens of online exercise classes. You will feel more in control over your life, and your impulse spending will decrease.

#5: Monitor your grocery store purchases, which can hit the budget hard.

(You don’t have a budget? I am shocked. LOL). It is easy to take comfort in junk food when you are anxious, but these simple carbs raise our blood sugar, feeding our anxiety even more. And they are pretty expensive, too. More than ever, we need healthy food — for our bodies and our unsettled brains. So get out a sheet of paper, and plan simple, home-cooked meals for the family over the next two weeks.

Before you make that grocery store run, shop your own pantry, fridge, and freezer to see if there what existing ingredients you can incorporate into meals for the next two weeks. Then write down needed ingredients based on the menu you created. Voila! You can get in and out of the grocery store in no time if you stick to the list. So stick to the list — and no stopping at fast food drive-thrus on the way home, please.

[Essential Reading: ADHD Tips and Tricks for Grocery Shopping During a Pandemic]

#6: Put on-demand on hold.

I have rented more movies online in the last month than in the last five years. Ten dollars here and there adds up in a hurry. Instead, drag out the board games and set up a rousing game of Trivial Pursuit (#CommissionsEarned) or Scrabble (#CommissionsEarned) . You might even set up online tournaments with distant friends or family members. Use that creative ADHD brain to find things to do that are free. Taking a walk in the spring sunshine is good for body and soul.

#7: You can’t control mortgage or rent payments, but you can control your electric and gas bills.

Consumption is up with everyone home all day using water and fiddling with the thermostat. For me, gas is more expensive in the winter, electricity in the summer. Most utility companies offer an equal payment plan that averages the high and low bills for your home. Then there are no surprises when the bills arrive, and your cash flow isn’t suddenly disrupted. I’ve used this option, and it works.

All that said, ADHD brains need some indulgences during this weird, disconcerting time. Mine is reverting to comfort food that my mom made when I was a kid: ambrosia. Almost all of it comes from shelf-stable cans and packages. Here’s the recipe if you want to try it:

  • 1 large can mandarin oranges, drained
  • 1 large can pineapple tidbits, drained (if you can only find chunks or slices, cut the pineapple into smaller pieces)
  • 1 cup miniature marshmallows (or more)
  • ½ cup sweetened coconut (or more)
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • Mix ingredients together, cover, and place in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, it’s mushy, sweet, and delicious!

You’re welcome. Now go download YNAB!

[Read This Next: How Can I Stop Buying Things on Impulse?]

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