Money & Budgets

My Money, My Mess

Many adults with ADHD wish they could budget and spend money more responsibly. This college student is keeping a positive outlook despite missteps.

A dollar sticking out of a piggy bank, a reminder to stop spending too much money.
A dollar sticking out of a piggy bank, a reminder to stop spending too much money.

As a reasonably intelligent 20-year-old, I would like to tell you that I am good at budgeting my money. I would like to say that I always have enough for all my needs and a few of my wants. But I can’t. If you’ve been reading this column, you know that kind of planning is beyond me, as it seems to be for many people with ADHD.

The truth is, I am a reckless spender. I remain dependent on my parents, financially speaking, and when I run short on funds, I am given to borrowing from friends. My mother always says, “If you borrow money from your friends, you may end up with no friends left to borrow from,” and I believe her.

So, I have devised a system to ensure that I am never in horrible debt to any one friend in particular and that my spending doesn’t get totally out of control: Whenever I borrow money, I jot down an IOU on a piece of paper and put it in my wallet. (Sadly, the IOUs in my wallet usually outnumber the currency.) When I reach into my purse to make some spur-of-the-moment (and typically pointless) purchase, I am confronted by evidence of my spendthrift past. At this point, my (usually disregarded) conscience kicks in, and — voila! — the impulse to spend is temporarily averted. (It will return to fight another day.)

Most of the time, I end up placing a call to the “Bank of Dad” so I can repay my friends. As I get older, however, I find it harder to make that call. Why is that?

Things were easier when I was 16, when my parents briefly experimented with letting me have my own debit card. Back then, I drove a new car and had disposable income. I felt like a million bucks, and — you guessed it — I spent like I had a million bucks.

I saw myself as a work of art, rather than what I was: a piece of work, hopelessly addicted to… the ATM. An ATM is like the Bank of Dad, only without the service charge (incessant nagging). I was powerless against the debit card’s instant gratification and overdraft privileges. Sometimes, my parents, like Hamlet, looked like they could “drink hot blood, and do such bitter business as the day would quake to look on.”

With my parents’ help, I tried everything I could think of to become fiscally responsible, including saving every receipt and conducting weekly reviews of my financial situation. All in vain. I am a people pleaser, and, with money, comes steak dinner on Christine. I know, I know. I feel ridiculous writing it. But as the cliché goes, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

And so I go cluelessly but — strange to say — optimistically into the future. Someday I may be that paragon of fiscal responsibility that I would like to be. For now, my efforts are futile. You, however, may still have a chance. Set your financial goals, list your expenses, and make an effort to cut costs. Make a budget. Measure your needs against your wants (never forgetting that the ADHD mind often disguises luxuries as necessities). If you can do this, financial responsibility may be but a step away.

Just don’t let the struggle for a balanced budget keep a dark cloud over your head. If you set aside some money for rainy days, you should be able to make to a few pointless purchases.