Teens with ADHD

Show Them the Money

Spending time on money management will pay dividends later.

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.

“I don’t have money for gas!” “Can you buy that for me?” “Receipt? What receipt?” Sound familiar? Teens with ADHD find it hard to hold on to and keep track of the green stuff. Ask yourself: “What money skills will my teen need when she leaves home?” “What skills does she have now?” “How can I help her fill in the gaps?” You must do this. Several of my clients who neglected to talk about money with their teens now support their adult children, who are living at home and showing no signs of leaving.

Handling Cash (age 13)

> Talk with your teen about making a weekly budget, and discuss ways to save for future purchases.
> Help her learn to save and track money by dividing her money into envelopes. She can label them “Spend,” “Lunch,” “Save,” “Donate,” and so on. This concrete budgeting system allows a distracted, hyperactive teen to see how much cash she has in each category and to know when she has spent it all.
> Give your teen her weekly allowance money in small denominations, so it can be easily divided among the envelopes.

Do: Buy a small metal lock box, for storing the envelopes, as well as checks and other financial papers. It will prevent your teen from misplacing money and deter siblings from raiding her stash. A lock box will serve her well when she shares a dorm with roommates.

Don’t: Bail her out if she overspends in any category. It will be a teachable moment, helping her avoid bigger financial problems later on. Falling short on lunch money for a day or two is more easily remedied — by bringing lunch from home — than not having enough money for rent when she gets out of college.

Plan: To reduce or phase out allowance by age 16. By then, a teen should be earning most of her spending money, except for car-related expenses and clothing.

[Spending and Saving Basics For an I-Want-It-Now Child]

Allocating Clothing Money (ages 13 and up)

> Have your teen look over his current wardrobe and make a list of items he needs before he goes shopping.
> Allocate a reasonable amount of money at the beginning of each season to spend on clothing. Let him decide what to buy — and learn from any mistakes. When my son, Jarryd, purchased an expensive athletic jacket and lost it the first day he wore it, he learned several valuable lessons: No clothing item is worth blowing your budget for; looking after your belongings is important; and consignment shops have some great deals.

Do: Teach him to keep expensive items in the store bag, with the receipt taped to the clothing, for a week. If he still loves it after the holding period, he can keep it.

Don’t: Bail him out of a bad choice. He should learn that if he spends $75 on a pair of pricey running shoes, he will not have enough money left to buy those cool jeans.

Plan: For the unexpected. If your teen has a growth spurt, or incurs an extra expense for equipment after joining a sports team, you will have to pony up.

[Free Download: What Are Your Teen’s Weakest Executive Functions?]

Opening a Debit Card/ Checking Account (ages 15 and up)

> Open a checking account with a debit card for your teen, along with a savings account. A debit card minimizes the need to handle cash, and she won’t be able to spend more than she has in the account.
> To avoid having to record all of her transactions or to balance her accounts regularly — not a strength of people with ADHD — sign up for online banking. It eliminates paperwork and allows easy access to her balance at any time.

Do: When you open the account, make sure that you are listed as an authorized user. Set aside one day a week to review the account together. Make up a snappy name for it — perhaps “Financial Fridays.”

Don’t: Sign up for overdraft protection. This will allow her to spend more than she has in her account. As she gets older and leaves home, you may activate such protection, in case of an emergency.
[The Case for (Working, Maturing) Gap Years]