Wednesday, October 20, 2010

ADHD and Your Money

My husband and I are now on the same track when it comes to money, but it wasn't always thus.  Conflicting attitudes and goals were a constant source of stress and acrimony.

The best I can describe it is that before my husband's ADHD diagnosis and medical treatment, money was more of an abstraction to him rather than a reality.  He would say that he didn't care about money, but the evidence clearly showed that he cared about the things it would buy.  If he wanted a new gadget, he bought it. If he wanted a new book, he did the Amazon one-click.  There was little thought between want and buy  and little consideration for what might happen between now (when money was coming in) and not now (when sickness, unemployment, or retirement meant it wasn't).

My Depression-era parents had demonstrated good money-management principles for their seven children and, thanks to a meager journalist's salary most of my life, I had ample opportunity to put those stretch-a-dollar principles into practice. As a result, I didn't understand my husband's careless attitude towards money.  Finally, I realized that there was no thinking; there was just impulsivity and no regard for the future or even short-term goals. Money was simply frittered away to impulse purchases, traffic citations, late fees, and, well, you get the idea. Then we learned about ADHD and its common challenges around money.  Even with the diagnosis, though, we did not have a clear path towards better joint financial-management.  

That path would have been much clearer if we had been able to read ADD and Your Money, by
Stephanie Moulton Sarkis, Ph.D (see bio below) and Karl Klein, JD.  This highly readable guide covers all the issues you'd expect in a financial-management manual – budgeting, spending, organizing systems, investing, insurance, talking with your children about money – but it does so in a streamlined style with an eye towards the special issues faced by people with ADHD.  Throughout, specific activities help you put principles into action.  (Even though the term ADD is used in the title and throughout the book, it is meant to encompass all types of ADHD.)
                                                                                                                       -- Gina Pera

The following is an adapted excerpt from ADD and Your Money, by Stephanie Moulton Sarkis, Ph.D. and Karl Klein, JD:

In any relationship (whether or not one or both partners have ADD), money can be a major source of conflict. Money issues for couples include excessive spending, disagreements over who controls the money, and not having enough money to meet financial obligations. When one or both of the partners have ADD, these issues become magnified. Arguments about money can affect all aspects of a relationship. If these issues are not resolved, they can lead to permanent damage to the relationship and to your financial standing.

When an ADD partner forgets to pay the bills, bounces a check, or spends impulsively, the non-ADD partner may feel like this behavior is due to laziness or apathy, is done intentionally, or is a comment on how little the partner values their relationship. In reality, this forgetful and disorganized behavior is not to be taken personally. People with ADD usually suffer from feelings of guilt and incompetence about their mismanagement of money. And because people with ADD have difficulty learning from their errors, they may still keep making the same mistakes, leading to increased frustration for both partners. Therefore, the issues continue to cause problems – spiraling into more conflicts in the relationship.

Your relationship with money is largely based on how your parents handled money when you were a child. Most people learn money management skills from their parents. Because ADD is highly inheritable, it is very likely that one (or even both) or your parents have ADD. If that is the case, you may not have been exposed to good financial practices and may not have learned how to manage your money wisely.

Ways to Increase the Wealth in Your Relationship

What works for one couple may not work for another – try out what feels right, and if it doesn't work, move on to the next options.

1. Talk about Money Up Front

Having similar views about money is a key factor in any successful marriage. In an ideal world, couples should discuss their financial goals and standing before getting married. 
  • Do you want to have children?
  • Do you plan on working immediateley after having children?
  • If so, who will care for the children during the day, and who will pay for this?
  • Do you have any debt you have not disclosed to your partner?
  • Do you have a good credit history?
  • Would you be willing to relocate if you or your partner were offered a better job?
  • When do you want to retire?
Even if you are already married, it's never too late to find out the answers to these questions.

2. List your Money Arguments and Possible  Solutions

One of the best ways to diffuse arguments over money is to write out your biggest concerns and then come up with solutions. It sounds deceptively simple, but it is very effective. You are separating the content of your arguments from the process. Sometimes it is easier to write something out than to rehash it over and over again with your partner. This activity is meant to be a springboard for further discussion.

3. Meet Every Week for a Financial Check-In

It is important to keep each other informed of any large purchases, bills, or upcoming financial requirements. Meeting every week, even for a brief period of time, can prevent issues from blowing up in to an argument. The meeting does not have to be long – even fifteen minutes will suffice. Sometimes just bringing the topic out into the open helps create a solution. Just stick with topics that you are feel are resolvable without outside intervention.

Come to the meeting prepared—write down any issues beforehand that you would like to discuss. It helps to pick the most important issue on your list so that you can have just one focus during the meeting and be more likely to stay on topic. Issues couples might discuss during this meeting include the purchase of an expensive item, an overdue bill, wanting to save more money for retirement, or how much to spend on holiday gifts.

Keep your concerns factual and not emotional. For example, a factual concern would be one based on numbers or written proof, such as, "Our cell phone bill was $100 more this month because you went over your text-message limit." An example of an emotional response would be, "You screwed up again! You cost us so much money because once again you were irresponsible."

4. Put the Non-ADD Person in Charge

If there is a non-ADD person in the relationship, you might consider putting this person in charge of paying the bills and keeping track of the money. This should be a decision made by both you and your partner together. "Keeping track of the money" includes writing checks, paying bills, and setting up online deposits and withdrawals. It includes all the detail work that is a challenge for people with ADHD.

In some cases, you may find that you (the ADD partner) are better at financial management than the non-ADD partner. That is okay, too – whoever is better at keeping track of money should pay the bills and write the checks.

In some cases, the person who is put in charge of the money can use it as a way to wield power in the relationship This behavior is usually not related to money specifically and is probably a pattern of control in other areas of your relationship. This type of control is worth examining with a counselor.

Even if you have difficulty with money management, you should still have an equal say in how your money is spent. This applies even if you are a stay-at-home parent and do not receive an income. Marriage is a partnership – and in business partnerships, each partner has an equal say. Why should your marriage be any different? When you do not have an equal say in your marriage, it can lead to building anger and frustration.

5. Hiring Someone to Help

What do you do if you both have ADD? You may greatly benefit from hiring an assistant to help you with these day-to-day tasks. (This is covered in Chapter 5.)

Another option is to delegate your money management to a professional. While you may think hiring a professional will cost you too much money, it may actually save you money (and may improve your relationship) in the long run. It is important to find the right financial professional for you, matching your needs both in services provided and your comfort level with the person. (Chapter 4 explains the different types of money management professionals and their credentials.

Stephanie Moulton Sarkis, Ph.D is the author of four books: 10 Simple Solutions to Adult ADD: How to Overcome Chronic Distraction & Accomplish Your Goals; Making the Grade with ADD: A Student's Guide to Succeeding in College with Attention Deficit Disorder; ADD and Your Money: A Guide to Personal Finance for Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder; and Adult ADHD: A Guide for the Newly Diagnosed (May 2011).

Dr. Sarkis is a National Certified Counselor (NCC) and Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) based in Boca Raton, Florida. She provides counseling and coaching to children and adults with ADHD/ADD. Her website is:


  1. So, I read the first couple paragraphs and then instead of reading the excerpt, I started to copy and paste the name of the book so I could go find it on amazon and just get it here... and I realized how completely ADD that is! I think I am going to sew the words "abstraction rather than a reality" and put it on my wall because those words describe my frustrating relationship with money in a way that is actually a relief!

    I really love this blog, I find a gem every time I come.

  2. Hi Alissa,

    lol! Glad you found that phrase useful. I know my husband has sure heard me repeat it enough around here..... ;-0

    I think it must be extremely hard these days for people with impulsive-buying issues. The world didn't use to be so tempting! No credit cards (or else sparsely used). No online shopping. Not so many TV shows depicting beautiful things. And just less stuff in general.

    I'm old enough to remember the old days, and I do think it was easier to avoid temptation.

  3. P.S. But if one IS going to buy something impulsively, a book on managing money when you have ADHD is probably a good choice! :-)

  4. Hi Gina,

    My husband (who has undiagnosed ADHD) recently started semi-retirement. Without the constant bombardment of work related crises as a high tech CEO, he has become extremely restless and bored. As a result, his impulsive purchasing is increasing. Recent acquisitions include an antique car, a small sailboat (he already has a large one), and other expensive items. He spots most of these things online. He has stopped discussing these purchases with me because I am "no fun." (I am the non-ADHD bill paying, money managing, but unsalaried, spouse who keeps the household moving forward.) Your readers may want to watch out for the early phase of retirement as a particularly dangerous time for managing finances.

  5. Hi Deb,

    Thanks for sharing your story with other readers. It is an important one!

    This is a topic long on my list of those to address in a story, blog, etc. The shifts that can happen when a person with unrecognized ADHD retires.

  6. These are great suggestions, Gina, and this is a great topic. Just this week, I took over the household finances. As you know, I have ADHD ;) However, for whatever reason, managing finances is less of an issue for me, than it is for my husband. So it made sense.

    I was careful about bringing it up though, because his previous relationship, was with a person who ruled the family finances with an iron fist. I needed to wait some things out, see how they went, give him some space and wait for him to express his own frustration (I'm not the kind of person who's going to flip out over an occasional late bill payment) and...then offer myself as a solution. He really wasn't awful at it, it was just simple miscalculations that would cause enormous stress at times.

    I'm not a financial genius, but my e-calendar and iPhone are great tools for helping me manage my various obligations and deadlines, so I've extended their reach to include household bill due dates. Those little alarms going off are REALLY helpful!

    I think this will ease stress for both of us.

    In my previous relationship, my significant other was a person who LOVED making little bill spreadsheets, and since he clearly enjoyed this stuff more than I did, I let him. But...I admit, I LIKE knowing what my financial reality is, for myself. Knowing my financial reality is actually a great tool for me in helping to manage my anxiety (I WORRY about money even though I don't freak out about a slightly late payment).

    About your tips being good ones: I do, when money allows, have a personal assistant come to help me with household organizing, filing and bookkeeping. It's a great task for a college student who needs part-time work!

    And talking about money...we do that, all the time. We're very conscientious about actively communicating about all kinds of things, so I know that this works. I think that because neither of us is a control freak and both of us have ADHD, neither of us is really asserting ourselves over the other too strongly, so defensiveness isn't really an issue. Our acceptance of our own ADHD imperfections helps us to be forgiving of one anothers quirks...we are kind to one another and give each other the benefit of the doubt...

  7. As always, thanks for sharing your perspective and experience, Katy. You two are role models for other dual-ADHD couples!

    Of course you two are individuals with unique qualities; ADHD is only part of the mix. But I love how you two seem to work things out logically and without defensiveness, both of you being realistic about your strengths and weaknesses. That makes life so much easier.

  8. My situation may not be unique but it sure is frustrating. I was the last of 6 children for my mother (3 with previous husband) and 5 children (2 with previous wife) for my father. By the time I was 8, the home was a wreck - my mother was a severe alcoholic and my father was just absent. The point being, I did not have any financial insight going into adulthood.
    I was diagnosed late in life so the many failures left me with no self esteem and timid to asert opinions or questions.
    Fast forward - I am married to a very responsible man who is great with finances. Unfortunately, we do not share an account. We have separate accounts. As one would expect, I am always in financial turmoil and I have been pleading with my husband to take over all of the finances; but he won't. I begged him to take control of the money and put me on an allowance. I don’t carry a credit card but I still have my ATM and that’s what takes the hits; plus PayPal online, etc.
    We had a fight and he told me that I should stop using the automatic bill pay and just write checks. "That way, you know how much you have and how much you'll need. Any 12-year-old can do this. Even my mother does it and she’s almost 80!" (Like I’ve never hear THAT dig before, ha!)
    He admits that I have ADHD but doesn’t understand what it is all about. I have a PBS (Public Broadcast System) program recorded on our DVR about ADHD but he won’t watch it; nor will he avail himself to research.
    Not spending money sounds so simple to him and he cannot understand what is wrong with me that I cannot stop spending. Likewise, I cannot explain it to him, or anyone else, satisfactorily. Do you have ANY sage advice for me? Before my mounting debt buries me alive?

  9. Linda,

    I'm really sorry to hear about your husband's attitude. It makes no sense at all. None. Zip.

    He won't even watch the show?

    Perhaps his resistance comes because he fears you will "use ADHD as an excuse." Meaning, that nothing will change and he will just have to accept the things you do that drive him around the bend.

    Perhaps if he knows that there are solutions, that treatment can make a big difference. But that you need for him to meet you halfway, now that you finally have an explanation.

    Perhaps the more you learn about ADHD, the more he will come around. Of course, nothing creates belief like change. So, if you are able to start changing some of these ADHD-related behaviors, that might get his attention.

    If you haven't gotten and evaluation and treatment, I urge you to make that your number 1 priority.

    good luck!


  10. This was the direct reason for my marriage dissolving twice. I have ADHD and money was to root of disaster. I have been treating for awhile now and I even coach. I have finished college and keep things in perspective. Dealing with money issues and the checkbook are still a struggle but one worth having.

  11. The change in my husband post diagnosis and medication is remarkable. He is now happy for me to take care of the bills etc instead of the resentment and what he saw as my deliberate denial of his money needs. He sees now that we need to be careful, we need to have a budget, that just because I manage to save enough to do some house renovations does not mean he can, the week after the bank account has been emptied to pay for them, demand several thousand dollars to spend on himself. It is really nice to know that this behaviour is ADHD driven - and what is even better is that he now understands our budget,and what I have been trying to achieve financially. He now is able and willing to plan for our financial future with some reality, rather than based on gradiose schemes and dreams. What an amazing turn around.

  12. A very enlightening discussion about ADD and money. I've always thought my husband is ADD; he also has dyslexia and some kind of auditory processing difficulties. He is also wildly good at micro-mechanics (dentistry and implant surgery), highly intuitive and quite unable to handle money. His view about money is that it is like the tide -- it comes in and goes out. Budgeting is beyond him. I of course know to the dollar how much is in each of my accounts.

    Only after 24 years of very happy marriage, has he agreed to figure out how much money he is actually makes each month. He is also terrific at investing in the stock market, which goes a long way to assuage my financial terrors.

    I even brought all this up in couples therapy,but the therapist seemed to to think that we just had a difference in approach which was on an ongoing and insoluble! So years ago after the 2001 stock debacle, I decided that he would pay all the household bills, mortgage, food etc and that I would save up for quarterly taxes and our IRA contributions. (We are both self employed.) He also agreed to consult me when he wants to spend more than $100. This seems to work fairly well. He is always amazed and delighted when I can fork over thousands of dollars for the taxes and IRAs. Of course this house of cards would collapse if one of us got ill or had to stop working. But so far it seems to be fine.

  13. HI there,

    Thanks for sharing your story, and congratulations on 24 years happily married!

    Yes, "house of cards" is a good way to describe the financial situation of some households affected by unrecognized ADHD.

    Many people were lucky in the frothy stock market of yore, and mistook that with investing acumen. They have been paying the price for a few years now and, if they're smart, are educating themselves on the basics of financial management.

    It's easy these days to view money as an abstraction -- we pay not with cash on the barrel but with credit cards. For people with ADHD (and others!) who have dysfunctional relationships with money, this can make everything worse.

    Good luck!

  14. shell-shocked first timer........
    it appears many things that have confused me about my husband have finally been identified as far he is relieved to find out what is wrong with him, but we are only a week in.........the shared stories about financial roulette in my life have resonated so soundly that I am crying as I write this. I love my husband so much but right now I feel very alone - like with the house-work, parenting, ..........
    his parents and siblings have never mentioned anything to me even though I am suspicious about some of my nephews and nieces and now about my own son..... sad thing is they just don't believe in it, or any other intervention really .....

  15. Hello "shell-shocked."

    You're definitely not alone. There has never been a greater source of information, resources, and professional help for Adult ADHD.

    If you're not already a member of CHADD, I recommend it:

    Once you become a member, you will receive a subscription to CHADD's excellent magazine, "Attention." And you will also have access to back issues, including longer articles than in the print magazine.

  16. Thanks for the useful article. I live apart from my boyfriend for now and haven't shared a bank account in a very long time. It's something I would do again but would be quite nervous about, I've got ADHD and tend to make purchases without thinking first and I've had a taste of what it feels like to have someone share my money and buy things impulsively. My ex had bipolar disorder, he's a fantastic person and means well. So well he gambled all our money on fruit machines to buy me a birthday present. Except predictably he lost it all, but it's much easier to appreciate his good intentions now.

    I like your idea of putting the non-adhd partner in charge of money but meeting together and discussing
    My parents had good financial habits, neither had adhd so I think it skipped a generation. I still didn't follow what I grew up seeing.

    When you don't have much money it's easy to not live within your means. I find it helpful to take out a set amount of cash to spend and only use it. My bills are direct debit which works for me but doesn't for everyone. It can actually be fun managing on a tight budget, there's a certain satisfaction to it.

    I like the idea of putting the adhd partner in charge of the money but meeting together once a week discuss money issues. Also that both of you still share decisions over how money's spent. Having been single for a long time, it would be very hard to reliquish full control to someone else.

  17. This was a great read! I can appeal to so many thing that were mentioned in this article. Money does make relationships so much more complicated. I will try this book, if it as good as this post I believe it will bring some change into our life.


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