ADHD, Money, and Emotions

Woman holding money tree

ADHD, money, and emotions are inextricably linked.

I feel a little uncomfortable whenever someone emails me with questions about ADHD and money management.

Money management isn’t just about creating a budget, it’s about how we feel about ourselves.

Many of us measure our value as a human based on how much money we make.

It’s been over ten years since I was solely responsible for handling my money. There are nights I stare at the ceiling wondering if I can take care of my son if something happened to the Hubs.

Life with ADHD is also expensive.

There is no overstating the stress of overdrawn accounts, parking tickets, rotten food in the fridge, and mental health care.

These things add up and can wear us down emotionally and financially.

You might not think about it this way, but you are in a relationship with money.

your relationship with money

Your finances are just as emotional as being in a long-term relationship.

Money enriches your life and adds to the experience when things are going well. If there is a lack of communication, or a serious conflict arises, you will look for an escape route.

You have absorbed a gazillion messages about money over the course of your life. Some good and some bad. And much like your family of origin you can’t escape money, it’s an integral part of your life.

My earliest money memories are not fabulous. Money caused 90% of the fighting between my parents after their divorce. Neither parent was poor by any means, but yet there was never enough exchanged to satisfy everyone.

As a child with ADHD I assumed that all the conflict around me was because of me.

I internalized the idea that providing for my needs was a burden for both of them, and neither really wanted the responsibility.

Their issues weren’t about me, but it left me with some strange emotions around money and the role it plays in my sense of personal safety and security.

adhd, money, and emotions


In order to get to the bottom of your ADHD and money management issues, you have to look at the emotions.

I recently spoke with Rick Webster of Rena-Fi about the emotional nature of money. Listen in below.

[buzzsprout episode=’4276565′ player=’true’]

A few common themes emerge whenever I talk to ADHD women about money.

The most common themes are fear/scarcity, comparison/shame, and lack of trust in self and the ability to create the future we want.

Lets start with fear and scarcity.

Fear about money

I’m not alone, many of us stare at the ceiling all night worrying about money.

You might think about an upcoming bill, or worry about your lack of savings.

Some women report that they worry about hiding purchases from their partner.

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in fear we bury our head in the sand and stop looking at our accounts all together.

Fear is a very powerful emotion.

Forty-one percent of Americans don’t have enough savings to weather a $1000 emergency. Source

And we with ADHD have money problems more often than others.

You probably think that having more money is the solution to feeling more safe and secure. I know I did.

But if that were true there wouldn’t be so many lottery winners and people who inherited wealth that end up broke.

The truth is, you need to take a hard look at where your fear is coming from in order to make decisions about next steps.

I have a lot of fear that if something happens to my husband I’d have no way to support my son and myself. Obviously, I need to make more money, right?

Logic dictates that if I made more money, I’d save more money, and therefore create a more secure future regardless of what happens to the Hubs.

But the frightening reality is, if I made more money I’d probably spend more and save the exact same amount. (or less) Because humans have a tendency to elevate their spending as their income increases.

What I’m ultimately afraid of is losing my house, my gym membership, and…if I’m being honest, my social standing in my community.

THAT’s the real truth. My fear is about how others would perceive me if I did lose everything.

I would have to sell my house. But I would have enough money to get us a little condo in our district. And yes, I’d have to give up my little luxuries and take a job doing legal research or something. But I wouldn’t be destitute.

Who gives a shit about what anyone thinks?

We all do. Which brings us to the topic of shame.

Shame about money

Everyone in ADHD land knows shame.

Some of us have shame about our EF deficits. Some of us have shame about the diagnosis itself.

Shame is part of the human experience.

One of the most difficult shame triggers for ADHD women is comparing ourselves to others we perceive as doing better than us. This includes those we see as doing better than us financially.

I have shame about the fact that my husband is the primary breadwinner in our house. It makes me feel like I’m failing. There I said it.

You do it all the time, too – with other women, coworkers, your own family and friends.

Comparing yourself to others all the time leads to shame.

Shame is what fuels us to buy a more expensive car than we need, or reward ourselves for cleaning out our closet by spending too much money on new shoes.

Shame is present when we pay for expensive weight loss coaches or buy into a pyramid scheme thinking this will be THE THING that changes our lives.

As Brene Brown says, “shame happens between people and it is healed between people.”

So while engaging in retail therapy feels good and gives us a temporary hit of dopamine, it doesn’t last because we haven’t dealt with the underlying emotions.

Shame based decision making and spending causes long-term financial problems that the ADHD brain cannot comprehend.

We are being pulled along by the now and it’s very hard for us to recall past experiences and apply them in order to predict future consequences. (via Russell Barkley)

So before you make that purchase try to ask yourself if shame is driving it.

Lack of self-trust

In the Enclave we’ve been discussing the lack of self-trust that exists in those of us with ADHD.

It goes something like this.

Over the course of our lives, you and I have experienced a higher number of “failure” experiences than average. Our negative thought patterns and EF deficits make it very difficult for us to organize past experiences and apply them to our current behaviors and decision making.

We know we’ve made mistakes, we are ashamed of them, and we do not trust ourselves to make good decisions and take actions that lead to desired outcomes.  (like saving money, or paying down debt)

As a result of this lack of self-trust I get emails from strangers telling me that their lives are falling apart, and they need a budget.

The word budget comes out again and again.

A budget is good. As Rick Webster says, a budget is mechanical and can be developed in under an hour on a single sheet of paper.

Creating a budget will not address the underlying emotional issues that create the circumstances of our lives.

A budget only works if you are able to stick to it for the long haul.

Long-term behavior change and habit formation take time and practice.

Too often we focus on getting more money NOW, instead of creating stability.

This is where financial literacy comes into play. Some of us need to be taught how to put our bills on autopay, and manage our bank accounts.

Most financial literacy programs have a very high failure rate.

People have trouble taking the information and applying it without addressing the underlying emotional issues we all have around money.

For those with ADHD I highly recommend Rena-Fi and Rick Webster as a resource for Behavioral Financial Literacy.

Rena-Fi can walk you through the emotional reasons you might be doing the things you are doing, and how to work around it.

ADHD, money, and emotions are very complicated. I cannot cover it in adequate detail in one post. Be sure to listen to the podcast episode above and check out the resources below.


Rena-Fi website

Series of articles from CHADD

Article by Rick Webster on ADDA

Book by Dr. Stephanie Sarkis (affiliate link. see my full disclosure)

Video by How to ADHD on Youtube


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I bring together brilliant women with ADHD to manage our emotions, tell our stories, and create change so that we can lead calmer, more satisfying lives!



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