Self-Regulation and Money: A Cloak of ADHD Invisibility

Debt and depressionWorking with ADHD clients every day, the subject of money frequently comes up. There’s an oversimplification of self-regulation and money.

It’s strange to me how absolute the advice is in terms of what you should do with your money. The one thing I’ve learned with ADHD is that there is nothing absolute. When you’ve seen one person with ADHD, you’ve seen one person with ADHD.

Some of the most prominent money managers are those with ADHD. It’s interesting how they always give advice like a prescription as though it’s the be all to end all. That’s why I feel we need to have a conversation around this topic from both sides, particularly as it relates to digital or electronic money. Credit cards are a good example.

To illustrate that point, self-regulation is the ability to regulate attention and engage it. Those with ADHD often have a hard time engaging their attention and sometimes it’s not engaging; it’s actually disengaging from what they’re doing. When there’s a credit card available, impulsivity takes control and self-regulation seems to go out the window. Those with ADHD should pause and consider that, with a credit card, thirty days is far from today.

Having a credit card, I think, doesn’t have much significance in the mind of those with ADHD. All they have to do is swipe it, but then they don’t see the bill till much later and they wonder what happened. With ADHD, there’s now and there’s not now, and this scenario is so not now that they just can’t comprehend it. That’s the hard part, because they need to pause and pay attention to what they’re doing and plan ahead for what they need for their bottom line.

Dr. Russell Barkley often talks about the point of performance, and I think digital money is good for certain people who have the ability to self-regulate, but they can’t be bothered with the repetitive and boring routine of writing checks. To them, automating that process is very good; it’s simple, convenient, and time-saving. They are usually the ones who don’t struggle much with impulsivity.

But those who can’t comprehend money, meaning they can’t see it and they can’t touch it, then thirty days is a black hole that they just have no concept of. Many of them just fundamentally don’t have a concept of money. There’s a certain crowd who need to interact with money. I can say that from my own experience.

When I was growing up and I had a little money in my pocket, I had to manage it at that moment, so I was limiting my ability to tempt myself because I needed to manage the whole day with only that amount of money. It was tangible. I could touch it; I could see it; I could understand it. I had the concept of it, and it really was a governor, if you will, to help me self-regulate.

Typically, those with ADHD put their attention on what is happening right now. It’s not the same thing when we’re talking about buying a car or a boat or other big ticket item; it’s those small Starbucks swipes that catch us in the end, and the 30-day metaphor is really spot on because thirty days seems so far away.

If you struggle with money and find it difficult to many your impulsivity, please check out my podcast, “Self-Regulation and Money: A Cloak of ADHD Invisibility,” at this link:

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