The ADHD Homestead

Building a good life with ADHD.

Category: Financial Management

You have ADHD. You Need a Budget. (YNAB review)

Many adults with ADHD struggle with money. It makes sense. We’re impulsive, we’re forgetful, we hate delaying gratification, and we have a lot of trouble making plans and thinking things through. Growing up, I was fortunate to learn fiscal responsibility from my parents. Not everyone gets that education. Without it, people with ADHD can face lifelong financial insecurity and stress.

Despite thinking I knew everything there was to know about money, I decided to try You Need a Budget (YNAB), the money management app everyone’s been talking about. I’ve been using it for almost three months now. Turns out, I didn’t know everything, and YNAB is great for people with ADHD. It’s simple, easy, and automated, which saves time and energy most ADHD’ers aren’t going to put into their budget anyway. If you’ve failed in the past, YNAB may put effective budgeting within reach.

Setup and maintenance is easy peasy

YNAB took me around 25 minutes to set up. I connected my relevant bank accounts and credit cards, added a line or two to the pre-fabbed budget, and was off and running. Post-setup, I check the app regularly because it has a clean, attractive, and simple user interface.

When I log in, helpful tips pop up just often enough to keep me moving. When I overspend a category, YNAB asks me to move money from somewhere else. The mobile app places new transactions at the top to prompt me to approve and categorize them. In other words, the app doesn’t let me slack off, nor does it get in its own way.

For the phone fidgeters among us, YNAB offers a full-featured mobile app. This is great for people who struggle to sit down at a desk, but often look for ways to kill time with a smartphone. It’s easy to see when new transactions come in, and it only takes a minute to categorize and approve them.

YNAB can do a lot of work for you

Reluctant budgeters will love YNAB’s automated features. Transactions import automatically, which helps if you frequently lose or forget to ask for receipts. The app also puts money into your budget for credit card payments as credit transactions import. That means no surprises when the bill comes, even if you did lose all your receipts.

After you have a month or two under your belt, YNAB learns your spending habits. It can suggest a “quick budget” for each category based on previous spending, or you can easily view last month’s spending or average spending, right from the main screen. My budget used to be based on guesses or wishful thinking. YNAB has helped me get more realistic.

Of all the convenience features, YNAB won me over with goals. I’m notorious for living below my means and assuming I’ll have enough money for anything that comes along. This works fine, until I hit a month with multiple big expenses I haven’t prepared for.

With goals, you can set a category’s target balance, in general or by a certain date, or establish a target monthly contribution. I’ve exclusively used the balance-by-date goals so far. They make our short-term financial picture crystal clear. I took five minutes to go through my list of budget categories, and I came up with several I usually forget until the last minute: a car insurance payment, R.’s week-long ski camp in January, and preschool tuition due in super-distant August 2018. And while August seems far away, YNAB pointed out that I need to set aside almost $650 every month if I want to write that check with zero stress. It sounded like a lot, but not as much as if I started thinking about it next June.

YNAB makes your budget simple, real-time, and easy to understand

When I think of a budget, I think of a big spreadsheet you make at the beginning of the year. YNAB makes budgeting constant, real-time, and interactive. Every time I open the app, I see my budget categories and goals. If I haven’t put enough aside for a goal, that category’s balance turns orange. Happy categories show up in green. Overspent categories become angry red, and the app prompts me to allocate funds to cover the deficit.

This creates excellent habits, and encourages me to change course mid-month. When I overspend my budget in one category, I have to fix it as soon as YNAB imports the transaction. The act of taking away from one thing, like a new cell phone, to pay for another — maybe that beer that cost $40 for a 4-pack — brings the future into the Right Now. Because ADHD’ers live primarily in the Right Now, we need to view our spending choices this way if we want to meet our goals.

It’s not all about correcting mistakes, either. I gave my husband’s office cafeteria its own line in our budget because I wanted to keep an eye on it, but I also helped him start taking his own lunch. When he impulsively purchased supplies for his electronics hobby, I moved money from his cafeteria budget,  which had a surplus thanks to the bagged lunches. Instead of getting mad, I felt okay. I could see it right there. I didn’t worry that I was losing track and justifying three $50 expenses with one $50 savings somewhere else. I can’t stress enough the value of seeing it all in front of you for someone with ADHD. We don’t hold much in our heads at once, so we need a system like YNAB to lay it out for us.

If you’re struggling despite all this, have no fear. YNAB sends regular emails with tips and reminders to check out their online knowledge base.

Potential pitfalls

YNAB won’t 100% protect us from ourselves, nor will it work miracles the very next day. In fact, I recommend viewing your whole first month with YNAB as a throw-away. The app is collecting data, you’re taking a wild guess at your budget, and you’re not used to observing your spending this closely. I didn’t start loving YNAB until the 30-day mark, when I had a complete picture of my monthly cash flow. Until then, you’ll need to stick with it even if you feel confused or skeptical. Fortunately, YNAB offers all users their first month for free.

I also felt the lack of one of my lifelong budget standbys: the emergency buffer. Even as a teenager, I had a minimum balance in my head, and I didn’t let my savings account dip below it. YNAB expects you to budget to zero, meaning you’ve assigned a task to every dollar you have. Now, for sure, you can set a target balance for home and auto maintenance, or medical costs, and that can serve as an emergency buffer. That’s not how I operate. I had to add a line for “emergency buffer” to my budget, and set a target balance.

It’s a good thing, too. I use the emergency buffer to round everything out at the beginning of the month, before payday rolls around. People who get paid every week or two probably don’t get the same sense of scarcity when creating their monthly budget in YNAB. Freelancers and folks who get paid less often will need to build this into their use of the app, which I think is fine. We shouldn’t budget money we don’t have yet, after all.

Lastly, I wish the mobile app offered push notifications. For people inclined to forget about the app, notifications would offer a helpful nudge.

YNAB: the ADHDer’s path to budgeting happiness?

YNAB has transformed budgeting into an active process for our household in a way I never thought possible. A budget had always felt too restrictive for some folks in our family, and I stopped making one because I knew it wouldn’t be followed. With YNAB, I can course-correct on a daily basis, managing our money and making sure we have enough to cover our future expenses. Rather than guessing at whether we can afford a big-ticket purchase, I can throw it into the budget and see for sure.

Not only is the system itself usable, the app has a clean, simple interface that will appeal to almost everybody. It sounds nit-picky, but user experience is a big deal for people with ADHD. If the process is already intimidating, and making a budget usually is, we won’t force ourselves to do it with an app that’s hard to use.

Overall, I highly recommend YNAB. If you’re struggling to get a grip on your finances, give it a try! Use this link and you and I will both get a bonus free month.

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ADHD & money: Our experience with a financial planner

A lot of adults with ADHD experience financial stress. Fiscal responsibility requires impulse control, tolerance for boring paperwork, and an ability to plan ahead and defer pleasure spending. We have to stay on top of our bills (and their due dates). And that’s assuming we have a steady job that covers expenses with room for savings.

I’ve always considered myself good with money — ADHD and all — but I want to tell you about my recent experience with a financial planner. I balked at the idea when my husband first suggested it. After all, I (and most of my family) take pride in my ability to handle money responsibly, without asking for help. However, hiring a financial planner was one of my best decisions in recent memory.

Regardless of where you are with money, I highly recommend a financial planner to make sure you’re on the right track. Here’s what the process looked like for us.

Financial planners aren’t just for rich people

While many wealth management consultants only see people with over $1 million in assets, there’s a whole network of planners who take on smaller clients. At first, I thought hiring a financial planner made a statement about how much money you had: enough that you couldn’t figure out what to do with it. But we all need to save for the future, even if we’re not making a ton of cash.

Our financial planner reviewed the full inventory of our assets — from our bank accounts, to our employer-sponsored retirement accounts, to an IRA my grandmother insisted I open as a teenager — and gave us a list of tweaks. His suggestions had little impact on our current lifestyle, but those investments will be worth a lot more down the road. I’d been on the right track, funneling money into long-term savings to “hide” it from our temptation to make impulse purchases. Our financial planner helped us make sure we were saving the right amount, and that the money we saved was being invested wisely.

If you don’t have much, it’s even more important to run a tight financial ship. Our financial planner recommended using automatic transfers. We love them. Money disappears into accounts we’re keeping for retirement, a new kitchen, and our son’s college education. I realized we need to prepare for R’s preschool tuition bill. It isn’t due for several months, but it could hurt our emergency buffer if we don’t set money aside. I also started brainstorming ways we could save on our monthly expenses. I used to think relatively little about money and hope for the best. When there was money left over, I transferred it to savings. Otherwise, our paychecks covered everything we needed. Now I’m more conscious of big-ticket expenses coming up — and how much we need to save — thanks to automatic transfers that keep me on a schedule.

How we found our financial planner

We started our search through the Garrett Planning Network. Most of Garrett’s planners work with smaller clients, and they don’t receive any commissions for their work. In other words, they charge a fee for the hours they spend crafting your plan, and that’s the only way they get paid. They have an obligation to work in your best interest.

After we made a list of planners in our region, we narrowed it to one who looked like the best fit. Then we arranged a get-to-know-you meeting. I used this guide from the Wall Street Journal to brush up on the basics of the business. Before our meeting, our planner asked for a basic inventory of our finances. We met and discussed expectations, made sure we understood his services and fees, and ultimately decided to proceed.

My husband was skeptical at first. I’d done all the initial research, and he had only the planner’s website as an introduction. After our initial meeting, he was completely sold. This was critical: we were trusting someone else with part of our financial future. I wasn’t willing to pull the trigger unless we both felt confident.

Deadlines, deadlines

Not only did our financial planner give us advice we wouldn’t have thought of on our own, he gave us a to-do list. We’ll probably check in with him again in a year or two. I’ve been more motivated to carry out his suggestions than I would’ve if I’d been on my own. If nothing else, I don’t want to show up to our check-in empty-handed.

For adults with ADHD, this readymade to-do list — not to mention having someone else do the mountain of research on financial minutiae — seems like a fantastic idea. A future check-in establishes external accountability, something notably absent in my previous DIY financial management strategy. As hesitant as I was to enlist help with my financial future, I feel like it’s already paid for itself.

What do you think? Have you worked with a financial planner? Do you struggle with money? 

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Decluttering, ADHD, & the hidden cost of selling unwanted stuff

When I declutter, I’m always tempted to sell unwanted stuff. The prospect of a few bucks in my pocket clouds my judgement. Sometimes I forget my goal: to simplify my life. To lower my stress and anxiety.

Money is great, but be careful about selling too much. Sometimes it costs more than the stuff is worth. The trick is to know when to sell and when to give away — and when your ADHD might tip the scales.

selling stuff ADHD

Closing the sale: ADHD hyperfocus strikes again

Last month, I wrote about decluttering our video games, and how I hoped to make money in the process. Even though our Guitar Hero equipment was outdated, I thought I could get $60 for it. I listed it on several local websites, finally getting a few bites on Craigslist.

It had been sitting in our storage room for a few years. The buyer wanted to test everything before giving me cash. He asked if I might bring the equipment to him — an hour away.

I almost said yes. Then I stopped mid-text message and reminded myself: my time is valuable. I’ve already spent time texting with this guy and writing for-sale posts.

It’s easy to hyperfocus on pieces of the decluttering process, especially when we think we can make an extra buck. My brain zeroed in on one goal — selling this stuff and getting the task out of my stack — and blocked out everything else. I almost forgot to stop and look at the big picture.

The big picture, as in: I was considering spending two hours in the car to sell game controllers for $60. In many ways, my time is priceless. If I’m putting a number on writing alone, an hour is worth $70-$150. The math doesn’t add up.

When to sell & when to donate or give away?

Of course, how much you need the money will tip these scales. We all value a dollar (or 10) differently at various points in our lives. These guidelines keep me sane while I’m simplifying and paring down. Tweak them until they work for you.

  • First, ask yourself how much you can get for the item. A quick search on Craigslist should give you an idea. Keep this in mind always. Something you can sell for $500 is worth a lot more effort than a collection of $10-$20 items.
  • Then, set a deadline to sell it. Promise yourself you’ll donate the item or give it away if it hasn’t sold within a few weeks.
  • Create boundaries before you list something for sale. Examples from my life: I only communicate via text or email (no calls). I won’t drive more than 10 minutes to meet someone. If plans to meet fall through, I’ll consider rescheduling once — but not after that. Most of all, I use my intuition. If someone feels difficult to schedule or communicate with, I remind myself I don’t owe them anything and move on.

Never forget the value of an hour (or minute)

Our time and energy are valuable. People with ADHD struggle to budget these resources, and often shortchange our true priorities. All the more reason to think twice before selling tchotchkes on the internet or elsewhere.

The reality is, ADHD makes the extra step — selling rather than tossing into a donation box — more difficult. We should accept that fact without judgement, then make choices that work for us. Simplifying and decluttering extends to our energy and obligations, not just our homes and physical stuff.

Sometimes the wisest choice is boxing it all up and scheduling a charity pickup — even if it might be worth a little something.

Have you faced similar choices while paring down your clutter? How do you decide the fate of unwanted items that may have value?

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What does ADHD cost you?

cost of ADHDWhen we think about New Year’s resolutions, we imagine ways we’d like to improve. Things we promise ourselves we’ll do better this year than last.

But why?

Really, why do we want to change? Specifically?

Because it’s a good idea? Because we know we’re not perfect? Because our spouse asked us to?

Not good enough.

In my experience, change doesn’t happen when motivation to do so is abstract.

One of the most powerful agents of change for me — and the beginning of my journey toward proper ADHD treatment — was an exercise from Marilyn Paul’s It’s Hard to Make a Difference When You Can’t Find Your Keys. Paul (no relation to me) challenged readers to inventory the real costs of disorganization and personal ineffectiveness.

My list looked a little like this:

  • Money
    • Late fees on bills I forgot to pay (despite having enough money in the bank)
    • Lost interest on checks I forgot to deposit (or lost money entirely if the check was so old the bank wouldn’t take it)
  • Health (medical appointments I forgot to schedule)
  • Hobbies (never have/make time for them)
  • Piece of mind in relationships (anxiety, guilt, feeling others’ trust is misplaced)
  • Serenity (no calm, orderly place to retreat to in my home or office)
  • Social outlets (never have/make time for friends)
  • Personal and professional skill development
  • Long-distance friends and family (didn’t keep on top of correspondence)

When I took stock like this, my heart felt heavy. I feared I’d never reach my potential. Worse, others would see me as aloof, uncaring, disorganized, and irresponsible.

But it was kind of like the time I multiplied the cost of my daily latte habit over the course of a year: the process necessitated an “oh, s&$#” moment.

There’s a famous Maya Angelou quote, “do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

It’s easy to brush off an overdraft fee here or lost check there. One failed friendship might have any number of explanations. But taken together, I couldn’t deny the pattern. My ADHD — though that’s not what I called it at the time — was costing me a fortune, in more ways than one.

And once I really knew better, I resolved to do better.

It’s been a long road, fraught with switchbacks and wrong turns, but I think I’m getting somewhere.

Have you ever tried to quantify the costs of ADHD? Has it helped keep you motivated, or just demoralized you? (I definitely experience both on a regular basis!)

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How to stick to your list — even at Target

Some stores can make us spend more than we wanted to, every single time. For me, it’s Target.

We all know we should go to these stores with a list — and stick to it.

The problem is, that’s easier said than done. Big-box stores entice us to forget our lists and get everything we need (and more) in one convenient place.

Our ADHD doesn’t necessarily make us slaves to the retail gods. You can (and should!) practice faithfulness to a list. Here’s how.

shopping list

photo credit: ~lzee~bleu~ on Flickr

Decide not to decide

One of my favorite takeaways from Gretchen Rubin’s Better Than Before is her commandment to “decide not to decide.” Tell yourself before you even leave the house: today, I’m only going to buy what’s on my list.

When you begin justifying extra items in your cart, stop that internal dialogue in its tracks. You already decided, remember? Free yourself from the debate over “is this an okay exception to my list?” Decide not to decide.

Take a picture

It’s easy to say “decide not to decide,” until I’m pushing my cart past the indoor/outdoor area rugs and thinking, “oh right! I’ve been thinking for years that we really need one of those for the porch. I should just get it now while I’m thinking of it…”

Oh, the temptations! The thrill of seeing something desirable and purchasing it. The satisfaction of achieving something that’s (allegedly) been on the list for a long time.

Don’t wear out your willpower by resisting it completely. Take a picture. Use an app like Evernote or Pinterest to keep track of things you’d like to buy someday.

By taking a photo, you convince your brain you’ve acted upon your desire — and you have. You’ve taken steps to remember it later, and maybe even buy it after you work it into your plans and/or okay the purchase with your spouse.

Define winning as sticking to your list, not actually buying anything

You may feel especially tempted after a defeat. For example: not finding one of the key items on your list, or realizing the shirt you wanted isn’t available in your size.

It’s natural to want to recoup those psychic losses by buying something else (like that area rug you’ve been wanting). You don’t want to feel like you made a trip to the store in vain.

Keep reminding yourself that today, success means sticking to your list, not walking out with a bunch of stuff. If you walk in with three items on your list and only find one that meets your needs, it’s okay to buy just one thing. Make sure to pause and give yourself credit for making a good choice.

Eat and drink before you go

Malls and large stores make my eyes and mouth feel dry, which leads me straight to the drink section. Rather than buying a Coke or a Gatorade, I now bring a refillable water bottle.

Also, your brain can’t make good choices when your blood sugar is low. Being well fed before going to the store — any store, not just a food store — will set you up for success.

Stay aware of the game

Big chain stores are very intentional about where they place things in the store. It’s all engineered to trick us into buying something we never knew we needed.

Challenging though it may be, it feels good to be your own person. It’s satisfying to spot a trap and refuse to step into it. Best yet, self-mastery begets more self-mastery. The more in control you feel, the easier it becomes to control your behavior.

Be wise about exceptions

Despite what I just said, sometimes exceptions are okay. If you legitimately forgot to put something important on your list, don’t leave it behind and return home to a house with no toilet paper. I maintain running lists for a few different stores, and I’ll buy things from other lists if I see a good deal.

Do you struggle to stick to a list and control your spending? What strategies have you tried? What works best for you?

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Living a rich life with less: why I love our small(er) house

small home benefits infographicBefore I take the rest of the week off for Thanksgiving, I want to talk about gratitude. Creating a peaceful, low(er)-sress life. Learning how much is truly enough.

How living in a small house keeps our family more organized, less stressed, and more financially stable.

Our home can become our identity

We assume, as we move through our adult lives, that we should purchase the biggest and best house we can. We ask our mortgage broker for the magic number: how much can I afford?

The amount of our pre-approved loan dictates which houses we can look at, which neighborhood we can live in, how much pride and excitement we can feel about hosting Thanksgiving.

Realistically, how many of us look at that pre-approved number and say, “that’s too much? I don’t need that much debt. I don’t need that much house.”

More likely, we quest for the most square footage, the nicest neighborhood, the biggest yard we can find within our budget.

What does more house really buy us?

Paradoxically, our homes can be major sources of stress: we struggle to keep up with cleaning, repairs, curb appeal, mortgage payments.

Certainly we should aspire to do better. Maintaining our homes makes us feel like successful adults.

But we need to reexamine our need for more.

As I pare down our possessions to only those which add real value to our lives, as I strive to use each of our 1300 square feet of living space effectively, I feel less and less like we’re outgrowing this home. A classic three-bedroom, single-family home in a lovely neighborhood shouldn’t feel inadequate for a family of three. Or four. Or maybe even five.

I’ve watched neighbors leave our block for more space, and I’ve contemplated the things they leave behind: a short walk to several great restaurants. A built-in outdoor playgroup for the kids on almost every pleasant afternoon. A safe and friendly neighborhood. The best elementary school in the city.

Should I leave that behind so my children can all sleep in separate bedrooms while I retain another room for my office? Should I increase my cleaning, lawn, and garden time commitments when I already feel overstretched? When keeping on top of these tasks is already not my strong suit?

The gift of less

Task execution and home maintenance are only the tip of the iceberg for many ADHD adults. Many of us also struggle to keep on top of our finances. Perhaps we or our spouses have an impulse purchasing habit that undermines what little long-term financial planning we’ve managed to put in place.

I’m not an accountant, but I know this much: we’re on track to be mortgage-free by the time R. graduates from middle school. We don’t need to pay someone to clean our house. If the impulse shopper among us has a late-night affair with Amazon Prime, we have a buffer. It doesn’t start a fight over how we’ll pay our bills at the end of the month.

Certainly, ADHD’ers need to learn restraint and accountability. We need to maintain our homes at a basic level and resist buying everything that excites us in the moment.

But we also need space to be compassionate with ourselves. If you live below your means, If you don’t spend every dollar before you’ve even made it, it gives you freedom. Freedom to reign in that spending habit without ruining your credit or alienating your spouse. Freedom to shop around for someone who will do a top-quality repair job when your roof leaks. Freedom to make those inevitable mistakes on your way to self-improvement with a little less pressure.

Freedom to lead a calm, uncluttered, and grateful life.

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