“I made managing money 'dopamine friendly' so it works with my ADHD”

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Diagnoses of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) among women are on the rise. And new findings suggest the disorder has an outsized impact on how they manage their money.

Research we commissioned with YouGov found ADHD costs women £200 more per year than men (£1,695 compared to £1,494). And a much higher percentage of women (72%) think their ADHD affects their personal finances compared to men (56%).

Our research also found ADHD has a bigger impact on women’s mental health, with 80% of women saying money problems caused by their ADHD lead to anxiety, compared to 71% of men.

Hannah, 31, a London-based virtual assistant for neurodivergent people, was diagnosed with ADHD in 2020 after a Twitter friend suggested some of the struggles she’d been tweeting about could be indicative of the disorder. “She sent me some links about ADHD and women and all of it resonated with me.” Two months after asking her GP for a referral, Hannah had a diagnosis.

Because of the way ADHD affects organisational skills and executive functions like attention and memory, the main ways it manifests for Hannah are impulsivity and a desire to bury her head in the sand when it comes to administrative tasks. Both of which have an impact on her money.

Indeed, our research found that women with ADHD consider themselves more likely to impulse spend than men, with 54% saying they do this frequently (versus 40% of men). Women with ADHD also find it harder to stick to a budget, with 59% identifying this as a regular issue (versus 39% of men).

For a long time during her twenties, Hannah’s finances were “chaos”. She often impulse spent to give herself a dopamine hit. “I didn't budget, I didn't think about it,” she says. “There were lots of situations where I just spent all my money and I hadn't paid my rent. None of it felt real.”

"[With ADHD] there's a prevailing sense of out of sight, out of mind”

With ADHD, she says, there's a “prevailing sense of out of sight, out of mind,” including with money. “When all of your banking is online and you don't use cash, it can really build up and cause a lot of problems.”

Hannah fell into high-interest debt, partly because she didn’t want to face the truth about her finances. She had a “massive overdraft” after leaving university and by her mid twenties had racked up a couple of credit account debts with high APRs.”

“I've probably wasted thousands of pounds as a direct result of having ADHD"

“I've probably wasted thousands of pounds as a direct result of having ADHD,” Hannah says. She likes to remind herself of this regularly so she doesn’t find herself back in that place. “It’s helpful for me to acknowledge it and to keep it at the forefront of my mind because it impacts how I manage my money now.”

Since her diagnosis, Hannah has replaced impulse spending and avoiding her finances with designing a banking experience that is more engaging and personal, which gives her the same reward, but in a healthy way.

She says that making the way she manages her money more personal to her “scratches a little part of my ADHD brain that makes me like using it more”.

Screenshot of a Pot from Hannah's Monzo account for "Eating Out/Takeaway". The image is a pig.

Hannah got her impulse spending under control and made saving a habit, which would have been unthinkable before switching to Monzo five years ago. She uses round ups and Pots to save for several things at once: from smaller £100-200 purchases, to a larger rainy day fund which she’s trying to build up to £2,000 to keep her afloat during dry work periods (she’s self employed), and for sudden expenses like vet bills.

“I never saved before switching to Monzo and never had any savings. Saving felt really inaccessible and like a bit of a slog.” Given Hannah wanted to save for multiple things at once, she liked the idea of using Pots to save up for multiple things at a time. “I even started saving for Christmas at the beginning of this year just because I now have all these different Pots.”

A screenshot from Hannah's Monzo account showing a Pot she created to save up for Christmas

Hannah also keeps her impulsivity in check by budgeting so she knows what payments are coming up each month, using Monzo and a colour-coded spreadsheet to keep on top of her spending.

Monzo lets Hannah see her estimated monthly spending – including monthly rent, repayments for her computer and subscriptions like Audible and Amazon Prime – in relation to her monthly income.

A screenshot from Hannah's Monzo account showing a Pot for bills. The image is a neon sign that says "Love don't pay the bills"

She also has a Monzo Business account which her clients pay into, and she uses Tax Pots to automatically put aside 20% of her income for tax (this is a paywalled feature).The feature is “saving her life” as it gives her peace of mind knowing she can’t spend money that’s meant for tax. “I don't even have to think about saving for my tax, which is something I was really worried about when I started my business.”

Hannah’s propensity to hide away from her financial reality has also become a thing of the past. In her twenties, she says, “I never checked my bank balance and would always find out that I'd run out of money when I used my card.” Nowadays, the visual side of Monzo makes managing her money less scary, overwhelming or incomprehensible.

She actively makes her finances more visible and “dopamine friendly” to maintain her interest and keep on top of how much she’s spending. Her main tip for others with ADHD is to keep notifications turned on. “The notifications keep everything at the forefront of your mind. So your money and your finances feel like a real tangible thing, instead of a scary, invisible monster you’re not paying attention to.”

"Notifications keep everything at the forefront of your mind. So your money and your finances feel like a real tangible thing, instead of a scary, invisible monster you’re not paying attention to.”

It gets you used to interacting with your money, Hannah says. “When something pops up, even if it says you might run out of money, it feels less terrifying because you're already aware of your finances.”

These days, rather than spending money for a quick dopamine hit, Hannah’s made the process of managing her money “dopamine friendly” by using bright colours on her budgeting spreadsheet and adding photos to her savings Pots. “I try to find pictures that are aesthetically pleasing and represent the thing I'm saving for. Then looking at my bank account feels like a pleasure.”

Screenshot from Hannah's Monzo account showing a Pot she's using to save up for a trip to Italy. The picture is a photo of the Italian coast.

Before being diagnosed with ADHD, Hannah received diagnoses for depression and borderline personality disorder and tried several types of antidepressants, antipsychotics and mood stabilisers, but none of them worked. The mental health impact of her ADHD and the way it impacts her finances was significant.

“If you don't know you have ADHD, everything you find difficult is seen by society as a character flaw and therefore you’re a bad person and seen as lazy, disrespectful, disorganised, and there's not a lot of empathy around any of that,” Hannah says.

“If you don't know you have ADHD, everything you find difficult is seen by society as a character flaw"

Since being diagnosed and prescribed medication, Hannah has “not had a single mental health crisis”. “I am so much better at managing and regulating my emotions, and working through things because I know the reason why this stuff is happening.”

For Hannah, understanding how ADHD impacts her and adjusting how she manages her money in light of this is an ongoing process. She’s optimistic about the future and is grateful to have found tools to make her finally feel in control of her money after the “chaos” of her twenties.

She says opening a Monzo account has transformed her ability to manage her finances, along with talking to people about her money and checking her bank account regularly.

Her internal dialogue around money is more self compassionate and forgiving these days since receiving her diagnosis. “You're not a bad person, you have a specific set of needs and a very specific way your brain works, and you're more likely to find peace and success if you work with it.”

You can find out more about ADHD from ADHD UK. Try the tools Hannah mentions on Monzo.

If you have ADHD, speak directly with our specialist teams by searching "Share with us" in the Help section of the Monzo app, to see how we could support you 💙