“Impulse spending was a way to self-soothe”

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As the number of women being diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) continues to climb – more than 250,000 got themselves tested in 2021, up from 7,700 in 2019 – the myriad ways the condition impacts daily life are finally coming to the fore.

The financial impact of ADHD is especially pertinent as the cost of living crisis grips the UK. Earlier this year, research we commissioned with YouGov found the majority of people with ADHD told us it impacts how they manage their money, costing them on average an estimated £1,600 a year.

Our latest research reveals the impact on women is outsized, costing them £200 more per year than men (£1,695 compared to £1,494). A much higher percentage of women (72%) think their ADHD affects their personal finances compared to men (56%), and more women said it has an impact on their mental health.

Nadia*, 24, who lives in London and works in tech, was diagnosed with ADHD this year after several years of speculating that she had the condition. “For me, it shows up in different ways”. Juggling multiple responsibilities at once, including managing her finances, is mentally exhausting.

Nadia says her ADHD manifests as impulsivity and forgetfulness – both of which have an impact on her money.

Forgetfulness, Nadia says, is her biggest nemesis. “Forgetting to cancel things, subscribing to them for too long, getting my timings or dates mixed up, accidentally missing out details in invoices I'm sending.” It’s not “just normal forgetfulness,” Nadia says. “It's more like, ‘Oh, snap, I've missed this date to cancel this. It will just have to run for another year.’

“Emotional regulation is a dominant ADHD trait for me”

“Emotional regulation is another dominant ADHD trait for me,” Nadia says, explaining it can be difficult to manage or respond to her emotions. “And it’s in emotional situations where my impulsivity shows up,” she says, explaining she often finds herself making“impulsive decisions” like spending money on skincare, takeaways and travel. “I get anxious about not being able to regulate myself in the moment without spending money to self-soothe. But I regret not talking about my emotions and sitting with how I’m feeling first.”

Since her diagnosis, Nadia has started to better understand her ADHD and how it impacts her. This means she can design ways of managing her money that work *with* her ADHD.

Recently, for example, she’s used her forgetfulness to her advantage to help her save money. By hiding Pots in her Monzo account she ends up forgetting about them, which means she keeps building up her savings, without dipping into them. The strategy was a happy accident, Nadia says. “The first time I created a Monzo Pot, I switched on the setting for round ups and forgot about it. One day I noticed it had grown and felt really happy.” She decided to set it up to save for other things and “have something to look forward to”.

This worked so well that she saved £1,500 for a holiday to the US for three months this summer.

To save for her trip, she set up a savings Pot in October 2021 that automatically put away £3 a day. In January she increased the daily deposit to £7 but then forgot the Pot existed for six months. Eventually, she ended up with around £1,500 for her holiday. “I treated it as a subscription I forgot about. The money just went into a Pot.”

Screenshot from Nadia's Monzo account showing her paying in £3 every day to a Pot called "Travel"

Nadia also uses automatic saving, so she can reliably save without needing to remember every month, which is crucial given her forgetfulness. She built up a f*ck off fund, so she had money in a Pot when she had to leave her last job.

She also uses round ups as another way to save without noticing, so even if she impulse spends, something's going into savings too. “It doesn't make the biggest difference, but it's enough for me to feel good. So if I order in when I shouldn't, at least that 72p or something that was leftover, goes to the Pot, which is better than nothing.”

Screenshot from Nadia's Monzo account showing her 'rounding up' transactions to the nearest pound and saving the spare change into a Pot.

Nadia says she struggles with perceiving time, known as time blindness, as a result of her ADHD. “I can plan a year ahead at most, but the thought of planning five or 10 years ahead is something my brain struggles with as it almost feels restricting.” So she particularly likes using Monzo to save for things that are happening in the near future.

"[Saving] gives me that little dopamine hit, which is something people with ADHD struggle to maintain."

By setting up automatic saving and forgetting about it, Nadia says she’s trying to “take advantage” of the way her ADHD affects her daily life. For her, saving is a healthy, productive way to satisfy her reward response. “It gives me that little dopamine hit, which is something people with ADHD struggle to maintain. The way it's distributed in our brains is slightly different than everyone else.”

Nadia also appreciates Monzo’s general ADHD-friendliness compared to traditional banking apps – its easily navigable interface, visual savings Pots, the Summary feature which gives you an overview of your current finances and helps you budget, the ability to visualise your daily spending, and the way it takes the awkwardness out of splitting the bill.

Along with saving and travelling, Nadia also uses Monzo for daily spending. “For anything like a quick grocery shop, home items and other day-to-day things I need, I tend to use Monzo because it's more visual and I can categorise things better.” Having visibility on her day-to-day spending helps her feel more in control of her money and less overwhelmed, which she says can happen with ADHD.

She currently uses a spreadsheet for budgeting, but this “old school” method doesn’t factor in her impulse spending, so she’s going to try using Monzo for this too, so it reflects what she’s really spending.

Nadia says she can’t put a figure on how much money she may have lost to her ADHD. “I try not to think about it too much. I'm not a frivolous spender – that's what makes it hurt a bit more. Outside of travelling I’m actually quite frugal. I’ll hyper focus and find the best discount codes for anything and everything. I’m not reckless.”

Our research found that 80% of women say money problems caused by their ADHD leads to anxiety (versus 71% among men). Nadia says her ADHD symptoms have “100 percent” impacted her mental health over the years. She regularly harbours thoughts like “If only I managed this better, if only I could just schedule things better, if only I could plan better.”

"It's very much a learning process."

“That eats at you, especially in this environment where things are already expensive. There's a part of me that was almost punishing myself for it. Like, ‘Why would you do this yourself, you're a grown up, you should know better.’ Even though it's not something I can fully control, it becomes suffocating.”

Given her diagnosis is so fresh, Nadia says she’s still learning how to best manage her money. “Because there's so much I have to grapple with and understand with my ADHD already, it's very much a learning process. So I'm intrigued to see how it goes over the next few years.”

*We’ve changed her name.

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

If you bank with us already and 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 💙