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Managing money with neurodivergence

Financial educator and author, Ellyce Fulmore talks about understanding money and neurodivergence.

By Ellyce Fulmore 16 April 2024 4 min read

In the beginning of my own financial journey, I was doing all the “right” things when it came to my money, but I was still struggling. I was trying to pay off $35K of debt, but couldn’t seem to stop impulse spending. I knew it was important to follow a budget, but I would get bored of every one I created after a few weeks. It seemed like everyone else around me had their money figured out, but I couldn’t seem to understand and implement financial education in the same way. Turns out, the reason wasn’t because I was “bad with money”, I was just neurodivergent.

Neurodivergence is a cultural construct referring to cognitive function that diverges from what society considers “typical”. Those whose cognitive function aligns with traditional societal norms are referred to as neurotypical, while those whose brains are wired differently could be described as neurodivergent. The term neurodivergent does not represent a specific diagnosis, and is not a medical term, but rather an identity just like race or gender. It is an umbrella term that includes a wide range of different conditions such as ADHD, autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, epilepsy, PTSD, and more. It’s important to point out that while there are some similarities between these various conditions, that everyone’s experience being neurodivergent is inherently unique. 

The problem was never me, or my undiagnosed neurodivergence, but the fact that the majority of financial education out there was designed for and by neurotypical folks. The key to managing money as a neurodivergent person is to find financial education, tools, and approaches that make sense for your brain.


Neurodivergent financial challenges

Everyone has financial challenges, but when you’re neurodivergent you face unique struggles that make managing your money more difficult. A recent study found that over 27% of neurodivergent folks admit to lacking confidence when it comes to money management, and this percentage is even higher for those with ADHD and autism. Being neurodivergent can also make it difficult to hold down a job or work full time, which of course creates a barrier to achieving financial stability.

One common thread between these different neurodivergent conditions is that it impacts your executive functioning. Executive function is a set of cognitive processes that play a role in things like time management, decision-making, working memory, organization, planning, and self-control. If you struggle to stay organized and plan ahead when it comes to your money this might lead to forgetting to pay bills on time, or difficulties achieving long-term goals. If you get overwhelmed easily that makes it harder to make decisions like what savings account to open or who to bank with. Any impact to your executive function can lead to challenges with day-to-day money management, sticking to a budget, organizing important documents, and planning for long-term goals. 

A common challenge for those with ADHD is impulsivity, and for me personally, my impulsive spending led to $15K of high-interest debt. Those with dyscalculia struggle with math and understanding number-based information, posing a barrier to completing financial tasks like tracking spending or creating a budget. 

Taken together, these challenges illustrate why those who are neurodivergent may earn less, spend more, amass more debt and have less in savings. We can begin to overcome those setbacks by approaching money management in a new way. 


Here are 4 tips for managing your finances when you’re neurodivergent:


1. Automate Your Finances

Utilizing automation is a great way to keep your money organized, especially if you struggle with forgetfulness and decision-making. You can automate your monthly bills and expenses, debt payments, savings contributions, and investment contributions. Automation lessens your mental load and lowers your risk of late or missed payments because your systems are operating on autopilot.


2. Implement Visual Aids 

For many neurodivergent folks, money and financial goals can be hard to conceptualize, especially in this digital age. Keep things visual by displaying a vision board, using a colour in tracker for your savings or debt goals, and having a calendar view of all your bill due dates and paydays. Set up notifications and banking alerts on your phone to remind you of important deadlines and keep your money on track.


3. Make Finances More Fun

Let’s be honest, money management can be boring, and adding enjoyment into the process makes it easier to stay motivated. Try rewarding yourself when you reach milestones, challenge your friend to a savings challenge, and focus on goals you’re excited about. Another way to make mundane financial tasks more fun is by pairing them with things you enjoy such as watching your favourite TV show, listening to music, or snacking on a yummy treat. 


5. Find Safe Money Spaces

Finding inclusive spaces that allow you to feel safe, heard, and understood are so important when you’re seeking financial support as someone who is neurodivergent. You want to be able to ask questions without judgment, and get advice from someone who will work with you to create a unique financial plan.

 

After years of struggling with my money, I finally realized that I had to stop trying to do things the way that everyone else was. Letting go of the one-size-fits-all financial advice will allow you to start embracing a unique system that makes sense for your needs, your goals, your life, and the way your brain works. You can learn more about how I changed my money story after discovering I was neurodivergent in my best-selling book, Keeping Finance Personal. As you navigate through the journey of finding the financial tools and systems that work for you, remember to go slow and be gentle with yourself.

Meet Ellyce.

Hi! I’m Ellyce, and I’m a queer and neurodivergent financial educator, best-selling author, and founder of the Queerd Co., a financial literacy company. My approach to financial literacy goes beyond the conventional, focusing on the intersectionality of identities and lived experiences 💸

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