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ADHD Impulsive Spending & Money Management

Written by Sarah Norman

Review by Alina Ivan

Tagged in

  • adhd


Aug 22, 2023, 8 min read

Have you ever found yourself impulsively buying things without really thinking it through? We've all been there! But for people with ADHD, impulsive spending can be a particularly challenging aspect of their lives. It’s important to understand the underlying factors that can cause this, as well as having some practical strategies for managing it in order to regain control over finances.

ADHD and impulsive spending

At Augmentive, we aim to provide holistic, tailored mental health support to everyone so they can live their life to the fullest, so if you have questions about the symptoms of ADHD, want to get a private ADHD assessment, or are keen to find out more about our revolutionary workplace wellbeing platform, we’re here to help.

What is ADHD?

ADHD, or Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, is a neurodevelopmental condition characterised by persistent patterns of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity that significantly impact daily functioning. It commonly begins in childhood and can continue into adulthood. People with ADHD may struggle with maintaining focus, organising tasks, regulating emotions, and controlling impulsive behaviours. The exact cause is unknown, but it is thought to be influenced by genetic, environmental, and neurological factors.

What is impulsive spending?

Impulsive spending refers to the tendency to make unplanned and spontaneous purchases without considering the long-term consequences. It involves buying items on impulse, often driven by immediate desires or emotions rather than careful deliberation. Nearly everyone does it sometimes, but repeated and persistent impulsive spending can be a sign of other problems and result in problems far worse than merely “buyer’s remorse.”

What is impulsive spending?

If you’re concerned about your spending habits, get in touch and we can help you to find the right person to help you get things under control.

For individuals with ADHD, impulsive spending can be particularly challenging due to difficulties in impulse control and decision-making.

ADHD and impulsive spending

"Impulsivity is about generating enough dopamine in the system to get a buzz from its release. Shopping obsessively, eating out of boredom and drug use may give a buzz because it stimulates the brain. These behaviours may stop with medication once there is enough dopamine in the system to stimulate the brain. To manage impulsive spending without medication, a lot of support and structure may be needed. This may involve someone overlooking your money and finances Alternatively, you could try taking up a more sustainable activity that creates the same buzz to replace the impulsive spending, such as a high energy sport."
- Dr Khurram Sadiq, Consultant Psychiatrist

Individuals with ADHD often struggle with impulsive spending habits, which can have a significant impact on their financial well-being. The impulsivity associated with ADHD can lead to impulsive purchases and money problems. The lack of impulse control and difficulty in regulating emotions and impulses contribute to this behaviour.

Additionally, the tendency to seek immediate gratification (thought to be related to issues with the “brain reward cascade” and system for producing dopamine, sometimes called the “feel good hormone”), along with the challenges in planning and thinking ahead, play a role in ADHD impulsive spending habits. Needless to say, repeated and ongoing impulsive spending can result in financial instability and even potentially crippling debt. ADHD also has impacts on executive function, the mental skills associated with things like working memory and impulse control, and can also result in a form of time blindness which aggravates impulsive spending - anything from buying things someone might have forgotten they already have, to that singular focus of living “only in the present” and so not thinking about the later ramifications of purchases (such as how you’re going to afford or even just pay for these things, especially in an age of easy one-click buying and the prevalence of “get it now and pay later” programs like ClearPay and Klarna).

“ADHD is, at its heart, a blindness to time or [...] to be exact, it is a near-sightedness to the future. Just as people who are nearsighted can only read things close at hand, people with ADHD can only deal with things near in time.”
- Russell A. Barkley, PhD, ADHD specialist researcher

How ADHD leads to impulsive spending

There’s actually a lot of very solid scientific evidence that helps to explain the relationship between impulsive spending and individuals with ADHD. For example, brain imaging studies have also shed light on the neurological factors contributing to impulsive spending in individuals with ADHD. Research indicates that differences in brain regions involved in reward processing and decision-making, such as the orbitofrontal cortex, may influence hyperactivity and impulsivity in ADHD patients. More impulsivity can lead to more spending.

Why does ADHD cause impulsive spending?

There have also been numerous focused studies which show that individuals with ADHD often exhibit impulsive spending habits. One such study undertaken specifically on clothing selection and habits amongst students found a direct relationship between ADHD and impulse buying, while others show that impulsivity is a key symptom of ADHD which is also associated directly with impulse buying behaviours.

Understanding the impact of ADHD on impulsive spending habits can be useful in developing strategies to manage this behaviour. By addressing the underlying impulsivity and providing support for self-regulation, people with ADHD can gain control over their spending habits and improve their financial (and overall) wellbeing.

Having shaky finances directly impacts overall wellbeing and mental health, so addressing the challenges of ADHD related impulsive spending is a very good idea. By implementing effective strategies and developing greater self-awareness, it is possible to gain control over these impulsive tendencies so you can have a healthier bank account and a healthier you.

“ADHD is a disorder of regulation and so putting in more external structures to help you with regulation can be a complementary way to support your ADHD.”
Dr Chetna Kang, Consultant Psychiatrist

Create a structured budget

One of the most crucial steps in controlling impulse spending is establishing a structured budget. Begin by tracking income and expenses to gain a clear understanding of where money is being allocated. Then, set specific limits for different spending categories, such as groceries, entertainment, or clothing. This helps create a framework for responsible spending, ensuring that funds are allocated appropriately, and gives you a clear boundary on how much you can spend in certain areas before things become risky.

Tips for ADHD impulsive spending - make a budget!

Make shopping lists

Before embarking on any shopping trip, whether at a physical store or online, it is essential to make a detailed shopping list (and remember to bring it with you!). This provides a focused guide for purchasing necessities and reduces the chances of impulsive buying. Stick to the list and remind yourself of the importance of adhering to your established budget. Try to avoid “window shopping” or casual browsing as this increases the risk of seeing something you want but can’t necessarily afford, and could trigger that buying impulse.

Practise delayed gratification

One effective technique for controlling impulse spending is practising delayed gratification. When faced with the desire to make an impulsive purchase, take a pause and give yourself time to consider if it aligns with your long-term goals and priorities. Challenge yourself to wait a day or two before making the decision. Often, this waiting period helps curb impulsive urges and promotes more thoughtful purchasing decisions. You could even try making a game of it - allow yourself a (small, affordable) treat like an extra chocolate bar when you successfully hold off buying something impulsively, so you still get that “reward” hit.

One essential tip for this approach: when online, don’t add things to your basket and then not check out. Many online stores will send reminders, discounts and other incentives to tempt you to finish the transaction if you do so, and that’s definitely not a friend of impulse control! Perhaps you could try bookmarking the page instead.

Use cash, not cards

Paying with cards, contactless especially, can make impulsive spending all too easy. To establish a stronger connection with money and increase awareness of spending habits, consider using cash for purchases whenever possible. Having physical currency in hand makes the transaction more tangible and can often help reduce impulsive buying tendencies because you can literally see the money leaving your possession. This can be tricky as some places are starting to insist on non-cash payments, but it is definitely worth a try - and consider avoiding the cashless locations to make sure you aren’t tempted.

Seek support and accountability

Managing impulse spending habits can be challenging, but seeking support from professionals or ADHD support groups can provide valuable guidance and accountability. Therapists and psychiatrists specialising in ADHD can help individuals develop coping mechanisms and behavioural strategies to curb impulsive tendencies. Additionally, connecting with others experiencing similar struggles through support groups offers a sense of community and solidarity, which is great for general mental health and wellbeing as well as addressing specific challenges like impulsivity.

Set short and long term financial goals

Establishing clear financial goals is a powerful motivator for controlling impulse spending habits. Set both short-term and long-term goals to give yourself something to work towards. Whether it's saving for a vacation, paying off debt, or building an emergency fund, having a concrete objective helps redirect impulsive spending impulses towards more meaningful financial milestones that are also far healthier for you.

Practice self-awareness and mindfulness

Developing mindfulness and self-awareness is crucial in managing impulse spending habits. Pay attention to your thoughts, emotions, and triggers that lead to impulsive purchases. Take note of situations, environments, or emotional states that often precede impulsive buying. By recognizing these patterns, you can implement strategies to redirect your focus and make more intentional choices, and try to avoid situations that lead to higher impulsivity wherever you can.

ADHD impulsive spending advice and support

If you have ADHD, remember to be kind and patient with yourself when trying to make meaningful changes. Managing impulsivity and developing new habits takes time and effort. It is easy to get discouraged or frustrated along the way, but it's important to remember that change is a process. Being kind to yourself means acknowledging that progress may not happen overnight and embracing the small victories that you can accumulate along the way. Make sure you stay compassionate with yourself in order to foster a more positive mindset and keep up your motivation, otherwise you’ll just get discouraged and backslide.

Controlling impulse spending habits can be a significant challenge for individuals with ADHD. However, with the right strategies in place and a commitment to self-improvement, it is possible to gain control over these tendencies. By creating a structured budget, making shopping lists, practising delayed gratification, utilising cash, seeking support, setting goals, and fostering mindfulness while still remaining kind to themselves, people with ADHD can take practical steps towards managing impulsive spending and achieving greater financial stability. Remember, change takes time and effort, but by implementing these strategies consistently, positive habits can be developed, leading to long-term financial well-being.

If you have a question about a mental health condition or are wondering about UK ADHD medication, we’re here to assist on your journey. Our free 15 minute consultation can guide you to the most relevant specialists to answer your questions and discuss next steps.

Whether you’re feeling off-kilter or want to shake up your routine, our state-of-the-art mental wellbeing platform gives you quick and seamless access to world-class support on your terms, from a private adult ADHD assessment to help finding an ADHD specialist near you to support you on your journey.

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