What Is the ADHD Tax?

woman opening up an empty wallet

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The ADHD tax is the financial toll your ADHD symptoms take. Forgot you bought all those vegetables and you just discovered them moldy in your fridge drawer? The money you spent on those now-wasted ingredients can now be filed under ADHD tax.

Let’s take a look at what ADHD symptoms contribute to it, and how you can avoid paying the ADHD tax if you have ADHD.

Why Does ADHD Come With a Tax?

While many people think of ADHD as just struggling to focus or being easily distracted, the condition actually impacts most executive functions, including the ones needed for managing money.

For example, poor working memory can cause you to forget dinner is in the oven, forget a bill is due, miss a doctor’s appointment (and get stuck paying a no-show fee), or forget to cancel that free trial you signed up for.

Meanwhile, research shows people with ADHD are prone to impulsive buying and less likely to actively save money. This is partially explained by the tendency toward excessive delay discounting, meaning a big reward later seems less worthwhile than a small reward right now.

For finances, that excess delay discounting can make it hard to set aside money for long-term savings or avoid tapping into money you’re supposed to be putting toward a bill due at the end of the month.

To make it worse, ADHD can make maintaining steady, full-time employment difficult or create obstacles to completing the education and training required for higher-paying jobs.

Both of these issues can end up leading to lower income or inconsistent income that makes it hard to build up savings or even just avoid sinking deeper into debt.

The Impact of the ADHD Tax

Sometimes, the tax is small: a few dollars wasted on groceries that went untouched and rotted in your fridge; a small late fee for forgetting to pay a bill on time; the extra gas you burned through because you spaced out while driving and missed your turn.

But for some, the debt just keeps piling on: impulsive purchases, wasted spending, all the fees and fines you rack up for missing due dates and appointments or forgetting to move your car on street sweeping day.

Beyond the sheer cost of those things, chronic debt and multiple late payments can end up ruining your credit. With poor credit comes higher interest rates which means you end up paying even more on that debt. Bad credit can also make it hard to qualify for a mortgage, which means you might be stuck throwing money at rent even if you’re financially ready to own your own home.

How to Regain Control and Avoid Paying the ADHD Tax

It’s easy to feel ashamed and overwhelmed by the financial cost of having ADHD. Like the other things we struggle with, we often internalize this feeling that we’re irresponsible, wasteful, and lazy.

Then, we get overwhelmed because it seems so easy for everyone else but for some reason, we just can’t seem to get it together. If that sounds painfully familiar, here are some ADHD-friendly strategies to help you regain control of your finances.

Request Fee Waivers

Overdraft fees and late fees can add up. But, fortunately, I’ve learned that many banks and some service providers will remove these fees from your account if you just call and ask. You don’t even have to provide a reason or justify your lateness. You just have to make the request.

They won’t do it every time, but, as long as you have made the payment in question, they’ll often do it at least once. My bank will waive up to three overdraft fees per year, for example. Before I started treatment for ADHD, I was using up all three of those waivers every year.

Change Payment Settings on Free Trials the Day You Sign Up

Another sneaky ADHD tax is the automatic renewal that kicks in after the free trial you signed up for. Sometimes, even if you put it in your calendar, you’ll forget or avoid doing it until it’s too late. To lower that risk, go into your account settings as soon as you sign up for the trial. In many cases, the “automatic renewal” function is a setting you can toggle on or off.

If it’s not, you might able to simply remove the card information you used to sign up. That way, the service doesn’t have a card to automatically charge. Instead, they’ll send you lots of payment reminders which should serve as helpful reminders to cancel that subscription if you don’t want it.

Open a Separate Bill Pay Account

To prevent impulse spending from wiping out money that was meant to go toward bills, consider opening a second checking account. When you get paid, send the money you need for bills to that account. Leave the debit card for it at home. Then, set up autopay for your bills on that new account and forget about it. Use your old checking account for daily spending.

Keeping the money separate lets you benefit from the “out of sight, out of mind” default mode of your ADHD brain. The bill money is already deducted from your balance so the amount you see in your spending account is the balance you actually have available for spending.

Do ADHD-Friendly Meal Planning

Meal planning is not often seen as an ADHD-friendly, strategy but I’ve found a way to make it work for me—and it’s almost completely eliminated wasteful spending on groceries. Here’s what I do:

  • Pick two lunches and two dinners for the week. I choose recipes I know I can make and usually ones that are easy to make in bulk so I have leftovers I can live on for a few days. I also try to pack in as many veggies as I can so I’m getting a good variety of nutrients. It’s a lot of stews, casseroles, and one-sheet roasted dinners.
  • Make a grocery list with the ingredients I need for those (in the exact quantity I need) along with my go-to breakfasts and snacks.
  • Don’t buy anything that’s not on that list. This step is easier said than done. If I do buy something that’s not on the list, I try to get a single serving of it that I can eat right away to satisfy the impulse. Get a tiny container of ice cream instead of the gallon. Get a single bottle of soda instead of the 12-pack.
  • If you pick recipes that use perishable ingredients you don’t normally eat, store them in the freezer right away if you don’t intend to make that recipe the same day. That way, you have some wiggle room in case you lose your motivation to cook. When inspiration strikes again, you’ll already have the ingredients on hand.

Technically, this isn’t meal planning in the way you often see online. I’m not spending an entire Sunday crafting perfectly portioned meals for each day of the week. I’m just stocking the supplies I need to cook big batches of food on the days when I have the motivation to cook and then subsisting on reheated leftovers on days when all I can manage to do is throw something in the microwave.

Create a Shopping Wish List

It’s tempting to go all-in when you find a new interest to fixate on, but so many of those new interests fade in a matter of weeks or months. Still, the intensity of that fixation when it first strikes makes it so hard to resist buying the expensive guitar (or drums, or cello, or violin, or Theremin) that you are now determined to learn.

For me, it helps to do the research and pick out the things I want to get for my new interest and then just put them on a list (or add them to a shopping cart but don’t checkout). It’s kind of like simulated shopping, so it partially satisfies that impulse to buy without actually buying anything.

In the meantime, look for free or cheap ways to pursue your new interest. Find YouTube dance tutorials to learn basic steps. Practice drumming techniques on pots and pans. Borrow books about oceanography from the local library. If the interest actually proves to be sustainable—for me, that means I’m still interested six months later—then you can revisit that wish list and consider investing more in the hobby.

Get Help with Debt Management

If things have gotten really out of hand and you’re struggling to stay above water, find a nonprofit credit counseling organization, like the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. They can help you make sense of where you’re at and come up with a personalized plan for tackling your debt.

Then, just automate that plan as much as you can. For example, if you plan to pay down your credit debt faster by paying $50 more than the minimum payment, change your autopay settings to the new monthly amount. If your plan includes lowering your interest rate by applying for a debt consolidation loan in six months after your credit score has had a chance to improve a little, put a reminder in your calendar now. 

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Bangma DF, Tucha L, Fuermaier ABM, Tucha O, Koerts J. Financial decision-making in a community sample of adults with and without current symptoms of ADHD. Sudzina F, ed. PLoS ONE. 2020;15(10):e0239343. Doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0239343

  2. Beauchaine TP, Ben-David I, Sela A. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, delay discounting, and risky financial behaviors: A preliminary analysis of self-report data. Lidzba K, ed. PLoS ONE. 2017;12(5):e0176933. Doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0176933

  3. Bangma DF, Koerts J, Fuermaier ABM, et al. Financial decision-making in adults with ADHD. Neuropsychology. 2019;33(8):1065-1077. Doi:10.1037/neu0000571

By Rachael Green
Rachael is a New York-based writer and freelance writer for Verywell Mind, where she leverages her decades of personal experience with and research on mental illness—particularly ADHD and depression—to help readers better understand how their mind works and how to manage their mental health.