Tackle Spending Shame with a Personal Budget

ADHD Guilt and Shame around Spending Money - How Personal Budgets can help.

I can’t believe I’ve spent so much…

Do you feel guilty every time you buy something for yourself? Do you find yourself putting empty wrappers or coffee cups in the bin outside the house, hiding the evidence? Or maybe you’re the opposite, you feel so guilty about the idea of spending money on yourself that you never buy anything at all, instead you spend money on the people you love, trying to make them happy instead of treating yourself.

Both of those things are common in people who have ADHD. Some of us feel ashamed or guilty after buying a magazine or a drink and feel that they’ve been selfish. Sometimes our impulse buying kicks in, particularly if we’ve found a new hobby, and we go completely overboard, buying everything and anything that looks like it would be a great project, leading to huge waves of after purchase guilt and frustration, and ultimately to a lot of unfinished projects.

Money is difficult to manage, and as a lot of people with ADHD struggle to find work they are often the person who stays at home to look after the kids while their partner works, and as such, they are ‘in charge’ of the household finances. Every time we stumble and buy something we just can’t resist there’s a feeling of failure, and the question of whether we ‘confess’ what we’ve done or not. Some people have a family who understands the difficulties we have with money, others are not so fortunate and when things get out of hand, when we realise that we’ve hit the credit limit, or we haven’t considered the fact that the car insurance is due next week, or the school trip payments need to be made.

Ideally, we’d all have someone there to carefully manage our finances, to guide us with what is a good purchase, and what is necessary, and to tell us that we don’t need to ‘buy’ our friends and family with gifts but for most of us, this just isn’t possible.


So what can I do?

I don’t know your current financial situation but I really feel that everyone needs their own personal budget of guilt free spending money.

The amount depends on your current finances, if you are struggling to pay off loans and other debts then even £5 per week can be very freeing. It should be enough to cover a small treat each week, or to save up for something nice. I’m in a fairly good position these days so I have a limit of £40 per month, just over £10 per week. I know that I can grab a coffee, a magazine, a pack of colouring pens, or even something more substantial if I use my monthly budget.

Before I did this I can’t remember the last time I looked at the price tag on a new pair of trousers or an item on Amazon that was more that £20 and recoiled in horror at the thought of spending such an outrageous amount on myself. Yet, I’d be buying little things, like chocolate and drinks and hiding the evidence, never stopping to add it up. I had convinced myself that if it’s under £5 it doesn’t count, if it’s less than £10 it’s a bit naughty, if it’s around £15 then I’m going to have to confess it and not buy anything for myself ever again…

It wasn’t good for me psychologically, I never stopped to add up how much I spent, I just didn’t want to know, and as long as the bills were paid I didn’t have to be accountable. But it didn’t stop the shame. My husband is not a spender so it feels even worse, he’d never actually shout or argue about what I bought, except for inside my head. I would wait until my clothes were completely unwearable and then buy the cheapest replacement I could find in case I was caught spending money, then the replacement item would be terrible quality and not last very long anyway, leading to even more guilt when I had to buy another replacement. It was extremely damaging to my self-worth.


How will setting a personal budget be different?

There is something very powerful in knowing that you have your ‘own’ money. I think a lot of this stems from having a partner that works and being the stay at home parent, though I think this system will help anyone with ADHD who feels guilt around spending money on themselves.

I actually spend far less on myself than I used to. Before I wrote the articles about spending money in-store and online, before I had learned to control my spending, it really had got out of hand. Then, one day, I forced myself to put all my receipts together and add them up and it wasn’t a comfortable outcome. The little things that I had been deliberately blanking, pretending they didn’t count, really did count. Something had to change.

I had heard a little about CAP – Christians Against Poverty – which is a Charity that helps people who are in debt learn to budget their finances. Their idea was to have absolutely everything in cash but that thought terrified me. What if I lost my wallet, was mugged, left it in a shop…

So I started thinking about their reasoning behind it, which is to actually be aware of what you are spending, and that actually maybe that was what I needed, but on a smaller scale – just for me. When I started thinking about it I realised that I could set a personal budget, a small pocket of our money that was just for me, that I didn’t have to feel guilty about, so I sat down and looked at the bank accounts.

I came to the conclusion that £40 per month is right for me. I’m not a smoker and I don’t particularly drink so I didn’t need to factor those in, and to me £40 sounds like a huge amount to spend on myself. To actually see something I really love in the shops, like a Gorjuss bag, and be able to buy it is amazing, and I’m not wasting money on Galaxy bars and Costa Coffee from the petrol station (one of my favourite places to pretend the spending didn’t count because it was tagged on to the petrol), piling on weight at the same time.

You may be at a point where you can’t spare £40 per month, or it may be that you have far more disposable income and know that you need £40 per week just for a night out. It’s important to come to a decision about the amount according to your lifestyle and financial situation.

The important thing is that you deserve to have some money for yourself, everyone does. It’s not being selfish and ignoring the needs of your family, it’s taking care of yourself, so that you can take care of your family.

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I’ve worked out the amount I can use as a personal budget – how do I use it?

Whatever the amount is, you need to draw it out in cash, weekly or monthly depending on what feels more comfortable. You need to keep that money separate from the rest of your money, either in a separate section of the purse or wallet, or, ideally, in a second one.

Any and every time you buy something for you it comes out of the budget – UNLESS it’s an item that is essential for you, such as toothpaste or a dentist appointment, or it’s for the household, such as petrol or general grocery shopping. If it’s a treat only for you, you pay with your own money, completely guilt and shame free. You don’t need to ‘confess’ it to anyone, you don’t have to justify it to anyone. It’s your money, your choice.

Having the money in cash lets you see how much you are spending, and make wiser choices about impulse buys, if you haven’t got enough, decide if it’s really worth it and save up if it is. Learning to live within your budget is a huge step to controlling your spending and having the money separate is a very visual way to keep track. A lot of people with ADHD are very visual people and out of sight really is out of mind.

This doesn’t mean you can sneakily buy things online and pretend it doesn’t count as you still have the cash. If you buy anything online you have to take it out of ‘your’ money and put it into your regular wallet for buying household things. If you deliberately try to cheat the system it is not going to work for you and you’ll end up feeling guilty all over again.


Is this really a way to save money?

Yes, I believe it is, I’ve had great success with it, both in terms of feeling better about myself and in cutting down my impulse spending. The added bonus of cutting down on snacks and losing a little weight is great too, but that’s only because I spent so much money on snacking while I was out in the first place. Now I can look at how much money I have left and most times I come to the conclusion that it’s just not worth it.

Our bank account looks much better, I’ve been doing this for around four months now and it’s changed my perception of myself. Sure I have other difficulties, but over spending isn’t one of them at the moment, so my advice is to give it a try!

Have you got a similar system, have you tried this before? Let me know how you got on. Feel free to leave tips in the comments for our other readers or contact me if you want to talk to me personally.