The very nature of ADHD makes it difficult for adults with the disorder to use credit cards responsibly. “Impulsivity, for one thing, means an adult with ADHD will see something they want and without thinking it through, will pull out their credit card and make a purchase,” according to Terry Matlen, ACSW, a psychotherapist and author of Survival Tips for Women with AD/HD.
It also doesn’t help that credit cards are so easy to use. “Credit cards are rather intangible. They’re plastic, easy to store and don’t look like money. It’s much easier handing a card to a clerk than reaching for cash that generally has more meaning and is more concrete.”
Psychotherapist Stephanie Sarkis, Ph.D, agreed. “Credit cards can give the illusion that one is not really spending ‘real’ money.”
Plus, you get instant gratification, and the negative consequences are delayed, since your bills don’t arrive for weeks, Matlen added.
But while using credit cards is more challenging when you have ADHD, you can learn to use them responsibly. Below, Matlen and Sarkis shared their practical and realistic suggestions.
1. Use cash.
“It’s much easier to hand over a little plastic card than a wad of bills that the person worked very hard to earn,” Matlen said. Cash is tangible. “[U]sing cash is a giant cue that there is only so much money available once some or much of it is spent.”
2. Use one credit card.
If you can’t use cash all the time, have one card for all your purchases, Matlen said. And make sure it has the lowest finance fees you can find, she said.
3. Get a credit card with full payment requirements.
Some people have a remaining balance on their credit cards each month, which leads to finance charges, said Sarkis, author of several books on adult ADHD, including 10 Simple Solutions to Adult ADD.
She compared having an unpaid balance to “taking out a high-interest loan. An item that seemed like a deal at 50 percent off may actually cost you 200 percent for the original cost if you don’t pay off your balance.” That’s why she suggested having a card like an American Express that requires paying off the full balance every month.
4. Set up automatic withdrawals.
It’s common for adults with ADHD to rack up late fees, because they forget to pay their bills. This is why having money automatically taken out of your account every month is helpful. But, as Sarkis said, you have to make sure there’s enough money in your account.
5. Set up online payments.
Another option is to pay your bill online, Matlen said. Set up reminders to help you pay on time, she said. For instance, you can create reminders in an online calendar and with alarms on your phone.
6. Create a system for bills.
If online payments aren’t possible, Matlen also suggested keeping a box or manila folder for your bills: When each bill arrives, open it, and look at the due date. Write that date on the envelope, and put the bill in your box or folder. Keep the bills in the order in which they’re due. Then, pick two days each month to pay your bills. Note those days in your calendar.
7. Have a pre-paid card.
Both experts suggested having a pre-paid card that fits your budget. “This helps to prevent over-spending on credit cards,” Matlen said.
8. Take drastic measures.
Some readers might need to take more drastic measures. For instance, for clients whose over-spending is particularly bad, Matlen suggests “they take their credit cards and put them in the freezer so that they aren’t so easily accessible.”
9. Give yourself a day to reconsider purchases.
According to Matlen, when it seems like you’re making an impulsive buy, stop and take a picture of the item instead. (Most cell phones have cameras.) Then give yourself one day to decide if you really want it.
10. Shop with a person who can keep you accountable.
“Shop with someone who can help you curb your impulsive buying,” Matlen said.
It’s common for adults with ADHD to overspend and forget to pay their bills. But while these problems are prevalent, they’re also surmountable. The key is to find a system that works for you and stick with it.