(The author is a Reuters contributor. The opinions expressed are his own.)
By Geoff Williams
Sept 16 (Reuters) - For years, Mike Lescelius, 54, a sound recording engineer in Murphysboro, Illinois, struggled with managing his money.
A lifetime sufferer of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), he would forget to pay bills for credit cards, utilities and even his mortgage.
“My credit is pretty much shot,” says Lescelius, who has seen his phone service turned off multiple times and his electricity turned off twice - all for nonpayment. That not only affected him, but tenants living in an apartment in his home. “I felt like an idiot each time.”
Household money management can be an especially vexing problem for anyone with ADHD, a neurobehavioral disorder that is more common in children, but found in 4.1 percent of adults, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. It can affect how sufferers focus.
People with the disorder are far more likely to miss loan payments (57 percent compared to 27 percent for people who don’t have ADHD); buy items impulsively (62 percent compared to 18 percent); have a poor credit rating (54 percent compared to 8 percent), and not save for retirement (71 percent compared to 42 percent), according to the 2008 book, “ADHD in Adults: What the Science Says” by Russell A. Barkley, Kevin R. Murphy and Mariellen Fischer.
“Impulsivity is a huge problem,” says Michele Novotni, a Philadelphia psychologist and chair of the ADHD Awareness Coalition, a group of organizations that educate the public about the disorder. Roughly 1.7 percent of adults have a form of ADHD classified as severe, and Novotni has seen her share.
One of her clients (Novotni also works as an ADHD coach) went out to buy groceries, got distracted on the way by a sign advertising an open house, and returned sans groceries, but with a contract on the house. Another client went to jail because he couldn’t face filing his federal income tax returns or paying his taxes. Another, who earned over $100,000 a year, lived for two weeks without electricity or running water because he forgot to pay the bills and was too embarrassed to call the utilities and sort it out.
But the situation is not hopeless, even for those in the “severe” category. Experts like Novotni say there are techniques that ADHD sufferers can use to help them get on top of their finances and keep the lights on. Here are their suggestions.
- Develop a bill storage system that is simple, consistent and visible. “Find a home for it where it does not move,” says Lynne Edris, of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, who coaches people who have ADHD and ADD (without the hyperactivity component) on life skills. She recommends placing bills in an old-fashioned shoe box, or perhaps a basket or bread pan. “You don’t want everyone else seeing it, but it needs to be visible, so you can see it.”
- Put yourself on a schedule. Edris, who has ADHD herself, always pays bills on Friday afternoon. “Paying bills daily, for most people with ADHD, that doesn’t work well,” Edris says.
- Use financial record keeping software, if it helps. Tim White, a 22-year-old musician in New York City, has found it helps him to follow his finances at Mint.com, a money management web site. But another person might find a program like that intimidating. “There is no solution that works for everyone,” Novotni says.
- Use strategies to curb impulsivity. Both Edris and Novotni suggest taping receipts to impulse purchases and leaving them in the trunk of your car for 24 hours before deciding to keep them. White often leaves his credit cards at home and only carries as much cash as he intends to spend on any given day. That has protected him from his old self: Once he went to a mall to buy a T-shirt and came out instead with a $300 pair of sunglasses.
- Get help. You can hire a trusted person to pay your bills and file your statements. Or you can follow Lescelius's example: He got better at managing his money when he started treating his ADHD by taking Ritalin. But what really got his finances in order was his new marriage. Now his wife handles the bills. (Follow us @ReutersMoney or here; Editing by Linda Stern and Tim Dobbyn)