Your mental health can be a big factor in your financial health. That’s the issue that’s facing this week’s Money Confidential guest, Hugh (not his real name), a 40-year-old Virginia man who is managing diagnoses of bipolar and ADHD while trying to live an independent and successful life. But he often finds that his mental health issues impact his budget and finances. “I would love to not get my parents’ help,” he says. “I think I have enough to cover something, and then it’s like, wait, no I don’t.”
Though Hugh says he struggles with managing money the way that most people do, his mental health issues make it even more challenging. “It makes budgeting very hard,” he says. “I don’t have a neurotypical brain, and most of my life, I’ve been forced to think that way, and it doesn’t work.”
To help Hugh, Money Confidential host Stefanie O’Connell Rodriguez turned to Amber Hawley, a licensed therapist who helps neurodiverse people manage their lives. Hawley says that financial problems are not atypical—but ADHD and other issues don’t necessarily have to equal money problems. “I do see a lot of people that struggle with this,” she says. “And there are some reasons why that shows up—there’s the impulsivity. We also have to realize that money is not just about numbers. You can be great at numbers, but it’s an emotional issue. And any time we have any kind of negative thoughts or resistance, we can make things so much bigger and harder than they need to be.”
Empathy starts with ourselves and then seeking out people who also meet you with that empathy. If you’re going to a financial expert to get support and they’re being very judgmental, that’s not going to be a conducive place for you to make changes.
— AMBER HAWLEY, LICENSED THERAPIST
But there are strategies you can employ to help. “If something is really painful for you, or you find that you really struggle with it, stop doing it—outsource it,” Hawley says. If you find it impossible to get your taxes done on time, for example, have a pro tackle it.
Finding an accountability partner can also help keep you on track. “Another technique that we use is called body doubling,” Hawley says. “So having somebody there to help you stay focused and on task—especially when it’s things that you don’t want to do.” They may not have to even be involved and helping you. They’re just there for the moral support.
“The key is finding people to support you, and unfortunately, having to go through kind of a vetting process and making sure that they have the knowledge and understanding of what bipolar is,” Hawley says. “Some people, if they’re already in your life, it might be worth giving them resources to educate themselves.”
And if you struggle with finances because of your mental health, Hawley says you shouldn’t beat yourself up about it. There’s more than one way to approach your finances, and the traditional way just may not work for a neurodiverse person. “We think, ‘I have to figure out how to fit into the box by only using options that are in the box,’ instead of just being kinder to ourselves and understanding it’s OK for us to have our own journey, to have our own priorities, to do it how we want to do it,” she says.