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ep.11: Overcoming Impulsive Spending

You know that rush of adrenaline when you make an impulsive purchase? This is a common challenge that I have encountered myself and have seen in adults with ADHD.

In this episode, I walk you through my journey to financial stability and teach you the tools to manage this behavior.

Together, we'll explore the root causes of impulsive spending, such as the search for instant gratification and relief from overwhelming emotions. I will also introduce you to the 24-hour rule, visual budgeting, and spending alerts.

Click here to learn more about enrolling in The ADHD Academy!

What you'll learn:

  • The root causes of impulsive spending in adults with ADHD

  • The science of ADHD and its link to impulsivity

  • Mastering the art of sitting with an urge without acting on it

  • How my impulsive spending problem led to extreme measures such as selling everything and moving into a trailer to pay off $90,000 in debt

"The instant gratification that we get gives us a surge of dopamine, and we need that dopamine because we're low in dopamine, and so this drives that behavior to happen again and again"

Useful links mentioned:

Listen to the Episode:

Click here to read the transcript:

Welcome to Learn to Thrive with ADHD. This is the podcast for adults with ADHD or ADHD-like symptoms. I'm your host, Coach Mande John. I'm here to make your life with ADHD easier. Let's get started.

Impulsive spending is a challenge for many people with ADHD and it can lead to financial stress and emotional turmoil. My video on impulsive spending on YouTube still receives comments every week from people struggling, and I thought the podcast would be a great place to reteach the concepts that are there, as well as add new tools and information that I've learned since.

We'll talk about why it happens and I think you'll be surprised, and most importantly, what to do about it. Now, if you're not an impulsive spender, there's still information here for you, because the same concepts apply to anything we do impulsively. Remember, impulse control is an executive function skill and, being a skill, we can work to improve it.

So who am I to talk about this? An ADHD-er with a former impulsive spending problem. Both my husband and I were impulsive spenders and at one point it got so bad that we sold everything except the absolute necessities and moved into a trailer in his parents' backyard to pay off $90,000 in debt. I promise I will not ask you to do anything so extreme. I was just so fed up and so stressed and that was really the only source of contention in our relationship, so I took action to get rid of it. We're going to give you some actions that are not so extreme.

Before we get to the nuts and bolts of this, I want to say that deep down, the reason we purchase anything is because of how we think it will make us feel. You'll see many examples of this here but it's a temporary feeling, and then we're left with the stress and regret. I'll offer you a lot of practical tools, but in the end, I'm going to offer you the most powerful tool to solve any impulsive behavior.

Now let's talk about the ADHD brain stuff. For those with ADHD, impulsivity is not just a term, it's a daily reality. One problem that causes impulsive spending is instant gratification. One issue is that the instant gratification we get gives us a surge of dopamine, which we need because we're low in dopamine. This drives that behavior to happen again and again. The allure of instant gratification is powerful.

The excitement of a new purchase offers a brief escape from restlessness and boredom. You'll notice here that what we're doing is avoiding discomfort. One effective strategy to counter this is the 24-hour rule. When the urge to buy strikes, give yourself a full day before making the purchase. Sitting with the discomfort and allowing it gives you a cooling-off period that allows you to evaluate if it's genuinely a necessity or if it's just a distraction.

Emotional regulation also comes into play. Relief spending can serve as a way to cope with overwhelming emotions. Shopping provides a temporary distraction from stress or sadness, but we can choose healthier options instead. What are the free things you enjoy that relieve stress or make you happy? What would fulfill these needs instead of spending? Sometimes it might be as simple as going for a walk.

Sometimes what we're craving is sensory stimulation to combat restlessness. Shopping's visual and tactile experience can offer stimulation, but there are ways to achieve this without overspending. Consider hobbies like cooking, gardening, and crafting as good alternatives.

Go in with a plan. You can do this by establishing a clear budget and a shopping list before you shop. I've worked with several clients who come to me with budget problems, and I will say that the number one problem is they're afraid to face the reality of their financial numbers. Remember, they are just numbers, but it's important to face them and have a spending plan that's based on reality because the reality will find us eventually.

Now that we've explored the reasons behind impulsive spending, let's dive into practical strategies to regain control over your finances.

Visual budgeting: Create a visual representation of your financial goals and display it where you'll see it daily. The visual reminder keeps your objectives at the forefront of your mind.

The 30-day list: Instead of immediately purchasing something, add it to a 30-day list. Revisit the list after a month and you'll find that the desire to get it has often gone away.

1-in-1-out rule: Commit to getting rid of an old item whenever you bring in a new one. This rule encourages mindful consumption.

Spending alerts: Utilize spending alerts from your bank or financial apps. These alerts provide a reality check before you complete a purchase.

Have an accountability partner: Share your financial goals with someone that you trust. Regularly updating them on your progress can provide the extra motivation needed to curb impulsive spending.

Impulsive spending in the context of ADHD is a challenge, but it's one that can be managed. Armed with insights into why it occurs and practical strategies, you're better equipped to take control.

Now let me share with you the truth about our brain. It seems so simple, but it's the answer to impulsivity in general. We just have to not do the thing enough times that it no longer is something that we do on impulse, whether it's impulsive spending, grabbing cookies or ice cream every evening, checking your phone, spending online, or even things as extreme as alcohol or drugs.

When you break it down, you have to sit with the urge to do the thing and not answer it enough times that your brain gives up prompting you to do it. No matter which of the tools you're using. Above it all, it comes down to this simple truth: they're simply helping you to see the urge and not answer it. Keep track of how many times you don't answer the urge. Can you get to 100? How do you feel then?

Do you still feel impulsive or do you feel more aware and capable of having an urge and not acting on it? It's food for thought. Remember, progress is gradual and it won't be perfect, so be patient with yourself. The kinder you are through this process, the easier it'll be.

If you want extra support, join us at the ADHD Academy, where I have a course called Managing Your Brain and Money. I've got you and you've got this. See you next week.

Thank you for your time, and especially for your attention today. If you haven't looked into the ADHD Academy, you'll want to do that. This is my membership, with binge-able courses, weekly life coaching, new courses every month, a community of like-minded people and more.

Be sure to head over to to get the details.

See you next week.

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