YNAB tree logoAustralian flag
It looks like you're located in Australia.
We have an Australian version of our website.

Please confirm your location and we’ll send you to the appropriate site!

Budgeting with ADHD

Helpful Life Hacks for Managing Money

Sometimes it seems as though adulthood is one very long obstacle course. It’s all either smooth sailing and easy wins or lessons that require special training and repeated attempts to overcome. 

That analogy is particularly true for people with adult ADHD/ADD. You may know exactly what needs to be done to get through each day, but the actions required to complete the tasks might not come naturally without implementing some life hacks to help make it happen. 

Benefits of Budgeting with ADHD

Creating a budget is more than just sitting down with your expenses and making a spreadsheet; it involves setting up a system, changing your mindset, and incorporating some accountability in order to make it all stick. 

Sounds boring, right? 

Yeah, oddly enough, budgeting apps don’t get near the same hype as video games or the newest HBO original series. But, let me ask you this...did Game of Thrones help you avoid overdraft fees? Did Grand Theft Auto help you break the paycheck to paycheck cycle? (Legally?) 

Think of setting up your budget like training to complete an obstacle course. Sure, the push ups and sprinting and falling off of ledges isn’t a ton of fun, but winning American Ninja Warrior? That would be super fun. You’re going to be the Intergalactic Budgeting Ninja Warrior. Or something. 

For adults with ADHD/ADD, budgeting is more than money management, it’s a system put into place to give your brain a break from remembering (and/or avoiding) the jumble of due dates, bills, balances, and the informal, and often inaccurate, mental math necessary to justify (or regret) yet another impulse purchase. 

Think of your budget like a little butler who follows you around carrying the load that the uncertainty of disorganized finances can bring. That guy is your friend! Is it annoying when he tells you that you shouldn’t get takeout tonight? Absolutely, but you’ll thank him when you don’t have to call your landlord to explain that you spent your rent money on tacos. Again. Mmmm, tacos. 

The Best Budgeting App for ADHD

The best budgeting app is whichever one that you’ll actually use, but the YNAB app and proven method has some benefits that may be particularly helpful in serving as a detour for the roadblocks that are most likely to pop up as the result of ADHD/ADD symptoms. 

The Four Rules: 

If you find yourself feeling easily disorganized, YNAB’s Four Rules simplify the philosophy and methodology of budgeting in a way that changes how you think about money. Incorporating YNAB’s Four Rules into your daily life creates a set of guidelines about how to prioritize your spending, to expect the unexpected, to allow yourself some flexibility (and forgiveness), and to stop living paycheck to paycheck. 

YNAB’s Four Rules of Budgeting Are: 

  1. Give Every Dollar a Job: Every time you get some money, ask  yourself, “What does this money need to do before I get more money?” Then go through your budget and assign a dollar amount to each category, in order of upcoming due dates or urgency. When you Give Every Dollar a Job, you’re creating an intentional plan for your money that provides ongoing guidance and feedback on your spending. 
  1. Embrace True Expenses: Although life often seems wildly unpredictable, there are some things that we know will happen eventually. Birthdays, holidays, insurance premiums, annual subscriptions, your car registration, and buying new tires all tend to pop up every once in a while and overburden our budget, but what if you set aside manageable chunks of money each month to cover those variable expenses? Life would be so much easier, that’s what. 
  1. Roll With the Punches: You don’t become an Intergalactic Budgeting Ninja Warrior overnight. Every once in a while, that comically oversized padded wheel is going to knock you off of that ledge you’ve climbed to. That’s okay! You’ll just need to cover your overspending by moving already assigned money from one category to another. Life happens and if your budget isn’t flexible, you’re less likely to stick to it. No one needs something else that makes them feel bad. 
  1. Age Your Money: Eventually, you’re going to have a better understanding of your money through budgeting, and spending less and saving more will become easier over time. When you can pay next month’s bills with this month’s money, you’ve broken free from the paycheck to paycheck cycle, and, oh man, is that a relief. 

ADHD-Friendly Budgeting Features

YNAB was designed to integrate budgeting into your daily life without becoming a tedious or overwhelming chore. Here are a few of the features that will help keep you on track: 

Direct Import: If you choose to link your bank account to your budget, all of your transactions will import automatically. No more losing receipts, forgetting how much you spent, or trying to do on-the-spot subtraction under pressure to see if you can afford something. You simply look at your budget, and it will tell you if you have money available to spend in the category you’re considering. 

Accessibility: Let’s be honest with ourselves—after a long day of work, chores, and life in general, sometimes it can be hard to talk yourself into firing up the laptop to engage in a relaxing budgeting session. YNAB’s mobile app makes it easy to check your available funds at a glance and on the go, and makes it possible to enter, approve, or match transactions when you’re looking for a midday distraction. Conversely, with the web app, you can take a budgeting break from your work day on your laptop. Your budget is basically everywhere you go. 

Image showing the YNAB app on a mobile phone

Customizable categories: Budgeting isn’t one-size-fits-all and your method for organizing your expenses doesn’t need to be either. Although YNAB starts you off with a basic template that makes sense to us, maybe you think about your budget categories differently. Regroup, reorder, rename, add emojis for a quick visual reminder, create an entire category group dedicated to your favorite snack items in order of preference...do whatever you want. It’s your budget. Make it as fun as budgeting can be. 

Flexibility: Some budgeting apps and advisors are awfully judgy about how you spend your money. YNAB knows that a lot of people are going to skip budgeting altogether if it introduces yet another source of guilt, shame, or feelings of inadequacy in your daily life. Remember Rule Three? (Psst...it’s to Roll With the Punches.) We’re not here to tell you how to spend your money, we’re here to help you manage it. Budget for what you want, move money around, forgive yourself if you fall off the financial wagon, plant a wish farm, and be kind to yourself while you learn. 

A budget screenshot showing a Wish Farm category group and a Wish List category group

Auto-Assign: Need some help prioritizing your expenses? Or not into spending too much time making decisions about your dollars? Auto-Assign will offer suggestions based on due dates and prior spending habits with the push of a button.

YNAB's Auto-Assign makes budgeting with ADHD easier
Auto-Assign can do some of your budgeting work for you.

Credit Card Management: When you add your credit cards to YNAB, your budget encourages you to categorize your credit card spending and then shuffles money from its “Available” spot directly to your credit card payment category. Bought toilet paper at Costco on your Visa card? Categorize it as a household good, specify that you used your Visa, and your little YNAB budget butler says, “Oh, hey, we’re not going into debt for toilet paper, so let me take that amount out of your ‘household goods available funds’ envelope and stash it in your ‘Visa payment available funds’ envelope. No more feeling bad when the credit card statement shows up and there’s not enough money to cover it. 

Spending and savings targets: There are bills that are due at the same time every month for about the same amount, expenses that pop up just irregularly enough to make them forgettable, and savings goals that we hope to reach eventually. It’s a lot to keep track of. Setting targets in your budget can help you remember how much to set aside, how much you’ve already assigned to that category, and provide a colorful visual reminder of your progress. 

A screenshot showing a savings target being set for $3000 by August
Targets to help you stay on track with spending and saving

Scheduled Transactions: Setting up automatic payments for your bills is a real lifesaver if you’re not good with due dates, but can be a frightening prospect when you’re not confident that the money will actually be there. Go ahead and do it, set a budget target, and add a scheduled transaction for the future. You won’t have to think about it again until YNAB asks you to match it to your bank transaction, and by then it’s a done deal. No more late payments. 

Built-In Support and Accountability

Budgeting can be a challenge for anyone, but budgeting with ADHD presents a special set of obstacles. Creating a budget in YNAB gives you one source of truth—you can check your budget instead of your bank account so that you can easily visualize your finances and see if you really have money to spend or not. 

The act of giving your dollars jobs each time you get new money, approving transactions as they pop up, and reconciling your budget helps keep you connected and engaged to your current financial state without overwhelming you with a ton of random tasks or irrelevant information. 

Last, but definitely not least, YNAB changes the way you think about money. You can learn about personal finance, about budgeting, and about YNAB in whatever way works best for you. Enjoy podcasts? Perfect! Are you a video viewer? We’ve got those! Do you remember best by reading blog posts or help docs? Lots of options there. Need weekly tips and tricks delivered to your inbox? We’re on it. Looking for a community to bounce ideas off of, Q&A sessions, or one-on-one support? We’ve got you! 

Ready to get started? Sign up for a free 34-day trial today—and don’t worry, there’s no credit card (or commitment) required.  

Related Articles
Budgeting with ADHD