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  • By Shannon Caissie
  • Posted September 23, 2022

What Is the “ADHD Tax” on the Neurodiverse?

If you’re part of online communities that include neurodiverse people (whether ADHD, autistic, TBI, etc.), you may have seen others mention “the ADHD tax” and wondered about it. While it has nothing to do with the IRS, it is a very real financial burden for many people when their neurodivergent characteristics such as executive dysfunction end up costing them money—traits that the average neurotypical person doesn’t struggle with and thus wouldn’t have incurred that cost. For some, the ADHD tax is an almost daily part of life, and depending on a socioeconomic level, it can range from a minor inconvenience to another ball-and-chain keeping someone in generational poverty. You don’t have to be diagnosed with ADHD to experience it, and it comes in many forms.

What do many neurodiverse people have in common? They forget stuff, even when they know it’s important and want to remember it. Whether it’s where you put the remote, where your favorite pair of jeans ended up, paying your cellphone bill, or a book on how to de-clutter your house, things go missing or get left underneath another item that you didn’t expect to sit on that table for three months. When you can’t find the bathing suit you bought last year, you have to buy a new one if you want to go swimming. A personal example: my spouse who used to go months without checking their mailbox missed paying a toll bill after driving to New York City and back… about two years before I met them. What should have cost about $12 had been bumped up to about $495 due to the late fees and penalties. It took my spouse another few months after finding out about it to call and negotiate it down to closer to $130—still an unexpected expense that could be financially catastrophic to a low-income household. Learn what tools can help low-income neurodiverse individuals.

A very common example of the ADHD tax comes in the form of groceries and food. Who hasn’t bought fresh fruit and vegetables while planning delicious meals, only to find the produce rotting in the fridge three weeks later? People who struggle with executive function, deal with chronic illness, or are otherwise disabled can plan to make meals for their family, but if it’s time to cook and they can’t get started, it’s going to have to be a takeout night. Anyone will tell you that cooking at home saves money, but not if you can’t get around to using the ingredients before they go bad. There’s the ADHD tax you pay when all you wanted was to feed your family without overdrafting your bank account.
Bank fees are another common form of ADHD tax. For those who struggle to manage their personal finances, overdrafts may be a common occurrence that costs them hundreds of dollars a year. Late fees and interest charges from unpaid credit card bills add up quickly. If an unpaid bill gets sent to a collection agency, that fact will show up on credit reports, damaging your credit score which makes life harder or more expensive in other ways—you’ll pay higher interest rates on an auto loan or mortgage, and apartment hunting will be made more difficult with a lower credit score.

It's rough dealing with unexpected ADHD tax, but it can also take the form of a conscious decision that makes life with neurodivergence or disability a little easier. If an autistic person who cooks can’t stand the sensory experience of cutting up raw meat, they may choose pre-cut meat at the grocery store at a somewhat higher price. When they can skip one unpleasant sensory experience, they may find the rest of cooking a meal much easier and be able to avoid the takeout-food form of ADHD tax. Some meal subscription services may take enough of the planning aspect out of making dinner to help a couple be able to cook at home 5 times a week instead of just 2 times a week. Those with the resources to have professional cleaners come into their home on a regular basis often find the investment worthwhile when they can stop worrying about the housework that they struggle with and have a nicer-looking home to boot. It’s the estimated tax payments of neurodiversity—pay it up front and it will likely cost less than waiting until the yearly tax deadline.

On the subject of money, if you struggle to manage your finances, whether on a larger scale with retirement accounts or on a smaller scale with your debit card, hiring a financial planner or financial coach may be a good choice to offset the pre-paid ADHD tax. A financial advisor who understands the differences in how the neurodiverse mind works versus how a neurotypical mind usually works can teach you how to manage your money more efficiently and you could save yourself hundreds of dollars on the aforementioned overdraft fees and interest on credit card balances. Over the years, once good habits are established and maintained, that knowledge is worth literally thousands of dollars.

The ADHD tax may better be described as a neurodivergent tax, or someone might prefer to simply put it as “being disabled, having special needs, or lacking certain life skills is literally more expensive than being abled,” but however you describe it, it’s a reality and it can have major impacts on life. We at Planning Across the Spectrum know what it’s like to live with the ADHD tax. If your ADHD tax bill is too high, contact us for help making plans that work with your neurodiverse specific financial planning needs, skills, limitations, and function levels to lower that bill!

Contact Planning Across the Spectrum for certified financial planning services for the neurodiverse.