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Neurodiverse Financial Wellness

What are “Money Skills?

This is a question we at Planning Across the Spectrum get asked all the time from clients of all different ages, disabilities, and levels of support. Our work with autistic, ADHD, dyslexic, dyscalculic, and intellectually disabled clients has repeatedly led to this question as we help them strive for further independence. As neurodiverse individuals and financial planners ourselves, we understand the importance of these skills to so many we work with. This is why we wish we could say we had an easy answer to such a seemingly simple question. Money skills are connected to life skills, social skills, relationship-building skills, and crucially, independence skills. Money skills are clearly important, but they’re not always as simple as they seem. In order to define them, we need to talk about the nuances of understanding money skills.

The truth is, “Money skills” means different things to different people. Some people see it as having the quick mental math skills to do seemingly complex calculations quickly (are four 8.5 oz boxes of cereal on sale for $4 a better deal than two 24 oz boxes of cereal for $5?), others see it as being able to balance a checkbook and understand the fine print on their credit card statement, some people even reduce the need for personal money skills by hiring an accountant, and still, others simply see it as remembering the due dates for all of their bills. The truth is, “money skills” can refer to any habits or practices that keep someone financially healthy—and “financially healthy” is a term that not everyone defines the same way, either. Everything I listed above is a “money skill”, and they are all valuable skills to develop, but the point of money skills isn’t to employ every possible skill, the point is to feel financially healthy. This is even more true in our case because many of the clients we work with on a long-term basis are neurodiverse, and not all traditional “money skills” are as doable for them as they are for others. We always recommend starting this process by thinking about what being “financially healthy” feels like to you. Then we can think about the many potential steps that can and should be taken toward reaching that feeling.

Financial Health Means Less Stress and More Enjoyment

Think about your life for a moment. Do you feel financially healthy, or do you feel there’s room for improvement? Do you struggle to pay your bills on time for any reason? Are you trying to save up money but never have anything left at the end of the month? Is your credit card debt or student loan balance not going down even though you try to make extra payments? Are you experiencing conflicts with a partner, roommate, or family member over money? Are you suffering the consequences of a weak credit score even though you’ve been financially responsible all your life? Do you get hit with overdraft fees on a regular basis because you forgot about all your bills on autopay? Are you trying to track your spending so you can make a get-out-of-debt plan, but just can’t get the numbers together?

There is a difference between having anxiety over money, and having difficulties with money. Both are extremely valid feelings to have in our society, but the answer to unnecessary anxiety over money issues is to work on the anxiety. The questions above help determine if there are real money difficulties that need to be thoroughly addressed in order to improve quality of life. There are many reasons to have the difficulties explored in the questions above, but having them often means barriers to living an exciting and fulfilling life. Financial Health means having the available funds and income to live a healthy life, and we at Planning Across the Spectrum believe this is a very valuable goal to strive for. The questions listed in the paragraph above are a glimpse into the anxiety and feelings of being overwhelmed that naturally come with not being financially healthy, but each of those concerns or issues can be dealt with one by one. Money skills are a great way to do this, and therefore a great way to strive for financial health, and avoid stress. Money Skills like budgeting can completely turn an individual with ADHD and difficulties with executive functioning around. We have seen it happen and it’s happened to us ourselves.

Money Skills for the Neurodiverse Community is our Specialty

Whether you frame your situation as “I have money problems”, “I lack money skills,” or even “Nobody ever taught me” it all comes down to similar difficulties with not having found the money skills that work for you personally. Many people will offer advice on what they consider money skills, but if you’re neurodivergent, those "tips and tricks” may not work for you, may not be explained to you the way you need to hear it, or may need some adjustment to fit your life and make sense to your brain. This is a process we completely encourage! This is how you adapt traditional money skills to your unique life and unique way of seeing the world. As mentioned earlier, your money skills are any habits, tricks, or seemingly strange practices that get you and keep you on track financially. If it works, it works, and that makes it a money skill.

A common trick for saving money that we often hear is “Cook your meals at home instead of eating out or ordering in all the time.” While cooking at home will cut your food costs down significantly, for too many people who are disabled or neurodivergent and are struggling with executive dysfunction the combined processes of grocery shopping, food prep, the actual cooking, and the clean-up afterward may make the prospect overwhelming. Planning Across the Spectrum gets it, that’s why we work to help each of our clients develop workarounds that make those traditional “tips and tricks” actually viable for them. One example we’ve repeatedly found success with is working with clients who only have a limited time at home to cook. Even if you only have the time to cook at home one night a week, you can make the most of it by cooking a large batch of a meal you like, dividing it into your usual one-meal portions, and freezing the leftovers for later, replacing anywhere between 2 to 8 meals throughout the week. If you get takeout or delivery a lot, this can end up saving you a lot of money. Even if you can only cook at home one day per month, it still helps, especially if you can cook multiple meals that day. Meal planning, no matter on what scale or how often you do it, is a money skill. Embrace it at the level you feel able to and then find other skills that are also doable to compliment them.

Teaching Money Skills Empowers Neurodivergent Individuals to Live Their Best Lives

Whatever expenses or difficulties with money you have, whether you live independently or not, whether you have $50 to spend for the month or have a job with a regular paycheck, you and all neurodivergent individuals deserve the opportunity to understand and manage your personal finances on your own terms. “Having money,” no matter how large or small the scale, is key to feeling in control of your life because it represents independence in our society. Whatever your specific habits or techniques are, if they work for you then they are useful money skills that translate to financial health and opportunities for independence. The exciting part though is that there are always more money skills to develop because so many of them are specific to you and how your brain works. There’s so much to learn and so many ways to save stress and headaches over finances while also empowering yourself to spend the money you have effectively.

By connecting and talking with the experienced financial professionals we have here at Planning Across the Spectrum, you can set yourself up for success in the future when it comes to handling money and avoiding stressful situations regarding expenses. Reach out to us and let’s chat about how we can help you develop the right skills to live your best life as a neurodivergent or disabled individual!