National Center for Learning Disabilities

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Managing Money When You Have LD or ADHD

job-interview-man-in-suitLiving independently—managing your life on your own—is probably one of your major goals. One key aspect of independent living is managing your money: budgeting, controlling spending, balancing your checkbook, saving for major purchases, paying bills on time, banking, estimating costs and so on. Many people with learning disabilities (especially those with the math LD “dyscalculia” or ADHD) find that managing money is among the most difficult problems they face.

Those with a math LD typically struggle with:

  • Counting and calculating rapidly.
  • Doing mental math. Estimating costs like grocery bills.
  • Budgeting money and balancing a checkbook.
  • Feeling capable of managing personal/household finances.

As with other kinds of learning disabilities, a math LD requires you to come up with effective coping strategies. Becoming financially independent is not easy for anyone. You can, however, learn to manage the everyday challenges of a math LD.

Figure Out a Budget

Your budget is a report of how much money comes in each month and how much goes out. The basic rule: don’t spend more than you have. Here’s a step-by-step approach:

  1. Figure out how much you earn during a typical month. If money comes in from more than one source, record each source with the corresponding amount. Write your monthly total in your budget book (which can be paper or online).

  2. Below your earnings, list all expenses you must pay every month, such as rent, utility bills (e.g., gas, electric, water), loan payments, transportation costs (e.g., bus fare, gasoline) and food. If expenses vary from month to month, estimate how much you’re typically spending. Update your estimates as needed.

  3. Include a savings category. It’s important to build a savings account, either for a big purchase (like a car) or to make sure you can cover unexpected expenses.

  4. For one month, keep track of all your payments and purchases—whether you use cash, check, ATM debit card, or credit card. For all purchases, get a receipt. Carry an envelope for receipts. When you get home, immediately record all the checks you wrote (carbon checks give you an automatic record) and any ATM withdrawals. Print receipts for online purchases.

  5. Track your credit card purchases. Keep a running total for the month in your budget book so you can see how much money you owe. Figure out in advance how much you can afford to charge each month, assuming you will pay your credit card in full. (Avoid “minimum” payments. If you don’t pay the full amount, you’ll be adding finance charges.)

  6. List all your daily expenses in detail. Use categories such as “entertainment” and include subcategories. (Entertainment might have subcategories like restaurant meals, music downloads or smartphone apps and movies.) Add a “miscellaneous” category if you must, but keep it small and identify all purchases you list there.

  7. Every day, record all your purchases and payments. File all receipts, including check stubs or carbons, in labeled envelopes or folders (for example, rent, credit card, ATM, online purchases, groceries).

  8. Use a calculator to add everything up. (“Talking calculators” have built-in speech synthesizers that read aloud any number, symbol, or operation key you press. They also “speak” the answer to a problem so you can make sure—before you transfer the figure to paper—that you’ve pressed the right key.)

  9. At the end of the month, study your daily tallies. Look for patterns and update earlier estimates.

Budgeting software, such as Quicken or Microsoft Money, can help you create and maintain a budget. For help with the software and many other tips for managing money, consult a website like

Tags: college-adult