By Taylor J.
I’m so glad this chapter exists. But I may need to step aside a couple of times and breathe into a paper bag.
Money issues are what drove me to the ADHD spouses support group, and what drove my husband to treatment. This season in our marriage was long, and it was terrifying. It nearly drove us to divorce, twice.
Did I mention my husband has a PhD in math?
Welcome back to the “You, Me, and ADHD” book club. Have you been reading along? Today, Taylor writes about the immense impact this chapter had on her marriage and the rest of her life. Chapter 4: “It’s Only Money, Honey!”
Chapter 4 explains why ADHD can affect finances so negatively, but let’s start with the jaw-dropping statistics.
According to a 2004 survey:
- At least $67 billion, and possibly up to $116 billion is lost in workplace productivity each year due to untreated ADHD.
- Household incomes average more than $10,000 lower for high school graduates who have ADHD, and more than $4,000 lower for college graduates.
- Only 34% of subjects with ADHD were employed full time, verse 59% of controls.
I’d believe every one of those points. We’ve lived them all in our marriage.
Gina gives a breakdown of how ADHD symptoms add up to negative numbers in the bank account, along with some heart-wrenching stories. (My favorite was the lady who overspent the joint credit card by $8,000, then complained that her husband was judging her.)
The Financial Loops On Our Roller Coaster
Yet, what contributed most to the financial roller coaster in our marriage was the “poor working memory” from chapter three.
Despite his brilliance, my husband couldn’t connect the “cause” (his under-earning and out-of-control spending habits) with “effect” (our poverty-level lifestyle). He thought that I just needed to improve my domestic and thrift skills, and maybe get to work on that novel.
No one in our social circle would have believed that I was the financially responsible one. I’m obviously hyperactive in public, and can be impulsive in conversations. There was also a stereotype among us that women were the big spenders, and men sat helplessly by as their wives dragged home bag after bag of shoes from Macy’s!
Here is the reality: I worked night shift (from home), breast-fed to save money, and went without basics like medical checkups and dental cleanings. I learned to sew, cook from scratch, scour yard sales and thrift stores for our furniture, plan grocery trips around sales and coupons, and barter for baby needs and toys. It was practically a full time job, just to live within our means. Did I mention we had three young children (now four)?
“No one in our social circle
would have believed that I was
the financially responsible one.
I’m obviously hyperactive
and can be impulsive in
Yet, I would come home from the thrift store, excited that I found a dresser for our kids for only a dollar—all it needed was a coat of paint and some hardware—and would find my husband opening a $70 ratchet set. “I needed the metric kind,” he’d say, “and they were 15 percent off.” He’s not a mechanic; he’s a math professor! He didn’t “need” this ratchet set. He wanted it.
Stories like this happened once a week.
I couldn’t understand why he’d buy expensive tools for his hobbies (or camping gear, or musical instruments) and yet had no problem with me getting public assistance when we “qualified” for it. I often wondered if I was the only wife in the food stamp or WIC line whose husband had a PhD, some great guitars, and no food in the house.
When he finally got a great, tenure-track job offer, he forgot to figure into his take-home pay taxes, insurance, and the cost of commuting forty miles. He was actually making less than he’d made as a graduate instructor.
“Well, I can’t work another job,” he said. “It’s in my contract. We have no other options but for you to work.”
He was opposed to childcare on principle—no stranger would raise our children! So it “only made sense” for me to keep working that nightshift call center job. Besides, we wouldn’t be paying for daycare, so that was a real benefit, right?
I don’t think I slept for years.
Did I mention, we had three children under 5 years old, two with medical issues that required constant monitoring?
The Summer Heartbreak
What broke my heart each year was the “Summer Issue.”
Every single year he would assure me that he would get a teaching job to cover our summer income.
Every single year something came up that meant he simply couldn’t work.
Then, because there was “no other option,” I should just work more and he would stay home with the kids. But every single year, we would end up deeper in debt. Because there was no way that a sleep-deprived stay-at-home-mom of three could make the kind of money that a math PhD could. Which meant that every single year, he would still want to be on the 9-month salary plan, to cover our expenses. “Besides,” he said, “I worked really hard to get that PhD. I shouldn’t have to be delivering pizzas or working at UPS!”
He never understood that I also worked really hard to earn my degree, and that working a nightshift call-center job wasn’t exactly my career dreams come true.
I tried so many times, and in so many ways, to spell out what was wrong in our budget, and in our spending habits. I was a huge Dave Ramsey fan, and loved his budgeting tools, but we could never stick with any system for very long.
For example, despite my best attempts to explain it to him, Dr. Math couldn’t understand why we couldn’t afford to keep the girls in a private Christian school. Finally, I said, jokingly, “The only way we could make this budget work is if I either worked 60 hours a week, or home-schooled and worked 40 hours a week.” He thought for a minute and said, “I think homeschooling and working 40 hours would be easier on you. There would be more variety.”
This was all “abstraction” for Dr. Math. He couldn’t see the day-to-day reality.
Was This Part of God’s Plan?
Even worse, we were a part of a church that emphasized that God created marriage with certain roles for women and men. The woman was always to submit to her husband, in every circumstance. Even if the husband made a wrong choice, God would honor the woman for obeying her husband, because she was actually obeying God.
I really thought God had it out for me!
Oh, and speaking badly about your husband to friends was considered gossip, and was a sin. This meant no one in my family or friend group had any clue what was going on.
When I was so physically and emotionally broken, I saw a therapist. She realized that I’d not told a soul (ha, I initially typed sole) about the financial problems that plagued our marriage. Before I saw her again, she said, I had to talk to two friends and explain exactly what was going on in our marriage.
My friends were enraged.
“Does he think he’s in high school, where he’s supposed to get summers off for the rest of his life?”
“You’re already working a full-time job as a mom.”
“It’s not like you’re in LA wanting to be a screenwriter. This is awful—when is it going to be your turn?”
I woke up after talking to my friends, and realized my life wasn’t mine; it was a juggling act, trying to make all of the circumstances work for someone else’s ideal life. That person never once reciprocated to try and make a single one of my dreams come true. If I dropped even one of the balls that I was constantly keeping in the air, our whole life could come crashing down.
It was approaching summer again, and I asked him if he’d looked for a summer job. He got angry, and told me again that he shouldn’t have to be delivering pizzas or working for UPS with a math PhD. Thanks to the strength my friends gave me, I was able to say, “No. You either start actively looking for a summer job, or go move in with your parents until you are ready to.”
(Those were the hardest words I’ve ever said in my life. I get knots in my stomach just writing them out.)
After eight years of dealing with this financial hell, he looked at me and said, “You mean I go without a job for one summer, and you’re going to kick me out?”
By then, our consumer and student loan debt was equal to twice his yearly income. I’d known for almost a year that he had ADHD, but he didn’t think he did, and wouldn’t go for an evaluation.
I stuck to my guns—and Mr. Math PhD got a summer job delivering pizzas.
Learning to Connect Time With Money
If I ever need a reminder that he actually loves me, and that his behavior was a biological problem, then I need to remember that he got that job. He didn’t want to lose me. He thought I was being completely unreasonable, and he couldn’t understand why I was making such a big deal about money. But he went and got the job anyway!
I’ll never forget the day he sat at the kitchen table in his buttery-smelling pizza uniform, with a stack of dollar bills in front of him, and said, “I worked ten hours, and this is what I get in exchange for that. This is the first time in my life I’ve ever connected time and money.”
By the end of the month, he tried one of my Ritalin pills without me knowing about it—and finally understood that ADHD was affecting his judgment and ability to connect things. He scheduled an ADHD evaluation that week.
(Oddly enough, they tried to diagnose him with depression! If he hadn’t tried my Ritalin—and had an amazing, instant response to them—they would have prescribed something entirely different. Please be alert and on guard as your partner is evaluated.)
A New, Happier, More Solvent Life
Two years later, I don’t recognize our life.
Dr. Math stayed with that pizza delivery job for a year—and after a while he actually enjoyed it!
He also tutored some of the other employees that were in high school and college math classes, and he strongly advised them against student loan debt, laughing that they didn’t want to be where he was in ten years. He set a great example by working harder and longer than any other driver, chipping in to do dishes and bus tables when deliveries were slow. When it was time to move on, everyone in the restaurant offered to give him glowing job references if he ever needed one.
And I finally slept.
Dr. Math has even become an excellent money manager. Right now we have money in the bank, and I’m sitting here in a coffee shop, writing out our story wearing good-quality clothes, with a handbag and messenger bag that’s in good repair, sipping a nice cup of coffee.
And he just got a job offer in another state for twice what he’s making at his current job.
But don’t forget, folks: ADHD isn’t real. It is s a Big Pharma conspiracy. All we need is better self-control.
How About Your Experience with ADHD and Money?
For this chapter’s discussion points:
- Is money a struggle in your marriage? According to Gina’s ADHD Partner survey, 20 percent of ADHD couples have no problems in this area!
- How have you or your partner responded to money issues? Denial? Minimizing? Black-and-white thinking? Learned helplessness?
- What role have you taken to stabilize your financial life? Do you handle all the bills, make up budgets, dole out cash envelopes, etc.?