Neurodiversity & Finances: Planning For The Future When You Think Differently
By Andrew Komarow, CFP®, AEP®, AIF®, BFA™, CAP®, CASL®, CHFC®, ChSNC®, CLU®, FSCP®, REBC®, RHU®, RICP
Planning Your Future
Individuals with neurodiverse brains come with many unique strengths including things like great attention to detail, ability to think outside of the box, and the ability to “hyper focus” on a subject matter that interests them. All of that aside, many individuals who are neurodiverse are unemployed, and most estimates say that number is up to 85%. With that in mind, it is hard to imagine finding time to plan for the future when you are not just financially potentially living paycheck to paycheck, but what I like to call emotionally living from paycheck to paycheck. Living to work, living to get through the routine of each day, emotionally investing yourself in that grind – planning for an unprecedented future can feel impossible.
As an autistic individual myself, I understand the passion behind a special interest. Planning for my financial future happens to be one of mine, but I understand that that just may not be yours. In a study done by John Grable and So-Hyun Joo, it was found that financial assistance is more sought out when someone is under financial stress (as in, something has happened and help is needed in the moment), but not necessarily from those suffering anxiety (a constant state of unwell, not necessarily brought on by a specific circumstance). The same study found that over 50% of participants reported feeling anxiety over finances. We all know that autism and anxiety go hand-in-hand. This is why a financial planner is so important. It is absolutely ok and necessary to ask for someone to help you understand your situation, what you are going through, and who can help be an accountability partner to keep you on track – a financial planner offers all of that.
However, before we can talk about how one should plan for the future, we need to talk about why it is important to plan for the future. The “why” is always much more important than the “how”. It is important to know why you did something, what the intentions where at the time, and with something very complicated as finances, this is something that is challenging to do on your own. You should be able to say what is important to you, what you would like your life to look like 10/20/30+ years down the road, and it is with the guidance of a professional that you can walk together to take the steps needed to accomplish those goals.
Our current world demands us to live day-to-day. Who can blame us? If you are getting a check every week or two from an employer, or benefits and that are just covering your life right now – who has time or even the extra to plan for the future? Why do that when benefits (and understanding how they work) already takes up so much time, and the littlest movement can change them? What is the point? I want to start off by saying that you are in control. You can plan for the future, and it may look more optimistic with more options than you realized.
Myths About Government Benefits
- If I work I lose all of my benefits: We have done lots of work and research into this issue at Planning Across the Spectrum. What is all seems to come down to is really looking at what the individual is worried about losing. We have found that more often than not, if an individual is capable of working – the benefits of having a paycheck and what you receive from your employer combined with the disability-related benefits you can still qualify for far outweigh what you would receive by not working. We have also found that not only does it increase your ability to plan your financial future successfully, but quality of life goes up as well.
- There will be an impact on my financial benefits: Okay, so this might be true. You may lose some of your financial benefits but let’s do some simple math. If your primary benefit is Social Security Disability and that benefit is $1000 dollars a month, and you get offered a job that is fulfilling and rewarding that is going to pay you $4000 a month, then of course it makes sense to lose some of those benefits! The good news is there are other tools available such as ABLE accounts and state specific programs that will allow individuals with a disability to work and save even more depending on the program. You’ll be making more money for your life right now, and saving for the future all still with some government-assisted benefits.
- Healthcare Benefits: Many individuals with neurodiverse brains not only have their primary disability to worry about, but also experience “co-morbid” conditions that bring about lots of health expenses. The healthcare system is designed to be complicated, and to make matters more confusing, there can be so much variation depending on where you live. The good news is that currently there are many options to keep your health insurance. We have clients all over the country and typically we see that even while working, most with disabilities are able to keep their current health benefits. Using Connecticut as an example, you would have to make over $75,000 a year to see a change in your Medicare or Medicaid benefits.
- Other Benefits: There are other benefits an individual might receive for services and supports, there are different factors for each program, however it is important to consider why you have the benefits and if something can take its place. For example – if you are not working full time because one of your main benefits you are receiving from a vocational rehabilitate services is a job coach, you should be using that job coach to get a full-time job if possible! That’s why you are there! If you are receiving housing assistance – do some math. Would a job where you are making a full-time salary cover the cost of your housing and bring in more money for you to save and even some extra fun money? Often, the answer is yes.
How You Can Start Planning Now
- Start Small: Starting small, but early, will always result in more money in the end than starting later. You don’t need to take any big chances or big moves right away! Compound interest and time on your side can result in amazing things. The secret to getting ahead is getting started! Look at all the benefits and resources that are already available to you, and look into a way to utilize those benefits to your advantage. If you don’t know where to start, or what questions to even ask, go to your trusted adviser! That’s what we are here for.
- Build Credit: Getting a small credit card such as a store card (who doesn’t want 5% off at amazon?) can go a long way to building a financial future. Your credit score matters for not just getting a loan or buying a house, but it can affect whether you are able to get an apartment, insurance rates, and even a job! Putting a small monthly charge on a credit card and paying it off every month is a great way to easily, and without much thought, build credit.
- Examine your current expenses regularly: It seems simple, but it is so impactful to look at your statements every month and make sure that you are paying for services you actually use. Are you really utilizing that gym membership? Do you really watch Hulu often enough to justify that subscription? Little expenses add up to big numbers that could have been put away for the future.
Help From Someone That Understands
Above all, when you are ready to plan for more, use a financial planner who understands your unique needs. Talk to someone who understands the complexity of being a neurodiverse individual living in a neurotypical world. Talk to your adviser about creating a comprehensive financial plan, starting with where you want to be at the end. It is important to know the reason you are doing something, and it is important to work with someone who understands that end goal. The complex planning is many times the most important planning, however, you need to be in a place to be able to listen and implement it. It is very important to work with someone who understands how you think and can be your guide — but still part of your team, not your leader on the path of the future.
Andrew Andrew Komarow, CFP®, AEP®, AIF®, BFA™, CAP®, CASL®, CHFC®, ChSNC®, CLU®, FSCP®, REBC®, RHU®, RICP® the founder of Planning Across the Spectrum Andrew specializes in specialize in helping any individual, family or employer of those with autism and other disabilities pursue financial independence. Striving to enhance the quality of their lives, and their future. Andrew provides a unique perspective for those with unique needs, their caregivers, and their families because he has “walked in their shoes,” having received his autism diagnosis late in life.
To learn more about Andrew Komarow, visit planningacrossthespectrum.com/our-team. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.