Last summer, my partner and I moved from my parents’ house to our own apartment. Although I love having my own place, it has exposed me to the scary realities of adult life: paying the bills. No one likes paying their bills, especially during the cost of living crisis. But when you’re autistic, like me, it’s even more stressful.
A bit about me: I’m 26, live in South Wales with my fiancé and work as a freelance journalist and communications manager. I’m a big fan of Mariah Carey and love to attend his concerts with my mother. Autism differs from person to person. For me, that mostly means getting anxious when meeting new people and being in large crowds (for Mariah, I will, but not for anyone else).
I also have trouble understanding numbers. Looking at numbers puts my brain into overdrive, and every time I get a bill or bank statement, my first reaction is to throw it in my junk drawer and bury my head in the sand. Honestly you could build a skyscraper taller than the Shard rummaging through my drawers and piling unopened bills on top of each other. The danger is that I miss important information that needs my urgent attention.
Jordan, my fiancé, does a good job of going through my unopened letters, making sense of financial information that my brain just can’t decipher, and make sure our bills are paid on time. My parents also help me. They have access to my bank accounts and helped me set up direct debits.
Every January, my dad helps me file my independent tax return. It reminds me to print and save my invoices in a file. Without him, I wouldn’t have a career. And that’s a scary thought because I would struggle to work in an office environment. I need to work from home as it is my safe space. Offices are far too noisy and busy. For me, working in an office would be like trying to concentrate on a busy train platform.
If I didn’t have my partner or my parents to help me manage my money, I would be financially excluded. Interactions with my bank don’t go well, especially if I’m forced to talk to another human on the phone. I hate talking to humans on the phone. The idea of having a conversation with a complete stranger makes me very anxious. When I tried to call my bank in the past and contacted a customer service advisor, I immediately hung up the phone as I was panicking.
My mother sometimes intervenes and calls people on my behalf. If the bank identifies irregularities with my account, blocks my card and forces me to make a phone call to resolve the problem, I will involve my mother. But she can’t talk to my bank. I should contact them in advance and give them permission for my mother to take the call on my behalf. And I don’t feel comfortable talking to them in the first place.
Online chat should be my savior, but it’s not. Chat agents tell me I need to speak to someone on the phone to answer security questions. No way Jose. I hope this will change in the future, but as things stand I feel forgotten and neglected by financial institutions.
The systems put in place seem to be designed for neurotypical people – those who are not autistic – who are able to navigate this financial world with such ease (although I know this is not always the reality). I would describe myself as oblivious to the value of money. It’s something I’ve struggled with all my life.
I remember going to town with my friends when I was a teenager and spending a stupid amount of money on a phone case for a completely different model. I bought it because I liked the texture and color of the case, not because it fit my phone. I remember coming home, showing the case to my mom, and being scolded for wasting money unnecessarily. I really didn’t see the problem.
When I reflect on this story, I feel like a naive child. And before I was diagnosed with autism at age 14, maybe my parents thought I would grow out of those immature tendencies. But my inability to understand the value of money has never gone away and presents serious challenges for me as an adult.
As soon as I get my paycheck, I hop straight in my car to go shopping. I usually end up at B&M buying another home decor piece that I don’t need. For example, when I had to buy stuff for summer vacation, I came home with a giant artificial tree sticking out like a sore thumb from my living room.
My partner, who works as a supervisor at a local restaurant and wedding venue, says our house is turning into a charity shop due to the number of fake plants and statues I keep buying. To a watching outsider, this may seem ridiculous. I’m an adult and I should know when to stop wasting money. But normal responses like budgeting don’t register in my brain.
I also have specific obsessions. Since I have my own house, I have been addicted to changing its interior by adding new rugs, candles and various other accessories.
The next few months will be the biggest test of my life when it comes to money management. In October 2023, my partner and I will get married. And, as you know, weddings are expensive. Deposits are down, and the rest just has to be paid.
I’m trying to focus on saving for my wedding, so wish me luck! My goal is to pay 75% of the registration fees by April.
My parents and my partner constantly remind me of the value of money, and that helps me.
The truth is, I wouldn’t be able to get through adulthood – especially financial matters – without the support of my loved ones. I’m very lucky to have them, and there are a lot of people with disabilities who don’t have anyone. It makes me very sad. As an autistic person, I think more needs to be done to improve accessibility in the financial services sector. In tough economic times, this is crucial and could make all the difference for people with disabilities who are unbanked or lack the skills to use current banking services.