Helping an Individual with Intellectual Disabilities Set Up a Budget

Categories: ASD and DD, Adult-focused

By Margaret Walsh, M.A., BCBA                                                               
[This column was published in the West Springfield Republican on March 23, 2023.]

Talking about budgeting can be an uncomfortable experience for many of us. Everyone spends money, but doing it responsibly is another story. This is equally true for adults with Intellectual Disabilities (ID) who often need varying levels of support and guidance around spending their money responsibly.
If you are setting up a budget for an adult with ID, it is important to listen to the person and allow them to speak for themselves. Adults with ID are often seen as incapable of making good decisions or understanding how to spend their money responsibly. It is easy for caregivers with this attitude to step in and take over budgeting and spending for the person. When this happens, the individual may resent and distrust the caregiver because they may feel he or she is not acting in their best interest.

Caregivers providing financial support to adults with ID need to be completely honest and prepared to explain the budgeting process in a way that makes sense to the individual. Some people with ID will need visual reminders – perhaps on a calendar – that show them when a payment needs to be made. They also need to understand that their account must have enough money in it to make the payment before they can go out to dinner with friends. 

To prevent overspending and overdraft fees, it is a good idea to write a list of all bills that need to be paid and when payments are due. Use the list to help the individual check to see if payments have been withdrawn. This can make it less likely that overdrafts occur, and it can help the person recognize bank fraud quickly because they have a concrete record of exactly how much money they should have. 

One of the first things a person needs to understand about a budget is how bank accounts work and how to access them. Many people use online banking and make deposits and withdrawals electronically. Although online banking is convenient, it is not without its pitfalls. Online financial information is always at risk of being compromised. It is important to talk to the individual about who can access their financial information and how to protect this information. 

Once the budget is in place, use it to discuss how the person is spending money. One way to do this is to make sure that they are participating in making purchases. If the person has a certain amount of money for groceries, for example, encourage them to look at their grocery budget before going to the store. After they understand how much they can spend, take the time to create a list of items to buy and bring a calculator to determine the cost of the items before getting to the register. This experience will allow the person to clearly understand how much they can really buy. If they can stay under budget, they can use the extra money to save for fun things they may want in the future which sets up saving as a positive process. A budget is a living document that can be modified as the person’s needs change, and you should discuss it frequently with the individual.

Sadly, adults with disabilities are highly likely to be victims of financial frauds and scams because these kinds of crimes are often not reported. One way to prevent adults with ID from mishandling their finances is by working with them to understand how their money is spent. When an adult with ID understands their financial status, they have taken a huge step toward independence and prevention of financial abuse. Have ongoing discussions about financial exploitation and abuse and make sure they know how to report these kinds of issues.

Without a doubt, many adults with ID can create a budget, use money responsibly, and make good financial decisions. Like most adults, they need varying amounts of ongoing support and guidance to do this. With appropriate support, establishing a budget with an adult with ID can be empowering because it allows them to protect and plan for their financial future.

Margaret Walsh, M.A., BCBA, is the Director of Clinical Services for the May Center for Adults Services in Western Massachusetts. She can be contacted in West Springfield at 413-734-0300 (ext. 262) or at

About May Institute
May Institute is a nonprofit organization that is a national leader in the field of applied behavior analysis and evidence-based interventions, serving autistic individuals and individuals with other developmental disabilities, brain injury, neurobehavioral disorders, and other special needs. Founded nearly 70 years ago, we provide a wide range of exceptional educational and rehabilitative services across the lifespan. For more information, call 800.778.7601 or visit