Bipolar disorder making you overspend? Why it happens and 10 ways to prevent it
Living with bipolar disorder can be challenging, especially when it comes to managing your finances. During a manic episode, many people with bipolar disorder tend to make poor financial decisions – overspending, impulsive buying, or excessive generosity. Not only do these decisions lead to harsh financial consequences, but they can also leave you feeling guilty and remorseful, and put a strain on your loved ones.
Overspending, however, is a common symptom of bipolar disorder and is often linked to the euphoria and excess energy of a manic episode. Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition characterised by episodes of extreme mood swings: highs (called mania) and lows (called depression) that can last for weeks or months at a time. It can occur seldomly or multiple times a year, and affects your perception, judgment and decision- making.
Although it may not be easy to control, there are preventative measures that you can put in place to avoid financial difficulty caused by spending sprees.
- Know the warning signs and triggers. Once you are able to identify the warning signs of a manic episode (such as restlessness, irritability, lack of sleep), and you’re aware that you could be making impulse purchases, you will be more inclined to pre-empt it. Click here for more on the symptoms of bipolar disorder.
- Entrust the help of a friend or family member, and put a financial plan in place. Review your finances with someone you trust and together, create a plan for how they can help you manage your finances (debts, assets, and/or an investment portfolio); outline how much you can afford to spend, what type of access you have to credit and bank accounts, and how impulse purchases could affect your financial goals. Allow this person access to your financial accounts so that they can monitor your activity and discuss what you both consider unusual activity and what should be done if it is detected. If you see yourself going into an episode, contact your friend to ensure that you stick to the plan. If you don’t have someone you can trust with your finances, consider getting a financial advisor or accountant instead.
- Set a spending limit on your debit card. You can put a cap on the amount of money you can spend each day; this can be done online or with a visit to a branch. If you go over the limit, the transaction won’t go through. You can also set up a separate account for personal expenses and keep just enough funds in it for one month.
- Use one credit card only. If you use one card only with a low limit, you won’t be able to spend excessively, and you’ll be able to track your expenses better. You may want to consider setting up email, text, or phone notifications to a trusted person in case of any unusual activity.
- Pay cash. And use your cards for necessities. This works best once you’ve set out a monthly budget for yourself.
- Restrict online access. Have someone password-protect or restrict internet access to prevent impulsive online shopping.
- Stay away from places where you’ll be tempted to overspend. Whether your favourite retailers are online or not, try to avoid them. For online purchases, don’t save your credit/debit card details on the web browsers; that extra step after checkout could be enough to detract you from buying. If you continue to be overwhelmed by the moment, distract yourself by going for a walk with a friend or watching a movie. Add this to your emergency plan.
- Prioritize paying off your debt, and keeping it down. If you’re in debt, your financial plan should include steps to pay off the debt and keep it low. As part of your financial plan, make a list of all the debts you owe, in order of highest to lowest. If you’re able, use an accelerated payment strategy, i.e. you put any extra money you can into your smallest debt, while continuing the minimum payments on your other accounts. Once the smallest debt is settled, use the amount you’d been paying on it and add that to the payments on your next-smallest loan every month. In this way, you’ll be able to clear your debt faster and it’s a great motivator to keep going! However, it’s important
The urge for a shopping spree high is very compelling, so have self-compassion for when you do slip up. Part of self-compassion should also be pursuing supportive and financial measures in place to prevent impulsive spending to secure your financial stability.
- Bowman, S. (n.d.). How to Prevent Manic Spending. International Bipolar Foundation [Online]. Accessed on 26 April 2023. Available from https://ibpf.org/how-to-prevent-manic-spending/
- BP Hope. (2020). The Ultimate Guide to Control Impulsive Spending. BP Hope [Online]. Accessed on 26 April 2023. Available from https://www.bphope.com/bipolar-buzz/the-ultimate-guide-to-control-impulsive-bipolar-spending/
- Gillete, H. & Currin-Sheehan, K. (2021). Why Bipolar Disorder Mania Makes you Overspend (& How to Recover). PsychCentral [Online]. Accessed on 26 April 2023. Available from https://psychcentral.com/bipolar/spending-sprees-in-bipolar-disorder
- Nedbank. (2021). 7 steps to get out of debt faster. Nedbank [Online]. Accessed on 28 April 2023. Available from https://personal.nedbank.co.za/learn/blog/steps-to-get-out-of-debt-faster.html
- Wangman, R. (2021). I blew my savings during a bipolar manic episode, and I’m taking 6 steps to protect my money in the future. Business Insider [Online]. Accessed on 26 April 2023. Available from https://www.businessinsider.com/personal-finance/bipolar-disorder-manic-spending-2021-3