Don’t be another victim and let Bipolar excessive spending ruin your life.
Protect your family. It is never too early or too late.
One of the most common symptoms of Bipolar Disorder is impulsive and irrational spending.1
Bipolar expert, Dr Ronald R. Fieve, describes Bipolar excessive spending in his book Moodswing like this: “The lifestyle of the manic-depressive who is in a high tends to be a glorious scattering of money”.
This “glorious scattering of money” can take many forms:
1. It may be wild shopping sprees with a self-medicating overtone.
2. It may be crazy investments when our Bipolar grandiosity is telling us we can do no wrong.
3. It is not always about a spending spree – Patty Duke did her share of wild Bipolar spending, which she describes candidly in her autobiography – but the best example of how Bipolar screwed up her relationship with money was Patty asking two strangers she literally met in a parking lot to become her business managers (no prizes for guessing how that worked out!)
4. It may be extravagant gifts to family, friends or charity – again arising from manic grandiosity.
5. Or in some very distressing scenarios, it may be spending a fortune on travel, hotels, pornography, prostitution, champagne and lingerie in an extra-marital affair, cybersex, or whatever outlet stemming from manic hypersexuality.
6. Gambling more than one can afford, for example on horse racing, online poker or the Vegas slots – another nightmare scenario for one’s
7. It may even be . . . ? The truth is the variations are endless.
In The Spending Spree, by Jeff Wuorio, in bp Magazine, Spring 2005, a variety of destructive examples are described.
My personal experience is that it is excessive spending and hypersexuality that are the two absolute hallmarks of Bipolar Disorder.
Even though I had done a variety of truly crazy things (you can read about them in About Me) it was my describing a $5,000 shopping spree I went on in grad school that finally led to my psychiatrist correctly diagnosing me – and saving my life!
PLEASE NOTE: If you have been having a spending episode – or several – and your finances are in bad shape, please go now to our page on Bipolar Debt.
If you are out of work and are having trouble making ends meet, you should consider whether your Bipolar Disorder is severe enough that you would qualify for bipolar disability payments from Social Security.
Bipolar excessive spending vs compulsive shopping
Until that fateful day when my psychiatrist started to help me understand my mood disorder, I had known I had a problem with money. Fortunately I was a high earner and so could get away with more. Basically I thought that I was just another shopaholic.
So how do we tell the difference between manic or Bipolar spending versus “ordinary” compulsive spending?
This question was addressed in a research study by John M. Kuzma, MD and Donald W. Black, MD, “Compulsive shopping: When spending begins to consume the consumer”: “Bipolar mania and excessive spending related to a compulsive buying disorder are relatively easy to differentiate:
The manic patient’s unrestrained spending sprees correspond to manic episodes and are accompanied by euphoric mood, grandiosity, unrealistic plans, and often a giddy, overly bright affect.
The compulsive shopper’s spending occurs year-round in a pattern suggesting ongoing preoccupation.
The compulsive buyer may feel happy (or powerful) while shopping, but these transitory emotions are usually followed by letdown or guilt. The compulsive shopper is distressed by his or her activity and will often hide the evidence.
Not so for the manic, who may boast of his or her spending, display the evidence, and try to convince family and friends that the purchase is necessary or fits into some grandiose scheme. “Who doesn’t need two BMWs?” a manic patient said.”
I wasn’t a compulsive shopper! What I was doing was Bipolar excessive spending – and finally understanding that changed everything.
Just like in a similar section on our webpage on Bipolar infidelity, I know some of these suggestions may seem extreme. Once again, I can only say that my own terrible choices about money and sex when I was manic have taught me to be very cautious about playing with fire – please don’t let Bipolar excessive spending burn you or the people who love you.
These precautions are ideally agreed to ahead of time, before you face runaway Bipolar excessive spending. Regardless of whether you are a person with Bipolar Disorder, or closely connected to someone with the disorder, YOU NEED A PLAN! At the very first signs of Bipolar excessive spending OR THE ONSET OF A MANIC EPISODE, this plan MUST go into effect.
– Restrict or monitor Internet use. This is to avoid both online shopping and gambling, and sex related activities such as pornography or cybersex. It may also help prevent the Bipolar person from isolating and retreating into themselves too much.
– As much as you can, take cash, credit cards and ATM cards for safekeeping. If things seem like they could get really out of control, also consider taking the car keys (I told you you may not like some of these suggestions!)
– A dear friend of mine is married to a lovely Bipolar guy. He is a musician who has a long history of substance abuse as well as Bipolar Disorder. My friend manages their money by giving him a monthly allowance. He has an ATM card to access this account at all times, but if he goes off his medication or seems to be getting hyper, she cuts off all other access to their finances. This way he always has some autonomy and dignity but can’t get them into financial trouble.
– Some advise cutting up cards but this can be a problem. For example, a non-bipolar spouse will still need to pay bills and buy groceries. Finding a way to divide finances works better.
– Watch both email and snail mail very carefully as at the moment the credit card companies are constantly sending out credit card applications and those seductive little checks.
– If you are lucky enough to have any kind of portfolio, you may need to confide in your investment adviser or broker. Although they are bound to carry out the client’s instructions, a heads up can encourage them to insist on written instructions and a face to face meeting. You may even be able to agree that they will notify a spouse, doctor or other appropriate person if any unusual transactions are requested.
– In extreme cases it may be necessary to arrange for a power of attorney.
Bipolar treatment contracts
One way to handle the delicate issues around Bipolar excessive spending is through a bipolar treatment contract. A bipolar treatment contract is an agreement a Bipolar person makes with their loved ones when they are well, to handle any bumps further on down the road.2
The folks at Oxford Clinical Psych Program provide excellent information about bipolar treatment contracts and a free downloadable sample contract.
The morning after
When I was in high school I once had to write an essay for a language arts exam with the title “Living it down, after living it up.” I do not remember much of what I wrote, but over 30 years later that phrase keeps coming back to haunt me.
When somebody finishes a manic episode marked by Bipolar excessive spending, their normal reasoning may return, but because of the Bipolar roller coaster, this return to rationality is often marred by serious post-manic depression. In other words, just as our mind has cleared enough for the consequences of our bipolar spending sprees to sink in, we get hit with the double whammy of severe depression.
We are at our lowest ebb, but must face up to the shame, embarrassment, and economic consequences of our Bipolar excessive spending.
I have noticed that what little writing there is about this experience (good examples are Patty Duke and Kay Redfield Jamison), it tends to be witty and amusing. It is as if the only weapon we have left to help us cope is this wry self-deprecating humor. And of course some, of our crazy manic purchases ARE funny – who could forget Kay Redfield Jamison’s purchase of 12 snake bite kits? Or her buying 20 ill-assorted books by the publisher Penguin so the “penguins could form a colony”?
It is funny and tragic all at the same time. However, we do need PRACTICAL TOOLS to help us cope. Don’t let bankruptcy become another Bipolar symptom. You CAN overcome Bipolar excessive spending:
Use the system that saved me – a combination of tools such as mood charting, a wellness plan and a treatment contract.
Quotes on bipolar spending sprees
Bipolar excessive spending is one of the two textbook symptoms of mania (along with hypersexuality) and appears in all the lists of red flags to watch out for. However, usually that is the end of it. Most books and websites mention the subject, but there is rarely any detailed analysis or practical advice.
Interestingly however, there are plenty of illustrative quotations, going back a couple of hundred years . . .
[Mania’s] premonitory signs are . . . . unusual acts of extravagance, manifested by the purchase of houses, and certain expensive and unnecessary articles of furniture. – BENJAMIN RUSH (1745-1813)
I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered. – GEORGE BEST (1946-2005)
When I am high I couldn’t worry about money if I tried. So I don’t. The money will come from somewhere; I am entitled; God will provide. Credit cards are disastrous, personal checks worse. Unfortunately, for manics anyway, mania is a natural extension of the economy. – KAY REDFIELD JAMISON (1946- )
Weekly $25,000 shopping binges at Barney’s and “high end” boutiques for clothes I barely wore were the norm. So were lavish meals with friends where I picked up $1000 tabs. These high-priced activities were within my limits because I was extremely successful financially, a testament to my manic behavior, not to mention my involvement in illegal activities. – ANDY BEHRMAN (Author of Electroboy)
“Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.” Charles Dickens