It’s Wednesday so that means that we’re Gettin’ Guesty here on And Then We Saved. I’m pleased to introduce you to Chelle Newton from Life On The Domestic Front. Today she is sharing with us her experience with Bipolar Disorder and Spending. She makes herself vulnerable by telling us her story and her honesty is honorable.
Thank you for your honesty and vulnerability.
The correlation between the mental aspect of spending and saving has been fascinating to me.
Spending and Bipolar Disorder – Essay by Chelle Newton
Growing up, my mother had a rule- half of any money I got my hands on was supposed to go into savings. I would go through periods when I would put money into my piggy bank, but those times were rare. I used to wander the mall as a teenager with $20 in my pocket and come out with a new poster or teddy bear and no money. Gifts were my over the top way of showing how much I cared. For one boyfriend’s birthday, I thought it would be cool to get him not one new record album, but ten. Yes, ten. I can always find a great justification for spending. Now I know that this is because I have bipolar disorder, but back then, I just thought I was terrible with money.
When I am coming out of a depression I feel an intense need to spend to lift my mood and when I am manic that desire to spend is even worse. Mania makes me certain that I must have some new thing and I must have it right now. I become obsessed until I buy the item, whatever it is. I have many memories of things I have purchased over the years that we ended up getting rid of because we either had no use for them or I decided I needed to replace them.
My spending has almost never been based in reason and almost always based on impulse.
By the end of the 90’s, my husband and I were robbing Peter to pay Paul, yet I continued to spend. I was in a very bad place emotionally. I was manic, out of control, and unable to take care of my children. We were paying a babysitter an exorbitant amount of money we didn’t have because I had decided to go back to school. Finishing college seemed like a good way to avoid facing the fact that I couldn’t handle real life.
We finally had to take drastic measures, so we decided to file for bankruptcy. Our Chapter 7 bankruptcy papers show $97,367.23 in unsecured debt, $47,086.62 of which was student loans and couldn’t be erased. I was completely out of control. The student loans were not just going for tuition and books. I was using them to pay other bills and the babysitter, who was making about $1,100 a month off of me and keeping the worst of my mania from being seen by my children. I was also hitting the mall regularly with a friend with a shopping addiction who could always help me justify pulling out my maxed out credit cards for clothing I didn’t need.
Around 1999, my bipolar disorder was diagnosed. I could no longer fool myself about my mental illness, though I still hadn’t made the connection between my mental illness and my impulsive spending.
Bankruptcy did nothing to curb my spending. We had brand new credit lines and I launched wholeheartedly into another free fall of spending. In 2005, we sold our townhouse and moved 60 miles west to our dream home which I proceeded to furnish in typical manic fashion. I was able to easily clean out the bank account of $30,000 left over from the sale of the old house. After that money was used up, my husband gave me a joint credit card that we were to use for all expenses and pay off at the end of every month. He took over payment of the bills, so I had no idea how poorly I was handling the new credit. I discovered a couple of years later that we had over $8,000 in credit card debt on just on that one card. We also each had a card of our own with limits of about $2,000 and both of those were maxed out. Not to mention those pesky student loans that we were still paying on.
My husband wanted to make some improvements to the house, so he took out a second mortgage on our house and proceeded to build a deck and fence in the backyard. Our plan had been that we were going to finish the basement but, much to my dismay, he went behind my back (I say this with love) and paid off one of the $20,000 student loans.
I cringe every month when the remaining student loan bills come, as these loans are a seemingly eternal reminder of my out of control spending. I have absolutely no idea how much money I have hemorrhaged from our credit cards and bank account over the past seven years since declaring bankruptcy, because we have been very good about always paying our bills on time and trying to make more than the minimum payments. Today, we have outstanding $24,000 in student loans, a $9,000 balance on our joint credit card, and a $1,400 bill for family room furniture that we didn’t really need. We also have what I call our $3,000 puppy, an impulsive purchase last August when I decided we just had to have a dog and the dog turned out to be a nightmare in veterinary expenses.
Slowly, with a combination of medication and therapy, I am getting to a point with my illness where I am no longer possessed by my mood swings and can look at my spending in a more rational way. I have become more aware of whether I am in a manic state of mind when contemplating a purchase and understanding whether or not it is something I need. When I read about Anna’s spending fast on And Then We Saved, I decided that I too, at the very least, needed to go on a spending diet. Instead of wildly spending our tax refund, I managed to pay off two credit cards (totaling $1,700) and we were able to pay cash for a good portion of our recent trip to Syracuse, New York.
I now place every potential purchase into the category of either “want” or “need”. I look for major discounts and sales before buying things we have to have. I am more aware of coupons and clearance racks. We are getting take-out only once a week instead of three or four times. The car I am driving is nine years old and I have no plans to replace it for at least two or three years. I am using the library again. The most important thing I have learned from my spending diet is to think about every single purchase before buying.
To not buy on impulse is now my goal.
I’m sure that I will continue to stumble regularly, especially when my mood swings up or down. During those rough times, small luxuries like a new item of clothing, a manicure, or dinner out become “necessary” expenses, a salve to my fragile sanity.
I have begun making some of my blog entries at www.lifeonthedomesticfront.blogspot.com about my spending diet. I’m finding that if I tell the world that I want something and how much it will cost, it will usually stop me from pulling out the credit card. Usually.
My spending monster is slowly getting tamed and it only took 46 years and a lot of hard work.
For more information on mental illness and bipolar disorder please visit Nami
Chelle Newton from Life On The Domestic Front ● THANK YOU ● for being a part of And Then We Saved!
P.S. Ready to get out of debt ASAP? Check out the Spending Fast Bootcamp!