Spending and Bipolar Disorder- Guest Post

spending and bipolar disorder

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!


10 thoughts on “Spending and Bipolar Disorder- Guest Post

  1. Katie

    Good luck with your journey, Chelle! It takes a lot of strength and courage to share your story. It's so great that And Then She Saved helps us see that saving can be as much fun as spending. :) You can do it!

  2. Chelle

    Thank you, Katie! That was really hard to share online.

    I have now paid off three credit cards and am working on the biggest joint account. I try to NEVER use them, but it's a lifelong process. It's still really hard not to make impulsive purchases, even when I know I'm doing it, but Anna has helped me SO much!

  3. Laura

    Wow! That was so honest and brave. Thank you for sharing. The psychology behind spending is absolutely fascinating, and your story is highly relatable. I applaud you for starting on your path to being debt-free. Sounds like you've had some big "Aha" moments.

  4. Kari

    Thank you for letting us in on your life Chelle…..what an interesting and inspiring post. Well done. :)

  5. Connie

    Thank You Chelle for an inspiring article. It was very brave of you to share with all of us. Good Luck on your savings journey. I enjoy reading your posts.

  6. Chelle

    I was really scared to put this story out there, but I feel so grateful that people can relate to what I've been through and still struggle with on a daily basis. It's scary to be out of control of yourself in any way and spending is no exception. I am so much more in control now than I ever was and being a mom to three growing boys with a mortgage really helps keep that real. I just love Anna's site so much because whenever I get that urge to whip out the credit card online now, I try to come here first. That will usually be enough to keep me from charging up more debt!

    So, go Anna go!!!!

  7. Shauna

    Wow, you are a brave woman. I hope life is good to you and you can keep up your good work on your debt. I sometimes wonder if my debt came from mood swings. I am on a pretty even keel now but I definitely know how you feel when you say you just have to have something and can only think about it until you get it. It is VERY, VERY hard to get this under control, but you (and I) can do it. Be strong and know that we are all pulling for you!!!

  8. Chelle


    It's totally possible that your impulse spending comes from mood swings. There are a lot of undiagnosed people with bipolar disorder who are not getting the treatment they need and don't realize that they spend to fill up that void and calm the manic impulses. I still struggle with this every day and some days are just not so good.

    It seems like there's always something I HAVE to have. Today, it was the last book in a series that I've been waiting for 10 years for the author to finish. But it was under my $25 a month book budget, so I feel like I was successful in at least keeping to my "diet." Tomorrow, it will be something else.

    My best friend is undergoing radiation for recurring breast cancer and, on the days that I take her to treatment, I spend a LOT in gas and buying her lunch. I've been weighing the pros of spending the money against the cons of not, because it's possible she just won't always be here. In this case, the spending wins for the next four weeks. But if you plan for emergencies by having savings in the bank, things like this can be paid for without running up more debt and I'm really proud that we've been able to do that. Ten years ago, these expenses would have been charged.

    Thank you all for being SO super supportive. I've put up a major thank you on my website. If you want to read more about my crazy life and updates on my successes and failures in the spending realm, please check it out at http://www.lifeonthedomesticfront.blogspot.com. I have been working on building readership for my blog and if you are interested in saving and impulsive spending, you can read about it there.

    Again, thank you all for understanding that mental illness is not something that can be controlled through sheer will power.

  9. mavis

    This was a great post for me. I know from personal experience that retail therapy for someone with bipolar can be disastrous. I am also bipolar and know how much my moods affect my spending. It was nice to hear from someone else who has struggled with the same thing. It was brave of you to share your story. I can actually laugh about it sometimes now because I am so ridiculous about what I think I need sometimes. I have had to restrict myself in extreme ways at times but it has been worth it. People laugh or are incredulous when I say I have never had a visa with more than a 500.00 limit but if it was higher it would be used up so I just don't allow myself a higher amount.

  10. Chelle


    Thanks so much for the wonderful comment. I have continued to work on our debt and we paid off our very large card this month! Of course, before I could get the zero balance statement, my son's passenger side window broke on his car and we do not currently have an emergency fund because we used our savings to pay off the debt.

    I still have a long ways to go on controlling the spending and the internet and credit cards make it all too easy to spend impulsively We have way too high credit limits on our cards and I'll think oh, it's only $800 or only $200 or whatever and all of a sudden it adds up to thousands. I am determined to change that way of thinking, even if my kids are determined to bleed me dry! LOL

    I think lower limits are a very good solution for anyone with an impulse control problem. No way to get yourself into too much trouble with that!


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