How To Control Spending Your Money with Bipolar Disorder

This mental illness can cause someone to overspend their money. Here's how to gain control over it.

Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that causes unusual shifts in mood, ranging from extreme highs (mania) to lows (depression). The symptoms of bipolar mania can range from increased activity and racing thoughts to distractibility and poor decision-making.

People with bipolar disorder often experience energy, thinking, behavior, and sleep changes. The shifts can be out of the ordinary or dramatic, quickly moving from high to low periods.

When a person has a manic episode, they feel overly excited, productive, and even invincible. On the other hand, when a person has a depressive episode, they feel extremely sad, hopeless, and tired. Those mood shifts can make day-to-day tasks especially hard for some people.

Bipolar Disorder and Impulsive Spending

One of the hallmarks of bipolar disorder is spontaneity and impulsivity, varying during mood cycles. A person with bipolar disorder may do impulsive, uncharacteristic, or risky things like having unsafe sex or spending a lot of money.

In fact, an increased tendency to work toward a reward, often without sufficient planning, often characterizes bipolar disorder.

A Cycle of Anxiety and Spending

Research has found that bipolar disorder often causes financial difficulties. For example, one study published in 2018 in the Journal of Mental Health uncovered a vicious cycle of poor mental health and compulsive buying. 

In the study, 54 people with bipolar disorder showed a pattern of impulsivity, which led to financial difficulties. The researchers found that poor mental health status often led to compulsive buying. In turn, worrying about finances increased anxiety and stress.

However, there are ways to curb spending and be financially stable amidst illness. Here are seven ways to protect your money and mood when struggling with mental illness.

Be Honest

Admitting you're struggling can be difficult, especially if you're in the midst of a manic or depressive episode. Still, honesty is important. 

In fact, finding a way to open up to a partner, parent, loved one, therapist, or psychiatrist is key to your financial, physical, and emotional health. For example, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can teach people with bipolar disorder how to deal with the highs and lows of their condition to avoid impulsive behaviors.

Track Your Mood

Tracking your mood can also be integral to your mental and financial health. In tracking your mood, you can easily see subtle shifts in your behavior. Acknowledging those changes can help treat them before they become unmanageable, overwhelming, or too intense. 

Some methods to track your mood include:

  • Daily journaling
  • Using a mood tracker or mental health app like Daylio
  • Meeting weekly or more with a therapist, counselor, or coach

As you track your moods, note: Are you drinking more? Sleeping less? If so, you may be on the precipice of a manic period. Reaching out to a trusted loved one or healthcare provider can help you manage your mood and protect your money before it's too late.

Create a Budget or Spending Plan

After getting the help you need and being in a momentary place of mental and physical wellness, create a budget

For example, determine whether certain items are essential. Allocate funds to cover the cost of your needs, leaving leeway or wiggle room for some of your wants and desires. Then, create a debt payment plan. The former will help you stay on track. At the same time, the latter will help you recover from any mental and financial lapses.

If you're unsure where to begin, contact your bank and lenders directly to discuss repayment options. Or try researching plans and programs online. You can also enlist the help of a financial advisor. Though, that will come at an additional cost.

Develop a Wellness Plan

In addition to creating a spending plan, create a wellness plan, a series of coping strategies and skills you can turn to when you're feeling unstable or insecure. 

"The best way to manage your mood and money is to build healthy coping mechanisms," Kathryn Lee, a psychotherapist based in New York, told Health. "If, for example, spending is a way to cope with stress, finding other mechanisms, such as exercise, may be helpful." 

Healthy coping mechanisms may include:

  • Reading
  • Walking
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Talking to friends
  • Listening to music
  • Journaling

"If you reward yourself with 'spending sprees,' find activities that can also be rewarding but not costly, such as going to a museum or watching a movie," advised Lee.

Consider Granting Someone Power of Attorney

If you're especially worried about spending during a mental health crisis, you can grant someone power of attorney. That authorization allows that person to represent you and advocate for your best interests when it comes to your money. 

"Having an individual you trust manage your finances can be an option," explained Lee. Of course, you may not need to take such an extreme approach. 

"Sometimes, it is helpful to simply entrust your physical credit card to another when you become aware of an onset of an episode," added Lee.

Use Money Management Tools

Money management tools like Mint can help you get on track if you're overspending. Many of those tools have features that help track how much you spend. 

You can create a budget for the amount of money you want to spend in different areas, like rent, groceries, personal items, and more. Some tools even have the option to decline your debit card if you're spending outside of your budget.

Remove Temptation From Your Home

Finally, remove temptation from your home if you find managing your symptoms hard or are still struggling with impulsivity and self-control.

Cut up credit cards, or place them in a plastic container filled with water in your freezer. With the latter option, you'll have to wait at least a few hours for the ice to melt to access them. By that time, your head may be clear. 

Also, limiting access to your bank account or giving your debit card and checks to a trusted family member can help control spending. Also, set ground rules for accessing your funds and when. Tell the person they shouldn't arbitrarily give you money or cards when you ask. Instead, tell them your intentions for accessing your finances and discuss your spending plan.

A Quick Review

One of the hallmarks of bipolar disorder is spontaneity and impulsivity. A person with bipolar disorder may do impulsive, uncharacteristic, or risky things like spending a lot of money. These tips can help you curb spending and be financially stable amidst the condition.

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  1. National Institute of Mental Health. Bipolar disorder.

  2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Living well with bipolar disorder.

  3. Richardson T, Jansen M, Fitch C. Financial difficulties in bipolar disorder part 1: Longitudinal relationships with mental health. J Ment Health. 2018 Dec;27(6):595-601. doi:10.1080/09638237.2018.1521920

  4. Özdel K, Kart A, Türkçapar MH. Cognitive behavioral therapy in treatment of bipolar disorderNoro Psikiyatr Ars. 2021;58(Suppl 1):S66-S76. doi:10.29399/npa.27419

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