Are you in shock over holiday spending? Use these strategies to take control of your finances now and over the long term.
Do you ever look back over the past year and wish you had made better financial decisions? I do. When it comes to holiday spending, you’re not alone if you’re wondering, What was I thinking? Depending on what mood state you were in, you might not have been thinking at all.
All bipolar mood swings come with financial worries. When we’re manic, we can spend without thinking. When we’re depressed, we can spend in an effort to feel better. Overspending due to mood swings can be devastating and lead to even more mood swings, creating a vicious circle. And the most frustrating this is, having bipolar means we often lack the focus needed to make the kinds of everyday financial decisions that come with being an adult in a very money-oriented world.
Everyone I know who has bipolar—including myself—struggles financially sometimes. The first step to getting out of any hole you might be in at this moment is to say to yourself, “I have an illness that affects how I use money. I want to change and I’m willing to start now to make sure I never get in a hole again.”
Here are some long-term strategies for taking charge of your finances:
Be nice to yourself. You’re trying. Beating yourself up about financial problems when you have bipolar is like having diabetes and yelling at your pancreas for not making enough insulin.
It’s never too late to create a financial plan. I am in my 50s, and I strive daily for financial balance even as my bipolar regularly affects my ability to earn a steady income.
Your physical health is as important as your mental health. Physical illness costs money. We can’t control the fact that we have bipolar, but we are 100 percent in control of physical health problems that arise from our life choices.
Asking for financial help—and accepting it—can lead to embarrassment and shame. Do it anyway. Having money problems when you’re intelligent and want to work is embarrassing. We must acknowledge these emotions and move on. If someone offers you financial help and all that’s getting in your way is your pride, well, accept the money and let that person help you with your new plan.
Strategies for immediate change:
Examine your expenses. Look at your cell phone bill, cable bill, storage facility bill, monthly subscriptions to media, etc. Cancel what you can and negotiate the rest. Make a list of all your monthly payments. Are you getting your money’s worth? In my list of bills I found subscription fees for audio books I don’t listen to and a premium TV channel I stopped watching once Game of Thrones was done!
Delete payment info you have saved in shopping websites. Buying shouldn’t be too easy; the extra step of having to enter credit card or bank account details each time you want to purchase something helps slow down spending.
Go “cash only.” It’s not easy, but this is the most effective plan I know. Cut up your charge cards and always pay cash. Parting with real money hurts!
Make a drastic change. I made a bold decision years ago that I have rarely regretted. I told everyone I didn’t want Christmas or birthday gifts and would not give them except to children. It freed me up to enjoy the holidays in a way I never thought possible. How much could you save, year-round, if instead of shopping you gave the gift of your time to connect over coffee, fixed someone’s car, or created something by hand? You could save thousands of dollars.
And finally, if you truly can’t handle your bills each month, find someone to help you make a plan, whether it be a family member, a friend, or an attorney or financial planner who specializes in such situations. Never give up your desire to be financially stable. If you overspent during the holidays last year, face it and decide that this year will be different. Get started right now by doing justone thing listed in this article; then praise yourself for making a change. Then, next time the holidays come around again, you will be ready.
We can’t always control the stability of our moods, but we can find financial balance.
Printed as “Fast Talk: Better Money Management”, Winter 2019
Julie A. Fast is the author of "Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder," "Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder," "Get it Done When You’re Depressed" and "The Health Cards Treatment System for Bipolar Disorder." She is a columnist and blogger for BP Magazine and won the Mental Health America journalism award for the best mental health column in the US. Julie was also the recipient of the Eli Lily Reintegration award for her work in bipolar disorder advocacy. Julie is a bipolar disorder expert for the Dr.Oz and Oprah created site ShareCare. Julie is CEU certified and regularly trains health care professionals including psychiatric residents, social workers, therapists and general practitioners on bipolar disorder management skills. She was the original consultant for Claire Danes for the show Homeland and is on the mental health expert registry for People Magazine. She works as a coach for parents and partners of people with bipolar disorder. Julie is currently writing a book for children called "Hortensia and the Magical Brain: Poems for Kids with Bipolar, Anxiety, Psychosis and Depression." You can find more about her work at JulieFast.com and BipolarHappens.com.
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