For some people, overspending might mean ordering the lobster or splurging on
an extra pair of shoes at Macy's.
For Julie Fast it's different. The Portland, Oregon author woke up one day
and decided to go on a trip to China.
She obtained a visa, hopped on a flight, enrolled in language school and was
conversing in Mandarin within weeks.
Along the way, she blew through around $10 000. Shortly after that, and
partly as a result of the impromptu and costly spree, she was diagnosed with
bipolar disorder. Wild overspending often goes along with the manic highs that,
when interspersed with depressing lows, characterise the disorder, which
afflicts roughly 5.7 million Americans.
"When you have manias, that voice of caution is literally taken away. It is
gone," says Fast, 49, who co-wrote the book "Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder"
and helped advise actress Claire Danes for her role as a federal agent afflicted
with bipolar disorder on the popular TV series "Homeland".
One sufferer she knows impulsively spent $40 000 on a piece of art. Another
bought an entire mini-mall -- the whole building and the shops within it.
"I have known people who have gambled
it all away, who have taken their kids' college money," she said. "At the time, it feels so good that you don't even worry or feel guilty."Primary tip-off
Overspending is one of the primary tip-offs that someone is in a manic state,
experts say."Typically when folks become manic, they get overconfident and lose
the ability to evaluate the consequences of their actions," says Dr Jair Soares,
chairman of the psychiatry department at the University of Texas Health Science
Center at Houston.
"In that mind-state, when it comes to spending, they are bound to get into
"Then, of course, there is the crash. In a depressed state, those with bipolar
are actually unlikely to spend much money at all, since they are often cocooned
at home. But at that point they have to deal with the consequences of their
"If they bought a $10 000 watch, they might try to return it," says Dr Igor
Galynker, director of the Family Center for Bipolar at New York City's Beth
Israel Medical Center.
"Or they might try to hide the purchases, or get that money back by gambling
on other investments."
And those morning-after bills and bad feelings don't just affect the bipolar
spender; their families feel the pain too.
Once a mania is in full effect, it is very difficult to rein in. That is why
the most powerful way to limit overspending is to recognise the signs of an
approaching mania and take action early.
If your bipolar partner starts talking about splurging on extravagant trips
or cashing out their pension to fund a new business, it is likely time to apply the
brakes. Check to make sure they have been taking their medication, get them to a
doctor if possible, and involve any existing support network to help your
partner stick to the plan.
"That might involve confiscating their credit cards, taking their car keys
for a while, keeping them at home so they don't get into trouble," said Soares.
"Otherwise they might take out a lot of debt that they won't be able to pay back
Keep relatively low borrowing limits on your credit cards, and consider not
having the name of the bipolar disorder sufferer on all of the family spending
Julie Fast prefers to pay cash for everything. In extreme cases, when one
partner in a marriage is likely to spend all the family savings in short order,
consider setting up preventative measures with your banker.
"You can go in and say, 'If you see more than $500 going out of my account,
please contact my partner," advises Fast. "Those kind of checks and balances can
stop you from spending like crazy."
You can also seek out the right support team to help navigate these
In addition to your own mental-health professional, you could seek additional
counselling from a therapist who specialises in money matters. When it comes to
financial planning, look for an adviser who understands the condition and is
comfortable talking about it.
"That is not always easy to do," says Celia Brugge, a principal with Dogwood
Financial Planning in Memphis, Tennessee, who recently advised a couple in their
30s in which the husband was bipolar. By doing a little digging, Brugge
discovered both partners grew up in families where money was never
When Brugge opened the lines of communication, the husband found the ability
to talk to his partner when he felt the urge to splurge, and was able to get his
manic spending under control.