Manic Spending #1

My grandparents were a normal two-income middle class post-war family. My biological father was an only child who died in his early twenties. I was an only child. Therefore when my grandparents died I inherited modest, but not insignificant sums of money. I also have bipolar disorder, which means that sometimes I suffer from mania–specifically for this post, manic spending. However, no one knew, not even me. Everyone assumed I was responsible and that I had a few hundred thousand dollars invested away.

In fact, not only did I spend it all, I took a second mortgage out on my house, and I spent that. And I ran up credit cards. And I have a car loan. Until 2010 I honestly believed that I had spent it all wisely. Now I spend 70% of my income paying off all the loans (and that’s just minimum payments). Now I plug every debit and credit into a 12 month spreadsheet to see how it affects the future. Sometimes that dinner at McDonald’s in March means we miss a hydro payment in July. This is my penance.

My step-dad and I have had a rocky relationship, but things had reached their apex in the spring of 2010. We were doing really well. In a lot of ways, we each are everything the other is not. He is ultra-rational and extremely meticulous and organized. Although I have OCD, I am none of those things (for me it’s all about patterns). In the spring of 2010 I was fired from my job and my ego was so thoroughly crushed by my ex-boss that I was convinced I was not fit to work in a professional job again. Given my high debt load, I was forced to swallow my pride and go to my dad for money. His obvious reaction was to tell me to dip into my savings. You can see where this is going. I had no choice but to show him my spreadsheet, which I had just started keeping. I showed him everything. His response was to ask me if I was hoping he and my mother were going to get into an accident soon so I could inherit everything and pay off my mountain of debt (and no savings).

To my father’s credit he helped me out as much as I needed to keep above water and he set up an easy repayment schedule. He did it again this past November when my ex-employer stopped paying me (they went out of business). That is all I could hope to ask. For the record, I hope my parents spend everything before they die and leave me in debt.

The point is I really did think I spent every cent wisely. Even when I knew I was heading into the danger zone, I kept on spending. I was convinced that I would write that great novel, or that great iPhone app, and fix everything in one fell swoop. In my mind I was better than those people who plan on winning the lottery (how silly!). I actually had a step-by-step plan that had more than one step. The problem is that my brain still had too many steps missing and didn’t know it. You might have an outline for a novel, but you still have to write all those hundreds of pages, with your brain fried half the time. That’s to say nothing of if the basic idea is any good (of course it *seems* good). The same is true for writing an iPhone app, the number of steps are similar, and who says your idea is actually any good, either?

Here is the worst part. My dad just isn’t the same to me, any more. He’s polite, and like I said, he’s never turned me away, but some part of his image of me has died. He goes out of his way to avoid talking to me on the phone, now. He’s probably afraid I’m going to ask him for more money.

Did I mention I have to ask him if I can delay his payment by a week this month?

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  1. March 15, 2012 at 2:33 pm

    Daaaaaaaaamn.
    “I still owe money to the money I owe”….
    The downward spiral of debt can be suffocating (don’t I know it. I can’t afford to claim bankruptcy, ironically). Not an easy road, but it sounds like you’ve taken smart steps toward recovery.
    Wishing you well.

  2. March 15, 2012 at 5:04 pm

    Ugh, that’s really, really rough. It’s also very hard to be budgeting so closely when unexpected expenses come up. I got a 1-2-3-4 punch a couple years ago when I had to replace the boiler, cooktop, oven, and engine head in my car, all in one year. That came to about 80% of my take-home pay for the year, so I’m still paying it off.

    I’ve racked up some irresponsible debts periodically, and then worked really hard for years to pay them off, only to do it again. I’m so meticulous about spending wisely – but only half of the time. The rest of the time, I just figure that I’ll make enough money to afford things “soon” and so there’s no reason not to go ahead and buy on credit. Fortunately, my income really will go up very soon, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating to have to spend all of the increase on paying down debts.

  3. March 29, 2012 at 4:08 pm

    I, too, think that I spend every cent wisely. I did not think that that would be something to worry about except in mania, but from your words, it seems like a life long affliction that one should watch out for. Thanks for the heads-up.
    I am keeping track of my expenses now on my phone and if what I have as expenses in there isn’t wise, then nothing is.

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