“I’m diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder (essentially bipolar and schizophrenia combined). I actually manage my money really well for the most part. The only time I don’t is when I’m manic, at which point I sometimes experience the characteristic ‘extreme overspending’. I can follow this phase by giving everything away. This leaves me in debt, with nothing to show for it. Given that I manage my money well the rest of the time, what are my options? I live in Canada.”
Dear Letter Writer,
I adore how articulate you are, how you blow out of the water the stereotype that we are somehow inept, lol. Yes, some brain glitches can have the symptom of extreme spending—not in the standard American way of constant overconsumption, but with a clearly delineated start and end point, corresponding with other signs of biochemical imbalance.
I’m sorry your body has given you this very tough experience, and the financial woe that can accompany it.
Given that you are already fully capable of managing your finances very well when this symptom is absent, my recommendations are as follows, depending on which apply.
If you are at risk of spending any positive net worth…
…do set up a disability trust. This has several benefits:
- It secures your savings. Set up appropriately, the trust will leave you unable to spend without another person’s assessment, approval, and signature.
- In many provinces, assets in a trust are exempt for the purpose of receiving provincial disability payments, social housing, and other benefits. If there are periods you become unable to work standard hours, the trust allows you to access support without running through your cash.
- While having most of your assets in a Trust, you can still keep some cash in an accessible account, for your day-to-day living (and even for some of those splurges anyone enjoys once in a while).
Your trustee or co-trustee can be a nonprofit agency, a family member, a neighbour, etc. The advantage to a family member or neighbour is lower cost, i.e., these folks may be willing to serve in this capacity at no or very low charge. On the other hand, using the more costly services of a nonprofit agency eliminates the possibility of squabbles with your favourite people. This is an important matter to consider—many happy relationships have been devastated by the anger of one feeling “controlled” by another they once wisely gave power to. Depending on your thoughts and behaviours during your trickiest periods, it may be worth paying a fee to have a stranger/professional manage it.
A trust is a complex matter and should be explored with a lawyer; let me know if you’d like to talk about that further.
If you are at risk of accessing credit during symptomatic times…
- Contact an advocate in your province. You can find one here. It may take you three or four tries to find an advocate who has the expertise to answer this question or the time to research it well, but pursuing this bright human being will be well worth it. When you find the person passionate enough to determine the answers relevant to your province, ask what your options are for legally preventing or limiting access to credit. If no option is identified, ask what your options are for releasing liability after the fact.
- I would also set up financial tracking software and share it with a trustworthy, dependable person. That is, I would say to my trusty friend, “Tammy, I need help preventing overspending during manic periods. I’m going to track my spending daily. Would you be willing to check my tracking software from your own computer daily? If everything looks great, it is. If you see a period of time with no entries, please check on me, as I may be in major spending mode And if you see a major spend that seems irrational, please return the product on my behalf. Here is a physician’s letter you can present at the store/auto dealership in those instances.” You might look at giving this person power of attorney.
- If your friend, peer support person, or family member agrees to do this, hand-write this instruction and give them a copy. If during a manic period, you argue their actions, they can show you a letter from yourself. (In my worst years, it helped me a lot to write letters from my healthy self to my struggling self. I would write something like, “Dear Joon, I know you want to stop taking your medication now, because you feel good. Please continue taking them. Here’s why…” A letter from my healthiest self to my not-healthiest self worked wonders. When I legitimately couldn’t trust some “professionals”, I could always trust me.)
- Ensure that whatever arrangements you make can be changed during your next period of sound mind. For example, maybe you and Tammy are best friends today, and she provides excellent support for three years. What if you two have a fight? Or she disappears? Or becomes overwhelmed with parenting a new infant such that she Just. Can’t. Do. It. Ideally, you are able to revoke powers and assign new assistants each time you are well.
If (when) you have cash…
…do put it into an RDSP account. This isn’t in response to your question about preventing spending. It’s to tap into the best investment option available to people in Canada who have a disability. I can’t help but plug it at every opportunity! I think an RDSP is great because it basically acknowledges that people with disabilities have extra costs, and also may not have the same income opportunities as others. It’s a unique and awesome opportunity to “make up for” those major losses you’ve incurred via your symptoms.
Letter Writer, I hope any of these ideas and leads are helpful for you!