Gaining Financial Independence While Living with a Shopping Addiction or Mental Illness

When Compulsive Shopping Becomes Extreme

A hallmark of shopping addiction is impulse buying and spending beyond one’s means. Impulse spending isn’t only a shopping addiction behavior (SAB), it is also a symptom that can accompany mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder and ADHD. 

Impulse spending can be devastating on personal finances. When I finally acknowledged my SAB, I had a huge financial mess to repair. As a therapist, I have worked with clients who have impulsively spent $10,000 or more in a single month during manic episodes. In the aftermath there were diminished feelings of self-worth and doubt of capability to handle money. 

This post is part of a series on reducing impulse spending and an extension of the previous post on credit cards. I separated this content because the strategy I am going to detail would be deemed controlling in most circumstances, but can be very effective in situations of extreme SAB and symptoms of impulsive spending that can accompany serious mental illness (SMI). [1]Now is a good time for a disclaimer. The strategy I am sharing below is not to be considered mental health or medical advice. This is a technique that I have seen work well for myself some of my … Continue reading

Financial Concierge

A Financial Concierge is a trusted family member or friend who you have designated to serve as a door keeper to accessing your finances. Your Concierge’s involvement could be limited to simply holding onto your credit card, to as involved as maintaining the access to all your financial accounts. 

This arrangement could be temporary, for example, while you are early in the recovery stages of extreme SAB. Or, during the transition from winter to spring if you have bipolar disorder and you know this is a time where you experience elevated mood states. However, the arrangement could be more long standing, for example if you have more frequent mood instability.  

How do you know if a Financial Concierge arrangement is for you? Here are some potential indicators:

  • You have tried multiple ways to control your compulsive shopping, yet despite your effort, you continue to over spend, risking losing your home, relationships, or job if you do not change your SAB.
  • After struggling for so long, you recognize the problem and are ready to take a big step to gain financial control and you are open to trying something different.
  • You have a mental illness which includes severe symptoms of impulsive spending and having a plan in place with a trusted person would be beneficial.
  • There is an emotionally mature person in your life who is willing and able to help.[2]I want to acknowledge that not everyone is privileged to have such a person in their life. Please know this strategy is only one of many to achieve financial sobriety. If you don’t have this … Continue reading
  • A mental health professional has encouraged you to find ways to enlist others to be more involved in supporting your financial sobriety
  • You are already addressing or ready to address your fundamental mental health needs

The word concierge was intentionally chosen over a word like “custodian” because the latter sounds institutional, like you are in trouble. This is not the case at all! You are the Lead and entrusting someone to be your Concierge is your choice, not something that is being imposed on you. Your Financial Concierge is of help and service for you. This is a person you select for the job. Here are some things to keep in mind when considering who might be a good Concierge for you:

  • Has Integrity: Once you give someone access to your finances, in the case of a friend or family member who does not already have joint finances with you, it can be very difficult to undo. You must be confident enough that this person will not spend your money for themselves and will honor the agreement. 
  • Good Boundaries: This person needs to reasonably understand your right to make your own decisions and in the case of SMI, only enact the plan of limiting access to finances when it is evident that symptoms of your condition are impairing your ability to make grounded financial choices. 
  • Has Empathy: They understand that you are not your symptoms. They do not judge you for needing the extra support no more than they would judge you if you were at high risk for anaphylaxis and they carry an extra EpiPen for you in case of an emergency. 
  • Does Not Abuse You or Others: Do not ask anyone who has been financially, emotionally, or physically abusive to you or someone else. The only exception might be someone who has diligently worked on recovery and now has a long history to demonstrate that they have the skills to manage their own emotions. [3]Entering a Concierge agreement is not abuse when it non-coerced and voluntary.

Let’s look at a fictional example of how a Financial Concierge relationship might work. Fiona Mission is committed to a process to recover from a shopping addiction to maintain financial sobriety after years of accumulating crushing debt from SAB. Fiona has a Financial Concierge agreement with her spouse, Stevie. 

Fiona Mission’s Financial Concierge Terms

  • The Agreement: Stevie holds access to the family financial accounts, including credit cards and makes purchases on Fiona’s behalf only after they have gone through the agreed strategy which will be reviewed below shortly.
  • The Roles:
    • Fiona the Lead
      • Fiona is the Leader and architect of the plan, including what questions she wants to ask herself before making a purchase.
      • As a good leader, Fiona knows when to delegate responsibility and give control to others. She trusts that Stevie is has her best interests in mind and will be diligent in the role of Concierge.
      • She reminds herself when difficult emotions arise that she is the one who made the decision to ask Stevie to be her Concierge. She has made a promise not to take out her frustration on Stevie.
      • Fiona is committed to honesty which includes not opening any new cards or going out of her way to access money from the families bank accounts which she does have the ability to access if she wanted to.
      • She keeps a prepaid card on her for essential family shopping, such as gas and groceries. As part of her honesty agreement, she brings the receipts home which go in the family budgeting software for accountability.
    • Stevie the Concierge
      • Stevie’s’ role as the Concierge is to make availability within 24 hours of Fiona bringing up an item of interest to go through the strategy. 
      • Stevie Facilitates going through a list of predetermined questions with Fiona with a neutral attitude, but can also bring up respectful questions or points to consider if Fiona seems to be overlooking something important.
      • Once the strategy has been executed and if Fiona determines she still wants the item, Stevie will make the purchase with no further questions. Making the purchase for Fiona also served to dampen some of the thrill of the act of buying for Fiona.
  • The Strategy
    • Fiona set a discretionary budget of $200 per month with the ability to roll over what she does not spend into the following month’s budget. All other spending is accounted for in the household budget.
    • When Fiona finds something she wants to purchase, she and Stevie go through a list of predetermined questions to have Fiona think deeply about the purchase. Some examples include 1) Is this in the budget?  2) Do you have anything like it already?  3) Is this a want or a need?
    • If Fiona still wants to make the purchase after going through the questions, she puts it to the “pillow test,” waiting for the next day to see if she is still interested in the item.
  • Purchase or Pass: If Fiona decides she still wants the item after the questions and the pillow test, then Stevie makes the purchase on Fiona’s behalf. Most of the time Fiona decides against the item before they are even through the questions. Very few items go to the pillow test, and fewer still are purchased.
  • Time: The last Sunday of the month Fiona and Stevie sit down, assess how effective the strategy was for the previous month, and make the decision to continue the terms for the next month or not. They also review the budget, bills, and spending together. Fiona takes responsibility to understand the household finances, not putting it solely on Stevie’s shoulders. 

Shortly into the Financial Concierge strategy, Fiona started asking herself the questions on her own. Most of the time she didn’t even go to Stevie because she decided against the purchase. At the end of the sixth month, Fiona felt confident to terminate the Concierge agreement. The grip of the items she encountered had waned. With experience, she learned that most things simply would not pass the test of her questions and she began to see how items did not offer the value they appeared to at first glance. Occasionally for her peace of mind, she used Stevie as a sounding board when she wanted to spend over $100 or was uncertain of the value of a purchase. 

A Word on Rights and Empowerment

It may seem reasonable to think that individuals who have a SMI should not have a credit card because of the risks of unrestrained spending. However, this is problematic because it perpetuates ableism. An individual with a SMI is as capable of making thoughtful (and unthoughtful) financial decisions as anyone else when impulse limiting symptoms are not present. 

Setting up a Financial Concierge agreement is a way to protect the individual’s rights, autonomy, and dignity to make their own financial decisions, while also protecting finances during active phases of SMI. One aspect of dignity is the right to have a credit card if the individual chooses.[4]There are situations where a legal or court arranged appointment for financial guardianship is appropriate. But that is beyond the scope and the targeted audience for this post.

What to Consider as a Concierge 

Maybe you are reading this because your loved one wants to try this strategy and is asking for your support. Or, you found this post because you were looking for ways to help your loved one. Here are some things to consider before agreeing to be a Financial Concierge:

  • Are You Comfortable in This Role?: Just because you are asked, does not mean you have to do it. I recently coached a client through releasing financial guardianship to another family member because with a change in circumstances, it was no longer healthy for her to continue the role.  
  • Do You Have Good Boundaries?: Do you understand the rights, responsibilities, and autonomy of the Lead to make their own choices? Can you remain neutral and not become too wrapped up in what the Lead decides to do with their money (aka codependent)?
  • Are You a Black and White Thinker?: If you bring a rigid attitude that the Lead should only spend money on needs and never desires then you will be setting the Lead up for failure and yourself for frustration. Make sure you can enter into the agreement with the mindset that you do not know all the answers and with the right support your Lead has the ability to make effective choices. 
  • Is the Role Clear?: Know exactly what is expected of you (see Fiona’s agreement above for an example) including what steps you will take if your situation might require denying access to finances at times. If the Lead is working with a mental health professional, this could be an excellent opportunity for you, your loved one, and the professional to discuss the potential effectiveness of a Financial Concierge agreement and to formulate the strategy. 
  • Are You at Risk for Abuse?: In very rare situations, a symptom of severe mental illness can be angry outbursts, sometimes leading to verbal or physical aggression.[5]It is a stereotype that individuals with mental illness are violent. There cannot be a blanket statement on if you should or should not serve in a Concierge role for your loved one if they have a history of showing agitation or anger. I have known individuals who are very good at letting the verbal outburst blow over while remaining unfazed. You will have to weigh the risk (if there is any) and decide where your tolerance is. [6]While beyond the scope of this article to go into deeper detail, please remember, just because you can tolerate something, does not mean that is what is most effective for you or for your loved one. … Continue reading

A Path to Financial Mastery

The Financial Concierge strategy can be an involved process that takes a great deal of work and patience from both the Lead and the Concierge. For this reason, the strategy is optimal for those who are self-motivated and when the situation lends itself to shorter time frames. However, each individual can assess their unique circumstances to determine if the process or parts of the process would be beneficial long term. 

I hope this post gave you some ideas on how to recruit social support if you struggle with severe compulsive spending. Your path to emotional and financial wellness will likely be better traveled with people who can encourage and assist you in various capacities. Ultimately, the goal is for you to gain the necessary skills to confidently and effectively gain mastery over your finances and enjoy a life free of impulsive shopping.

References

References
1 Now is a good time for a disclaimer. The strategy I am sharing below is not to be considered mental health or medical advice. This is a technique that I have seen work well for myself some of my clients and is not (that I am aware of) something that has been researched and validated. While this website is intended as a resource and all care has been taken to provide quality content, each person and situation is unique. It is the responsibility of the reader to consult a qualified professional regarding their personal care. Additionally, all of the financial information on this website is opinion and is for information purposes only. I am not a financial professional of any sort.
2 I want to acknowledge that not everyone is privileged to have such a person in their life. Please know this strategy is only one of many to achieve financial sobriety. If you don’t have this support, you can still find ways to manage SAB.
3 Entering a Concierge agreement is not abuse when it non-coerced and voluntary.
4 There are situations where a legal or court arranged appointment for financial guardianship is appropriate. But that is beyond the scope and the targeted audience for this post.
5 It is a stereotype that individuals with mental illness are violent.
6 While beyond the scope of this article to go into deeper detail, please remember, just because you can tolerate something, does not mean that is what is most effective for you or for your loved one. If agitation and anger escalate, this can be a sign that more support is needed. If you need to call 911 for assistance, you can request an officer with crisis intervention training if your local police have a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT). If the circumstances are safe enough, you can bring your loved one to the emergency room or behavioral health hospital emergency room if you have such a hospital in your area. This could be especially beneficial for Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) as it minimizes interaction with police.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.