Managing Personal Finances With Bipolar Disorder

Updated: March 15, 2024

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Bipolar disorder, formerly called manic depression, is a mental health condition marked by profound changes in mood, energy, activity levels and concentration. These variations can significantly affect daily activities, notably personal finance management.

Approximately 6.1 million adult Americans live with bipolar disorder. For those living with bipolar disorder, managing finances becomes particularly challenging due to the impact of mood fluctuations on financial decision-making. Recognizing the relationship between these mood fluctuations and financial behaviors can help enhance your financial well-being. It enables more effective financial planning and cautious spending, especially during mood instability.

How Bipolar Disorder Affects Money Management

The Mayo Clinic explains that bipolar disorder is characterized by extreme mood swings, ranging from high states of mania or hypomania to low states of depression. These mood changes can have a significant impact on financial behavior, particularly during manic or hypomanic phases when individuals may experience euphoria, excessive energy and impaired judgment.

Such episodes may lead to impulsive spending habits and financial mismanagement, resulting in debt accumulation and savings depletion. Recognizing how bipolar disorder impacts personal finances can be the first step to help you overcome these challenges.

Impulsive Spending and Generosity

Individuals with bipolar disorder may engage in impulse shopping or display excessive generosity, such as donating all their savings to charity, gambling significant amounts or initiating risky business ventures during manic phases.

Comfort Spending

Individuals with bipolar disorder may purchase items for immediate emotional relief during low periods, often exacerbating debt and financial stress.

Increased Anxiety and Depression

After manic episodes, individuals with bipolar disorder may experience deep regret and guilt over their financial decisions and the overspending that occurred. A perceived lack of financial wellness can heighten their anxiety and depression, especially after periods of overspending that lead to substantial debt.

Avoidance and Poor Planning

A tendency to avoid confronting financial realities, such as unpaid bills, reflects avoidant coping.

Tips for Managing Finances With Bipolar Disorder

Managing finances while living with bipolar disorder requires self-compassion, resilience and strategies tailored to your needs. While particularly helpful during mood fluctuations, these strategies can also assist anyone struggling with overspending.

Set Spending Limits

Creating a budget with clear spending limits helps control impulsive purchases, especially during periods of elevated mood. View spending limits as self-care that reinforces protection against the stress of impulsive buying beyond financial discipline. To effectively set spending limits, consider the following practical steps:

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    Budget Planning

    Start budgeting by analyzing your income, fixed costs (such as rent and utilities) and variable costs (such as groceries and entertainment) in detail first. Allocate specific portions of your income to each category, clearly defining your spending boundaries.

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    Track Spending

    Make it a habit to record your expenditures and review them against your budget regularly. This step can highlight areas where you can save more and help adjust your spending habits accordingly.

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    Utilize Budgeting Tools

    Leverage technology using budgeting apps or software designed for financial management. Features like spending alerts can inform you about your proximity to set limits, helping you stay within your budget.

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    Use Prepaid Debit Cards

    A practical tool for enforcing spending limits is prepaid debit cards. They allow you to spend only the amount you've preloaded, effectively preventing overspending.

Create Separate Savings Accounts for Unexpected Expenses

Allocating funds for unplanned or emotionally driven purchases is a buffer against impulsive spending. Setting aside funds in separate savings accounts for unexpected expenses can help you mitigate the stress associated with financial surprises and reinforce financial discipline. Here's how to set up and manage these essential savings accounts effectively:

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    Assess Income Allocation

    Decide what portion of your income should go into these special savings accounts, ensuring it's realistic and sustainable.

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    Automate Savings

    Enable automatic savings to these accounts to foster a consistent savings habit without relying on manual effort.

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    Reflect on Spending Patterns

    Periodically evaluate your spending trends to fine-tune your savings allocations, ensuring they meet your needs and goals.

Craft a Financial Backup Plan With a Trusted Partner

A financial backup plan can be a safety net for unexpected financial decisions. Partnering with a trusted individual can provide balance through respectful and supportive oversight. This partnership involves choosing someone who understands and respects your financial independence and confidentiality. Here's how to develop a supportive financial strategy with a trusted partner:

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    Choose a Trusted Individual

    Choose someone who values your desire for financial independence and respects your confidentiality.

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    Have Honest Conversations

    Share your financial ambitions and vulnerabilities openly with your partner.

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    Outline Supportive Actions

    Clearly define the scenarios in which your partner can provide support or take necessary actions.

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    Agree on Financial Safeguards

    Set definitive spending limits and access controls to financial accounts to mitigate impulsive spending.

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    Evaluate the Plan Regularly

    Commit to reviewing and adjusting the plan regularly to ensure it meets your evolving financial needs.

Adopt Debt Repayment Strategies

Adopting structured debt repayment strategies can provide a clear roadmap to regaining financial control. Choosing the best debt repayment strategy depends on your financial situation, including total debt, interest rates and the feasibility of consistent payments. The following are debt repayment strategies you can consider:

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    Debt Snowball Method

    You can implement a debt snowball method by paying off your smallest debts first, then work on the larger ones. This method can provide a sense of accomplishment and momentum, making sticking with your repayment plan easier.

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    Debt Avalanche Method

    To implement debt avalanche method, prioritize debts with the highest interest rates for payment first. This strategy can be more cost-effective over the long term, saving you money in interest charges.

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    Debt Consolidation

    Debt consolidation strategy combines several debts into a single payment. This strategy can make it easier to manage your debt by streamlining your monthly payments and possibly lowering your overall interest rate.

Rebuild Savings

Rebuilding your savings is an act of self-care that demands a gentle, forgiving approach. It's normal to encounter regret or frustration from past financial decisions but meet yourself with kindness and compassion.

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    Adopt a Mindful Approach to Saving

    Understand that rebuilding your savings is a journey of self-care and empowerment. Treat yourself with kindness and patience as you navigate this path.

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    Set Realistic and Achievable Goals

    Set savings goals that feel attainable. Starting small can help build confidence and momentum. Celebrate each milestone, no matter how modest, to reinforce your commitment and progress.

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    Create a Dedicated Savings Plan

    Tailor your savings plan to reflect your current financial situation and future aspirations. This step may involve setting aside a small percentage of your income or dedicating funds from specific sources, like bonuses or tax refunds, to your savings. Visualize what you're saving for to stay motivated.

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    Embrace Flexibility in Your Savings Strategy:

    Be prepared to adjust your savings goals and strategies as needed. If you encounter a month where saving is more challenging, be gentle with yourself. Resume your savings plan as soon as possible rather than getting discouraged.

Cultivate Resilience and Compassion

Building resilience and self-compassion empowers you to face financial challenges with a healthier mindset, reducing the impact of setbacks and fostering a more forgiving approach to personal financial management. Here are some strategies to consider in this journey:

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    Embrace Patience

    Approach your financial recovery with calmness and patience. Understand that rebuilding takes time and view it as an opportunity for personal growth and learning.

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    Learn from Experiences

    Instead of dwelling on past financial decisions, consider them valuable lessons for future growth.

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    Seek Support When Needed

    Reach out to supportive organizations or professionals who understand your journey. Organizations like the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) can provide financial counseling. You can contact them at 800-388-2227 for guidance and assistance.

Financial Assistance and Support for Bipolar Disorder

Numerous support and assistance options exist to help navigate the financial challenges of people with bipolar disorder. Here's an overview of the types of financial support available:

Bipolar Disorder Disability Benefits

Bipolar disorder is classified as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Social Security Administration (SSA) . If you are unable to work, you may be eligible for Social Security benefits. The SSA operates two programs that provide monthly income and health insurance to individuals unable to work because of a disability.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

This program is for individuals who have worked and contributed to Social Security taxes. To apply for SSDI benefits due to bipolar disorder, you must meet the specific criteria listed under section 12.04 of the SSA's Blue Book. Utilize the Social Security benefits calculator available to estimate potential disability earnings for bipolar disorder.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

This program is for individuals with limited income. To qualify for SSI benefits for bipolar disorder, you must satisfy the SSA's financial criteria. Since SSI is based on financial need, your income and assets must be below certain thresholds.

Meeting both medical and financial criteria set by the SSA can make you eligible for SSI benefits for bipolar disorder. Ensure that you check the SSA's website for detailed information on the financial limitations of SSI and detailed requirements.

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When applying for disability benefits due to bipolar disorder, adopt the following strategies to streamline the process:

  • Document Everything: Secure comprehensive records from health care providers detailing your diagnosis, treatment and impact on your daily functioning and employment.
  • Know the SSA's Blue Book: Ensure your application aligns with the criteria specified for bipolar disorder in the SSA's Blue Book.
  • Professional Help: Consult a disability advocate or lawyer specializing in SSA claims to guide you.

Health Insurance

Health insurance can facilitate access to necessary medical care, including hospitalizations, medications, therapy and counseling sessions, and help mitigate the financial burden associated with ongoing mental health management. Health insurance, whether through private providers or government programs, must include mental health coverage:

Employer-Provided Insurance

Many employers offer health insurance, often contributing towards the premium. Verify that the plan covers pre-existing conditions, including mental health concerns.

Government Insurance

Medicare, Medicaid and Affordable Care Act (ACA) Marketplace plans are designed to cover pre-existing conditions, ensuring mental health and substance abuse treatment are accessible without additional charges.

Private Health Insurance

Private health insurance offers personalized plans for those seeking employer-provided or government insurance alternatives. While these plans can be tailored to individual needs, assess their terms carefully and ensure they cover various mental health services without restrictive clauses on pre-existing conditions.

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Prioritize plans with extensive mental health services. Effective coverage should include psychiatric care, therapy sessions, medication and, if relevant, substance abuse treatment. Ensure the plan offers a broad range of mental health support tailored to your needs.

Student Loan and Other Debt Forgiveness

People with bipolar disorder may find financial relief through debt forgiveness programs, notably for federal student loans. If you can't work due to bipolar disorder, you may qualify for the Total and Permanent Disability (TPD) discharge, which absolves your obligation to repay your loans or complete TEACH Grant service obligations . As of May 2023, approximately 492,000 borrowers have benefited from loan forgiveness through TPD discharge. There are multiple ways for you to qualify:

US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)

If the VA has determined you have a 100% disabling service-connected disability or are disabled based on individual unemployability, you qualify for a TPD discharge.

Social Security Administration (SSA)

Eligibility for TPD discharge can also be granted if you receive SSDI or SSI benefits under certain conditions, such as having a scheduled continuing disability review within five to seven years from your last SSA disability determination or qualifying for SSDI or SSI based on a compassionate allowance.

Certification by a Medical Professional

A TPD discharge application can be certified by specific medical professionals, including Doctors of Medicine (MD), Doctors of Osteopathy (DO), Nurse Practitioners (NP), Physician's Assistants (PA) or certified psychologists at the independent practice level.

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If you believe you qualify for a TPD discharge but haven't received an automatic discharge letter, there are three ways to initiate your application:

  • Application Wizard: Use the online wizard to autofill parts of your application for convenience.
  • Printed Application Form: Download and complete the application form by hand.
  • Request by Mail: Email or call 1-888-303-7818 to have an application mailed to you. Support is available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) on Monday through Wednesday and from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET on Thursday through Friday.

For those who may find the application process challenging, a caregiver or representative can apply on your behalf. They'll need to complete an Applicant Representative Designation form to proceed.

Low-Cost Therapy Options

Numerous resources are offering low-cost or even free therapy options to help manage the symptoms of bipolar disorder. Here are some ways to consider to explore for affordable therapy:

Health Center Search Tools

The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) provides a search tool for free or low-cost resources throughout the United States. You can also contact your state mental health and substance use agency on how to obtain treatment without insurance.

Referrals From Primary Care Doctors

Speaking with your primary care doctor can be valuable in finding low-cost therapy options. They may offer referrals to in-network psychiatrists or clinical psychologists, providing a cost-effective pathway to specialized mental health care if you have insurance.

Alternative Counseling Formats

Many mental health service providers are adapting to offer more affordable and accessible treatment options. These include telehealth appointments via online platforms, phone, email or text and group therapy sessions, making it easier for individuals to receive care without the high costs associated with traditional in-person visits.

Nonprofit Organizations Aid

There's also financial assistance available from nonprofit organizations designed to help individuals with bipolar disorder. These organizations offer support from monetary relief, contributing to easing stress, enhancing mental health and fostering stability during challenging times.

PAN Foundation

PAN Foundation offers financial assistance to cover costs related to medication, housing, food and other essential needs for those with mental health challenges.

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA)

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) focuses on creating a supportive community for individuals with bipolar disorder and their loved ones. DBSA offers access to support groups, resources for family and friends and guidance on navigating the complexities of living with bipolar disorder or depression.


NeedyMeds connects you to programs that offer savings on medication and health care services, including drug discount cards and information on disease-specific assistance programs, including bipolar disorder.

Additional Resources

We've curated a list of additional resources to help you learn further about managing bipolar disorder alongside financial well-being:

  • American Psychiatric Association (APA): The APA offers guidelines and resources for psychiatric care, aiding in understanding the financial aspects of managing mental health.
  • Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA): Specializes in resources for managing anxiety and depression, conditions often co-occurring with bipolar disorder, with implications for financial health.
  • A gateway to exploring government benefits, including disability support for individuals with bipolar disorder, facilitating access to financial aid programs.
  • Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA): Provides a support network focusing on various aspects of living with bipolar disorder, including financial management support.
  • CenterWatch: Features a database of clinical trials, including those related to bipolar disorder, offering insights into financial management within medical research contexts.
  • A comprehensive resource for finding global clinical studies on bipolar disorder, including those focusing on financial management strategies.
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): Provides educational content, advocacy and support on issues, including financial management for individuals living with mental health conditions.
  • National Institutes of Health (NIH): This medical research organization provides valuable information on bipolar disorder and related financial resources for health care management.

About Nathan Paulus

Nathan Paulus headshot

Nathan Paulus is the Head of Content Marketing at MoneyGeek, with nearly 10 years of experience researching and creating content related to personal finance and financial literacy.

Paulus has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of St. Thomas, Houston. He enjoys helping people from all walks of life build stronger financial foundations.