First, let me say that I hate shopping. Not just grocery shopping, which I assume pretty much everyone hates, but all the kinds of shopping that women are stereotypically supposed to love: clothing shopping, shoe shopping, makeup shopping, and furniture shopping. I especially loathe car shopping.
The only times I really like shopping are when I have hypomania. And even then there are only certain types of shopping that I like. Having bipolar II, and never really getting the effects of full-blown mania, I have realized that I am lucky. I don't get the shopping-therapy, wreck-the-budget, debt-piling-up shopping jags that like gambling or other addictions can severely take a toll on your life. I do get exhilaration, rapid breathing, shaking hands (more so than usual), and the desire to purchase everything that interests me.
But only certain categories of things interest me. Books. Music. Amber jewelry. And that's it. (Except for that one time I was in a Banana Republic store, before The Gap bought it out).
You'd think this would not be much of a problem. All I'd have to do is avoid places where they sell those things. And that was largely true – in the days before online shopping. It was fairly easy to steer clear of bricks-and-mortar bookstores and CD areas of department stores and the dealer rooms at science fiction conventions (where I used to fall prey to amber jewelry, lots and lots of books, and obscure CDs available nowhere else). Now I can go online and buy all the CDs, MP3s, books, and e-books that I want. I am one of those people who has shelves and stacks and chips full of books, many of which I have never read. I get panicky if there isn't a book within my reach at all times. The only problem is that I can't really do that. Our monthly income is limited, and there are not enough books in the world to satisfy my craving.
So, how do I manage without breaking the bank? I have developed a few techniques, mostly in the days before online shopping – but many of them are transferable.
No credit cards. My husband and I have gotten rid of all our credit cards, either paying them off or making deals with the companies to settle for a lesser amount (this is a tactic that only works sometimes). Even keeping one credit card "for emergencies" is too dangerous. Now we have a debit card, which means that the money must actually already exist for us to spend it. Admittedly, this tactic isn't perfect, but it's a start. (I've also heard that if you do have a credit card, you put it in a bowl of water in the freezer, so that when you want to use it, you have to wait for it to thaw out.)
Sales and discounts. It turns out that buying books for $1.99 each satisfies my longings almost as much as full-price purchases. Therefore I joined three services that every day email me notifications of books on sale for $3.99 or less – sometimes even free. That saves money that I can spend later on more expensive books from my absolute favorite authors. Or I can wait till the Friends of the Library have their "all the books you can fit in a paper bag for $1.00" sale.
Categories. Back when used CD shops existed, I would prowl through the racks, putting everything that interested me in my basket. Then I would sit down somewhere and sort the CDs by price. Then I divided them into three categories – "have to have," "worth it for the price," and "get it some other time." This weeding process pained me, but my husband did it too and that made it at least seem fair. We still bought more than we should have, but way less than we wanted.
Procrastination. Although the techniques mentioned above are helpful in both online and offline venues, procrastination works best in cyberspace. Most sites now have "wishlists" for purchases you mean to make later or for other people to buy for you. I find that building wishlists is almost as good as real shopping. I can tell myself that I can always get the items later, when I get some birthday money, or when the price goes down. A similar technique is to put items in your online "shopping basket" and then leave the site without making the purchase. You'll get emails from the site reminding you of the unfinished purchases, but by then the hypomanic fit may have passed.
I can't say these strategies work all of the time, or how well they work with bipolar I, but I do know they've saved me and my husband thousands of dollars over the years that we can spend on frivolous things like groceries and psychotropics. In my book, I consider that a win!
Read more of Janet's posts here.