lifestyle

I can’t resist impulsive spending, so Black Friday is a nightmare


I have Borderline Personality Disorder, a condition that affects how people see, feel and think about the world (Picture: Beth Rees)

The feelings I get from impulsive spending are, I would imagine, similar to those experienced by drug addicts.  

There’s the thrill of hunting down the product, the rush of parting with my money, the excitement of waiting impatiently for it to arrive and finally, the elation of holding it in my hand.

When the high finally subsides, I am left with a feeling of disappointment, shame and guilt, but I always need another hit, and so the cycle continues.  

So for me, Black Friday is problematic to say the least. 

I have Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), a condition that affects how people see, feel and think about the world, and can affect relationships with others. I feel emotions intensely, I don’t always have a strong sense of identity and I am constantly in fear of loved ones leaving.  

To be diagnosed with BPD, you need to meet five out of nine diagnostic criteria, one of which is acting impulsively in a way that could harm you – and it includes overspending. 

I buy clothes, mainly dresses and ‘going out’ tops, that I think will make me feel better about myself. I obsess over how amazing I’ll look but when the clothes arrive, they never live up to expectations. 

I’ve always loved live music and at university, I’d buy several gig tickets at a time, not even looking at the cost and easily spending £150 without thinking anything of it.  

Years ago, I bought a car. I’d never thought about getting one before but I got a strong urge to spend money. After seeing several adverts online, I was hooked on the feeling I got from finding one and the elation it would give me (I didn’t even like driving because it made me anxious and months later I crashed it, so maybe that was a sign). It’s like money is no object, and spending feels incredible. 

Like many others, in the run up to Black Friday, I am inundated with emails about ‘fantastic’ sales and ‘irresistible’ offers. ‘Buy now, pay later’ schemes are everywhere and seem to be the first thing you see on many fashion websites, making it even easier to give into temptation.

These attractive options play heavily on my mind and I start putting items into my virtual basket, telling myself what great savings I am going to make.

When the sales start, I buy everything in my basket without looking at what is in there; I just click the button and it’s bought. It is as though I would do anything to get it, spending money I don’t have on items I don’t really need. I think about how the items will change my life when they get to me. They never do though. 

I hid my impulsive spending from my family for almost a decade. I was so embarrassed about my habits, and felt so guilty for blowing hard earned money on nothing at all because I was always taught that saving was good and credit cards were bad – a simple premise that I’d failed to live by. 

I have tried to protect myself: I’ve immediately deleted sales emails as they have come through and taken myself off mailing lists to limit my exposure to enticing offers

I was racking up debts and paying a little bit off, but I normally spent that immediately afterwards. When the bank statements came, I didn’t even open them – instead I hid them in the wardrobe and pretended they didn’t exist because opening them would mean having to confront my problem and I definitely wasn’t ready to do that. The fear of what I’d find scared me. 

One day, in 2016, a letter came in the post and I opened it without thinking – it was a statement showing that I had accrued £4,000 worth of debt. My heart started racing and the tears came and didn’t stop. I had a panic attack in front of my fiancé who had no idea about my money troubles – I’d managed to hide them from him for two years, too.

I finally decided to ask for help around my impulsive spending when the worry around my debt started to make me physically ill: I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep and in the end, the burden was too much for me to carry by myself.

It wasn’t easy. I was buried in shame and embarrassment and it was really hard to go through all my spending, working out a plan for paying it back. It’s thanks to what my fiancé has taught me about budgeting that I’m in a better place now, but I’m still terrified of money and I always question what I buy and whether a purchase is an acceptable one to make. 

Still, I am particularly worried about what Black Friday and Christmas sales will bring.   

This year, lockdown has had a big effect on the way all of us spend, and it’s made Black Friday even more of a risk for people like me. 

The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute recently published a report into the effect lockdown has had on online shopping, which revealed that since lockdown began, people with mental health problems have found it harder to control their spending. It also highlighted that ‘low mood and increased impulsivity’ can lead to problem spending which is exactly what fuelled my spending sprees.  

I feel wary of Black Friday as I know it is a trigger for my spending. I have tried to protect myself: I’ve immediately deleted sales emails as they have come through and taken myself off mailing lists to limit my exposure to enticing offers.  

It can’t all be down to individuals, however. Retailers can do more to help people who are struggling with their mental health and spending, by making unsubscribe options more visible and even including an option to report that it’s for mental health reasons. They can also offer an opt-out option on their websites for the ‘buy now, pay later’ schemes – I’ve been tempted by these in the past because of how easy it is to sign up.

I would like to see the terms and conditions of these schemes broken down into bullet points, outlining what exactly customers are signing up for before they commit, and whether it will affect credit history if there is a failure to repay on time.

These reforms would help people like me by adding extra barriers to spending money so easily. The more hurdles I have to jump over to spend, the less likely I am to part with my cash. 

My BPD, by its very nature, has its ups and downs but I am learning to cope with it in more positive ways. Doing exercise, speaking to a counsellor and taking my medication are just a few things keeping me well and away from spending money.  

For anyone living with BPD and impulsive spending, you’re not alone. Start small: cut up those credit cards. I did this in front of my fiancé as a sign that I was serious about sorting my debt out. Then go to the drawer where all the unopened bank statements are and take a look. The more a problem is hidden, the worse it will get. I found that I was worth way more than the money I was spending.  

Coming to terms with it can be the toughest part, but when you’re aware of it, you’ll want to change it. 

I have everything crossed that over the coming weeks, I will be able resist temptation to splurge again. 

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch with stephanie.soh@metro.co.uk

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