How I Save: The mental health activist whose OCD makes him spend impulsively
Managing our money is so much more than just working out how much you can afford to spend and putting away the rest.
Money is an emotional thing, too. We spend on emotional impulse, we make choices that aren’t rational, and we stress out about our finances, which makes us spend more erratically, which then leads to more stress, in an incredibly damaging spiral.
This week’s How I Save features one example of how mental ill health and emotional spending can make it near-impossible to save.
We took a look at the finances of Jack*, 32, from Wilmslow, Cheshire. He’s currently unemployed and receiving Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), and struggles to stop spending money because of intrusive thoughts caused by OCD.
Here’s what a week is like for him.
How Jack saves:
I earn £0 a year as I am not working due to health issues. I receive ESA and universal credit.
I am a mental health activist who talks to 8,000 people a month. It’s like a full-time job, but I don’t get paid. Talking to these people helps me, though, especially as therapy is not available to me right now.
In my savings account I have absolutely nothing. I am on a tight budget but my impulses take over and I’m driven by my mood.
My OCD and intrusive thoughts tell me to order foods to make me feel better or I will die. As a result, I nearly always go over budget and that’s depressing, so feeds more negativity.
I try to be a positive person, as best I can be.
I’m trying to save money so I can survive. I try to be savvy, hunt out sale and end-of-line items, always go shopping prepared with a list, and avoid paying full-price for things. I’m always looking for bargains.
Lockdown has affected my saving and spending because it has made my mood super low every day. Every time I eat, I feel good as a temporary fix.
How Jack spends:
- Rent: £200
- Phone bill: £62
- Netflix: £5.99
- Website hosting: £20
A week of spending:
Monday: A protein shake to start the day, which works out to be £2 a day. For tea I ordered £20 of binge food from M&S on Deliveroo. This was really impulsive as I am struggling with my intrustive OCD thoughts. I was full afterwards.
Tuesday: Another protein shake for breakfast. For tea I ordered a chicken pad thai through Deliveroo. I do this because it’s easy and you get food within 20 minutes – much easier than trying to make something.
Every day is a struggle with my mental health but this day was harder than usual.
The meal cost £15, and after eating it I wished I had made something.
Wednesday: Orderered groceries online through Deliveroo for £25. I made chicken, jacket potato, and veg, and bought a bag of Cadbury Buttons, a bag of Maltesers, a packet of Hobnobs, and a bag of Haribo sweets. These weren’t on my list but I ended up eating them to feed the intrusive thoughts.
Thursday: Porridge for breakfast! Later in the day I had some cereal. I was looking back and thinking that spending over £15 a day on deliveries is getting out of control.
Friday: Protein shake in the morning (£2) then had fruit during the day. Then the OCD took over and I ended up ordering a huge amount from Deliveroo – chocolate mousses, sweets, biscuits, crisps, beer (I don’t even drink beer!), ice cream. Binge food, basically.
It arrived and I didn’t even eat it, I put half in the bin. It cost £26. I know it sounds crazy but my OCD tells me that if I don’t order the food I will die. This happens daily.
Saturday: Protein shake in the morning (£2), then for dinner I got a ready meal through Deliveroo. It was reduced – buzzing! love a reduced item – to £2, but you have to spend a certain amount to get things delivered, so I get shopping for the weekend, which resulted in spending an extra £10.
Sunday: Had one meal today – a Domino’s pizza for £20. I felt like the day was utter rubbish. I felt so low and alone, and food comforts me, so it made me feel so much better ordering this.
Total spent this week: £124
How Jack could save:
It’s important to note that if you have a mental illness that affects the way you spend, the usual saving tricks and budgeting tips aren’t a magic fix.
If you’re struggling with impulsive spending due to OCD or another mental illness, try to get professional support, whether that’s going to your GP or talking to a therapist.
There are lots of forms of support out there for dealing with money struggles alongside mental ill health.
Mental Health & Money Advice has helpful guides for both side of this complex issue, while StepChange is a great source of support for anyone struggling with debt.
Mind also offers a brilliant guide for all things mental health and money.
To avoid overspending when unwell, Mind advises:
- Confide in someone you trust about your triggers and warning signs, so they can help you.
- Try giving your cards to someone else or putting them somewhere difficult to access.
- Make it more difficult to spend money online. Don’t save your card details into websites. Search for free online tools to help you to limit online spending.
- Find ways to delay purchasing. You could tell yourself, “I will buy this tomorrow if I still feel like it then”. You could take photographs of the things you want, or write them down in a wish list (on paper or on your phone). This might feel reassuring.
- Distract yourself with something else that makes you feel good. Go for a walk, call a friend or watch something that you enjoy.
- Consider telling your bank that you have a mental health problem so they can take this into account. They may be able to add a note to your file to look out for unusual spending. Money Saving Expert’s free Mental Health and Debt booklet has more information about this.
- Some people find it helpful to avoid credit cards completely.
We also spoke to the experts over at Plum for some more hands-on advice to help Jack tweak his spending and saving.
Please note that tips from Plum do not constitute financial advice.
Here’s what they said:
Hi Jack, thanks for sharing your week with us. It takes a lot of courage to share your spending and saving habits so openly.
It can be hard to get going with saving when you’re starting from zero, but having some money set aside does wonders for your financial resilience and it’s not out of your reach by any means.
Firstly, bear in mind that when it comes to saving, there’s no universal recipe for success. Each individual’s saving strategy will have different ingredients, unique to them. However, finding what works best for you will allow you to not only cook up the best version of that recipe but also enjoy the process along the way.
Starting small and taking things one step at a time could be something worth looking into. While tucking money away can sound like a chore that requires a lot of self-discipline, using a money management app, like Plum, could make the process smoother and more effortless.
Plum links directly to your bank account and analyses your incomings and outgoings (like rent, bills and daily spend). Then, it calculates what amount of money it can safely put aside without affecting your daily life. The amount is then stashed away in your Plum account so it’s out of temptation’s reach.
Setting small goals to begin with can also be useful if you’re starting to build up savings. The goal can be as simple as saving up for a bigger purchase or having an emergency fund to cover a few week’s of expenses. According to research by National Savings and Investments (NS&I), people who set their savings goal save faster than those who don’t. That’s a bit of psychology that you can use to your benefit to help build your financial resilience in time!
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