Spending

Is FOMO Making You Broke? Here’s How to Fight It

Stacy Rapacon

It’s hard not to suffer from a little FOMO when our social feeds are filled with Insta-worthy pics of decadent dinners, poolside parties and tropical getaways. In one recent study from insurance company Allianz Life, 55 percent of millennials reported experiencing FOMO. And 57 percent say they unexpectedly spent money because of something they saw on social media.

Back up. What’s FOMO? And what’s that got to do with social media?

It’s the fear of missing out and, yes, the notion existed long before Instagram (see: Adam and Eve and the apple incident).  

But thanks to social networks, we can now see what our friends, frenemies and favorite celebrities are up to as often as they can share it—and every new post has the potential to make us feel like we’re not keeping up. In that survey, 88 percent of millennials said they believe social media creates a tendency to compare their own lifestyles and wealth with others’, and 61 percent are left feeling inadequate.

Why is this a money issue?

“FOMO can lead to negative financial outcomes,” says financial therapist Megan Ford. “By nature, this fear pushes us to temporarily ignore or forget our real financial intentions.” 

In other words, FOMO drives us to try and keep up, even if our budgets don’t allow it. So maybe you’ll visit that new restaurant your fancy friends checked in at—despite the fact that an entree costs a day’s pay. Covering the check might mean adding to your debt or saving less this month, but you’ll have a selfie with your amuse-bouche to show for it, right?

Even if your friends are more Chipotle than Le Jules Verne, you could still fall victim financially to FOMO. Flash sales and limited-time-only offers, for example, were invented to exploit our emotions, so businesses or “influencers” you follow could bait you into spending without giving you a chance to think about how the purchase affects your money. 

How can FOMO affect my investing?

Sub “new restaurant” for “hot investment.” For example, the soaring price of a new cryptocurrency or much-anticipated IPO might make it a tempting addition to your portfolio, but it doesn’t necessarily make it a good fit for your financial plan. And as natural as it may be to follow the crowd, doing so is not always a smart investing strategy.

So what can I do?

Face your FOMO. “While there may not be a way to fully control FOMO and how it impacts your emotional side, once you recognize what’s going on, you immediately gain more power,” Ford says.

Start by taking a beat before making any impulsive financial decisions, and think about the big picture. “First, slow things down and notice whether you’re being driven to make a decision rooted in anxious or fearful feelings,” Ford says, noting that physical warning signs might include a tense feeling in your chest or shallow breathing. “Take some deep breaths, and try writing down some thoughts running through your head,” she says. Then assess their validity. 

If an ad for a flash sale has you contemplating an unplanned purchase, consider whether you really want it or you’re just caught up in the hype. If a skyrocketing stock is fueling your FOMO, take a minute to check its fundamentals and decide if it’s actually a business you understand and believe inand whether you can withstand the losses if the stock takes a turn for the worse.

Can’t I just stop feeling FOMO?

Sounds great, Iceman, but most people can’t help but feel feelings. Of course, we shouldn’t compare ourselves, should be happy for others and should be grateful for what we have—doing all this is supposed to help us overcome FOMO. But it’s a normal feeling, and it’s bound to creep up.

Besides, despite its bad press, FOMO isn’t all bad. “Like most anything else, there is a light and a dark side,” Ford says. “It can be motivating and may lead you into pursuit of new opportunities. It can push you to try new things.”

The trick is to make sure you’re wielding the power of FOMO for good and understanding when it could be leading you into bad choices. “Awareness and self-regulation are critical pieces in financial success,” Ford says.

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