Fighting the fear of missing out

FOMO is real. And, not only is the Fear Of Missing Out real, it drives some spectacularly bad behaviour.

Case in point: an American Study by Magnify Money found that over 20 per cent of Americans borrowed to fund their summer holidays. Worse, a high proportion of these people who borrowed for a holiday already had debt.

Even worse again, 31 per cent of these people said they felt pressured to go on vacation and would have rather stayed at home and paid off debt.

That’s interesting, because if they wanted to stay home and save money, why didn’t they? The survey’s answer – they feared missing out.

Pretty much everyone knows that borrowing to take a holiday is poor financial behaviour.

However, even though people know that borrowing this money is not sensible, they go ahead and do it anyway. FOMO is obviously a powerful force (albeit a negative one).

Much of FOMO is comparison. We compare ourselves to others who seem better off. In all sorts of ways and in most of our human contacts, we get a false view of other people’s lives, only seeing the wonderful moments which we then compare to our own, more common routine.

But appearances are often deceiving. The chances are that you are not missing out, but comparing yourself to others simply means that you will always have FOMO.

You see this false comparison most clearly in social media. Facebook and the likes do not offer a well-rounded, balanced picture of anyone’s life because we all post our best, most thrilling moments rather than the boring or mundane. I tend to post pictures high on a mountain I climbed at the weekend, rather than a picture of washing the dishes any old Tuesday night.

Social media sells curated lives. You see the mountain climbing (and other fun), but there are few pictures of taking out the rubbish.

Comparing yourself to others and worrying that you are missing out is ultimately a mugs game – a game you are sure to lose.

Being aware of the destructive force that is FOMO is the first step in resisting its strong pull to join the “happy” throngs whose lives appear to be much better than our own. We need to remember that other people have to wash the dishes even though they do not post about it much.

The second step is to be very clear about what you do want. Whether it is family or fun, you need to resource these things with your time, talents and money. This is a positive choice driven by you – a fear of missing out is a negative one driven by an unrealistic view of others’ lives.

Clearly, there are a lot of Americans (and, no doubt a good few Kiwis) who do things because of their FOMO rather than for themselves.  I think there is something terribly sad about that.

Martin Hawes is the Chair of the Summer KiwiSaver Investment Committee. He is an Authorised Financial Adviser and a disclosure statement is available on request and free of charge, or can be found at www.martinhawes.com.

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