Personal Improvement

You Might Be Suffering From FOMO and Not Even Know It

Updated on March 22, 2020 Updated on March 22, 2020
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"You can do anything, but not everything." —David Allen

You might be suffering from FOMO and not even know it, or even what it is! FOMO is fear of missing out. But you might be gaining by missing out.

I don’t usually write about shit that is made up but I was disgusted by an article written by an idiot that told people if they were in their twenties and had savings, they were fools because “when you live your life by numbers, you strip yourself of poetry.” In language she can understand, LOL, What?

I’m not linking to it because I don’t want to give the writer any more publicity, but if you have some brain cells you don’t mind sacrificing, I’m sure you can find it. It made me angry because not only is the advice stupid, it’s dangerous and the antithesis of everything LMM is about. So consider this our rebuttal.

What Is FOMO?

Fear of missing out is defined as, “A pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent”. I take issue with the use of “rewarding” in this definition. I don’t think the sufferers of FOMO think that they’re missing out on a rewarding experience. Because I agree, that would be a shame and maybe even induce suffering.


If your friends were going to a Neil deGrasse Tyson lecture, that would be a rewarding experience. I would tell you to charge that ticket on your credit card even if you have student loan debt you should be paying. I once spent money to see Christopher Hitchens debate and it was one of the best experiences of my life. I would have gladly skipped a week’s worth of meals to buy that ticket.

But I don’t think these are the kinds of things people are doing and spending money on that would be better off going to the loans. I think it’s stuff like the third night out this week at happy hour after work or the latest gadget.

What Is Causing This Devastating Epidemic?

Like certain types of music in the 1980’s and video games in the 2000’s, social media gets unfairly blamed for a lot of bad stuff. And it’s what is largely getting the blame for FOMO. People see what their friends are doing on Facebook and Instagram, fancy dinners, exotic vacations, and they want to do those things too!

Social media might actually be deserving of some of the blame for this though. The only reason I use Facebook is to show off to my friends that I’ve been on vacation or what I’m eating. I don’t do the fancy meal photos anymore though unless I cooked the food myself. Even those are mostly just to show off my Paleo bona fides though.

But remember the cliched, but still true, saying about social media; it’s just everyone’s highlight reel. No one shows the vacations they took via Greyhound bus and no one shows the third dinner that week that consisted of boxed macaroni cheese with a can of tuna mixed in there.

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The Pitfalls

The big problem with FOMO is that if you heed the fear, you might be hurting your future self. Every dollar you spend now is one less dollar you have for an emergency, to pay off debt, to retire.

Currently 40 million of us have student loan debt and seven million of us have student loans in default. Those numbers are not going to decrease if we’re constantly spending money to avoid FOMO.

I Kind Of Agree

I don’t disagree entirely with the writer I’m taking to task. She’s correct that life is meant to be lived and enjoyed. And Millenials seem to have caught on to this better than past generations. Prior generations spent money on things. Their version of FOMO was Keeping Up With The Joneses. The neighbors bought a new car so they bought one too. Their brother-in-law bought a bigger house so they bought one too. Their co-worker bought a boat, so they bought one too.

A study found that 78% of those aged 18-34, roughly the Millenial age range, would rather spend money on experiences than things. And if it’s happiness that they’re trying to buy, they’re on to something. Science shows that we are made happier when we spend our money doing things rather than buying things.

Now one likes a miser and no one wants to be a miser. But the author saw black or white. Either you had the time of your life and didn’t save a dime or you sat in your hovel eating dumpster food while monitoring your 401k.

I question the writer’s idea of a great life. She doesn’t seem to be one of the 78% mentioned above. She doesn’t talk about spending money on things like concerts or vacations which can be worth spending on because they’re memorable. Just stuff like cabbing everywhere, going out to eat a lot, and buying clothes she admits she doesn’t need.

So not only does she not know jack shit about money, she doesn’t know how shit about happiness either.

The Real Problem

If you want to enjoy your twenties and have money, I’ll tell you what will hamper that. It’s settling down and having a kid too early. It’s a big world out there and it’s easier to explore when you’re single and untethered by people and places.

Take a job offer on other side of the country, spend a year WWOOFing your way around the globe, take a low paying job working for a non-profit you feel makes a difference, live at home with your parents for a year and save 80% of your income. All of those “grown up” responsibilities, spouse, house, kids, can wait at least until your late twenties.

If You Don’t Save In Your Twenties

It’s not the end of the world for most people. Your twenties are the time to make dumb mistakes because you still have time to correct them. But think how much further ahead you will be if you do start saving and investing in your twenties. How much closer to buying a home or retiring early. As for our friend who sparked this article, I hope she learns the danger of thinking that tomorrow will always take care of itself. If not, I’m sure we’ll be seeing her Go Fund Me asking for rent money.


Featured Image Photo Credit: “sad eyes” by hannah k on Flickr

Inter-article Image Photo Credit: “Grace Murray Hopper at the UNIVAC keyboard” by Jan Arkkesteijn on Wikipedia

Candice Elliott - Senior Editor
Candice Elliott is a substantial contributor to Listen Money Matters. She has been a personal finance writer since 2013 and has written extensively on student loan debt, investing, and credit. She has successfully navigated these areas in her own life and knows how to help others do the same. Candice has answered thousands of questions from the LMM community and spent countless hours doing research for hundreds of personal finance articles. She happily calls New Orleans, Louisiana home-the most fun city in the world.

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