Kicking the Fear of Missing Out in the Face!
Ever since mankind formed social groups we have always experienced a level of anxiety associated with being left out. What’s the big deal about owning a wheel anyway? Life would be so much cozier if I had a new stone fire-pit like that tribe over there. Why didn’t Suzy invite me to the party? But in recent years, with the advent of the internet and social media, this ancient anxiety has been ramped up to new and unprecedented levels.
In 2004 while finishing his MBA the soon to be world renowned venture capitalist Patrick J. McGinnis wrote an article for The Harbus (the student newspaper of Harvard Business School) entitled “Social Theory at HBS: McGinnis’s Two FOs” in which he coined the phrase “The Fear of Missing Out” or FOMO.
FOMO is characterized by an almost manic drive to see and do everything. But while you are rushing from one commitment to the next there is something else bubbling just below the surface. You see it when people who should be engaged with their surroundings sit in the middle of a highly stimulating activity face down in their phones. These are the people who abruptly change plans, never give a firm commitment and always seem to have one foot out the door. They have graduated from mere FOMO, to the second FO – FOBO or the Fear of a Better Option.
FOMO is not really new. Social Media and other forms of technology like text messaging have made it more prevalent and easier to get caught up in than ever before but the Fear of Missing Out has always been with us. So has the Fear of a Better Option. When I was a kid – before cell phones and social media, when phones had cords and hung on walls and computers weighed forty pounds, we called it something else. We called it staying in touch, being popular or keeping up with the Joneses. But whatever you call it – it’s FOMO.
As your Financial Coach it often feels like I’m fighting losing battle against FOMO and FOBO every day. These two FOs are the main enemy of sound financial planning. Keeping up with the Joneses when our every move is documented and published on social media is a losing game. Especially when we think about the fact that people only post their best moments on Facebook and seem to go silent as soon as the credit card bill arrives, the bill collector comes knocking or the hydro gets turned off. (That last one more out of necessity than choice).
We need a third FO that can over power and replace the first two. And think I found it. I call it FOOM, the Fear of Outliving your Money. When FOOM takes over your every thought, FOMO and FOBO don’t stand a chance.
The Fear of Outliving your Money forces you to budget for today and save for tomorrow. It used to be that the average person needed savings of about $1 million in order to retire comfortably. But that’s not true anymore. With longer life expectancy and lower interest rates that number is more like $1.5 million.
I looked at a projection for a 35 year old yesterday who earns $100,000 per year (slightly higher than the nation average) and his number was a whopping $1.9 million. But FOMO and pressures placed on him by watching all his friends on social media has him overspending to the point that he has exactly $0.00 saved and only 30 years to go before his planned retirement date. That means he needs to put away over $600 per month for the rest of his life starting immediately. When I told him so he nearly fell out of his chair, not because he doesn’t have the money – he does, but because it would mean intentionally missing out on some of the life experiences he has become accustomed to.
FOOM kicked FOMO in the face! After a little bit of bargaining because he wanted to have his cake and eat it too, (that’s FOBO) he got it.
So here’s my advice for all you people out there with a bad case of FOMO. Go on a social media holiday – try it even for a day and see if you don’t start to feel a bit better about yourself. At the very least stop looking at your friend’s latest vacation pictures and start a savings plan, even a small one will help. And whenever FOMO starts to creep in look at the balance of your savings accounts and tell yourself that no what happens from now on you will always have at least that much. As you discipline yourself and watch that money grow, FOOM will dissipate and FOMO will become irrelevant.
In many ways that’s what Financial Planning is all about. I’m here to help you realign your priorities and help you eliminate all forms for financial fear , whether it’s FOMO, FOBO or FOOM fear has no place in financial planning. In fact it’s the planning part the really kicks all forms of fear in the face.