You don’t have cash to burn, so you pass up a night out on the town with friends…but feel pangs of remorse when you see a slew of Facebook posts and tweets like: Best. Night. Ever! and Partying like a rock star with my girls tonite! #lovinglife #gobigorgohome. Or, you decide to skip a destination wedding in the Caribbean, only to be bombarded with photos on Instagram of everyone dancing and drinking Champagne on the beach.
People have always experienced fear of missing out [FOMO] or used the ‘you only live once’ [YOLO] philosophy to justify their behavior,” says Pamela Rutledge, PhD, director of the Media Psychology Research Center. “The difficult thing now is that social media increases our awareness of what others are doing. This drives us toward impulsive decision-making and behaviors.” In other words, your Facebook feed can do serious damage to your budget. We break down how to stick to your guns without feeling like you’re missing out.
The Situation: When your friends start whipping out their credit cards during a shopping trip, you’re tempted to follow suit.
Why FOMO Strikes: The desire to be included hits home for most us: according to a survey from MyLife, 56 percent of people report experiencing FOMO episodes. And it’s a powerful force. “Fear of not being part of the in-crowd — a.k.a. keeping up with the Joneses — can override decision making, whether it’s engaging in risky behavior or buying a designer handbag,” says Rutledge. “We make many purchasing choices based on how things make us feel about ourselves, not their actual attributes.”
How to Deal: Before a shopping excursion, give yourself a budget for how much you’re allowed to spend and just bring cash or a debit card. Having a specific figure in mind gives you mental boundaries, which makes you less likely to overdo it. You can also try reverse peer pressure: “Ask your friends to hold you accountable for your spending,” says Timmons. If you’re lusting for $200 J.Crew mules when your limit is $50, your pals can keep you on track.
Another technique: Hone in on a major goal you’re working towards, be it saving for a down payment on a house or paying off your student loan debt. “Humans have a difficult time accurately estimating costs in the future,” explains Rutledge. “Write down your dreams and wishes, and then figure out the steps to get there.” She suggests visualizing what you want, either by creating a Pinterest board featuring photos of ideal homes, or building a detailed mental picture of the vacation you’ll take once you’re debt-free (e.g. research the trip, price it out, and read enough about the planned destination to have a very clear sense of how much you’re going to enjoy it). Pick a time-appropriate deadline to achieve the goal by, and then imagine your accomplishment when you get up in the morning and before bed. “Use these images as prompts when you’re tempted to do something that puts your goals at risk,” says Rutledge.
The Situation: You’re invited on a last-minute vacation that will require dipping into your savings.
Why YOLO Strikes: The YOLO philosophy of living every moment to the fullest can be a positive influence. If you’re presented with an incredible opportunity, you should try (within reason) to take advantage of it. The problem? “Some people use it as an excuse to overindulge,” says Timmons, a tendency that can stem from “a sense of imbalance in your life.”
Perhaps you grew up in a family where money was tight, for example, and now that you have your own income, you want to be able to do whatever you want. Or you may be overworked and stressed out, and opening your wallet lets you feel like you’re treating yourself. “If you have more than one or two YOLO experiences in a year, that is a red flag,” Timmons says.
How to Deal: If this is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience that shouldn’t be missed, figure out how to make it work within your budget. “Come up with a game plan to replenish what you’re taking out within a certain timeframe — and hold yourself to it,” says Timmons. For example: If you’re subtracting $1,200 from your savings account, vow to spend $100 less per month on eating out, shopping, etc. for the next year until you’ve paid yourself back.
If whatever you’re craving isn’t worth the splurge, then turn inward: “With a sense of curiosity, not judgment, ask yourself where your YOLO impulse is coming from,” urges Timmons. Understanding what’s motivating you will empower you to make better choices. Then, pat yourself on the back for not caving. “Be proud of yourself for having the wisdom not to spend money you don’t have,” says Rutledge. “Reward yourself in another way.” Giving yourself positive reinforcement buffers you from feeling deprived.
The Situation: A friend scored tickets to impossible-to-find, fifth-row Beyonce seats and asks if you want in. Yeah, it's expensive but … it’s Beyonce.
Why YOLO Strikes: So, there’s something you really want, but your logical side knows that whipping out your AmEx to buy it is not a smart move. Here’s where YOLO conveniently comes into play: “It’s a way of justifying impulsive behaviors, so you can convince yourself that spending too much is acceptable,” says Rutledge. “Yes, you may only live once, but do you want to have the stress of continual debt?”
How to Deal: Ultimately, being mindful with your money is the key to overriding the urge to overspend. “True mindfulness is the antithesis of rash and irrational behavior,” says Rutledge. Once you’ve attained a deep sense of awareness and gratitude, you’ll be able to make measured, rational choices that are in line with your long-term goals. It may sound strange, but just taking a moment to breathe and get centered can help you avoid making an impulse purchase you might later regret. And taking time to appreciate what you already have in your life and the progress you’ve made toward larger goals can also help build your resistance to those YOLO urges.
A few techniques to try:
- Take three deep breaths, and then bring to mind something you feel grateful for. “It can be a small thing, like the color of your coffee cup or the sun hitting the garden, or a larger thing, like a relationship with a friend,” says Rutledge. “Sit for a moment appreciating what you found.”
- Sit in a comfortable seat, and focus on your breathing. “Simply become aware of what’s happening around you and of your breath going in and out,” says Rutledge. If your mind wanders, quietly bring it back to the present.
- Make something new again. “Find an object around the house and look at it with fresh eyes as if you had never seen it before,” instructs Rutledge. “Find one detail you had not noticed earlier and look at it for a few minutes to really see [and appreciate] it.”
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The Situation: Your friends invited you out to an expensive restaurant but you're on a strict budget.
Why FOMO Strikes: Fear of missing out is a totally normal cognitive response. “Humans devote more than half of their mental processing to social activity, including monitoring what people around you are doing,” says Rutledge. “Anxiety about being left out is very real.” In fact, research has found that the brain registers social exclusion the same way it does physical pain.
How to Deal: If these are good friends, be upfront about your financial situation; they’ll understand where you’re coming from. “Explain that you’d love to come, but rather than splitting the bill, you prefer to pay separately for your order,” says Jacquette Timmons, financial behaviorist and author of “Financial Intimacy.” And if you’re not that close with them? “Bow out gracefully,” says Timmons.
You can also take the reins and plan social outings that don’t carry a steep price tag: Meet for brunch or happy hour instead of dinner, for example, or order takeout and watch a movie at your place. Cutting the cords with social media can also help. A University of Essex study found that time spent on Facebook caused or exacerbated FOMO. “If you find yourself continually feeling bad about others’ activities when you’re on Facebook, limit your time on the site,” suggests Rutledge.