Scary title, right? Using a word like “cancer” is not something to take lightly and saying that FOMO is the cancer of FIRE is something that should make you raise an eyebrow.
But here’s the thing… that’s exactly what it is. And it has the power to destroy your journey to FIRE.
Today I’m going to explain why this and how to avoid it.
But first, let’s define a couple of words:
FOMO (or FoMO)
FOMO stands for Fear of Missing Out. The idea is just like it sounds – if there’s some type of event or get-together going on and you don’t attend (by choice or not), you feel some sort of social anxiety.
Maybe a few weeks ago you’ve committed to hanging out with your friend Ross this weekend. Then later, your friend Joey invites you to an awesome party that you know you would enjoy.
You’re a good friend though and stay true to your commitment to Ross. All along though, you keep thinking about Joey’s party and how you’re missing out on a good time.
Boom – FOMO!
FIRE (or FI/RE)
If you’re not familiar with FIRE, you’re probably pretty new to this community… welcome!
FIRE stands for Financial Independence / Retire Early. In a nutshell, you have enough money that you’re now financially independent and can leave your regular W2 job. Your investments can now support you for the rest of your life. The 4% rule of thumb is generally a good place to start when figuring out how close you are to the goal.
The “Retire Early” part can stir up some debate throughout the personal finance community because some folks continue to “work” in other avenues. But the difference is that you no longer need to if you don’t want to. Regardless, doing things you enjoy have a pretty good chance of bringing in some extra income.
For example, I reached FIRE and left my regular job at the end of 2018. However, I’m earning a little bit of money from this blog. Maybe you might consider it work, but I don’t – it’s something I enjoy doing. Any earnings are just a fringe benefit.
Here’s the problem with FOMO…
We tend to throw the FOMO acronym around (at least in my circle) as a sort of joke when we can’t make it somewhere fun for whatever reason.
But get this – FOMO is a real thing. Dr. Dan Herman is credited as being the one who identified and named FoMO. As he puts it:
FoMO is experienced as a clearly fearful attitude towards the possibility of failing to exhaust available opportunities and missing the expected joy associated with succeeding in doing so.
Simply put, it is concentration of attention on the empty half of the glass.
This is obviously a first world problem, but for those trying to reach financial independence, it’s more than that. It’s a monstrous disease in your wallet. FOMO can devour your path to FIRE.
The reason why is simple – trying not to miss out on “all the fun” has associated costs. And these costs can be detrimental to your financial future.
The problem isn’t that one time that you go out and drop a few bucks. In fact, you should be doing that… on occasion. The trouble comes when you’re constantly doing these things. If every weekend (and maybe even some weekdays), you have plans to head out to the bar or dinner, then there’s an issue.
And then, there are the bigger dollar events like quick getaways, weekend trips, and vacations. Of course, you don’t want to miss out on any of these because well – you only live once, right?
That’s the attitude that can get you into trouble. Those costs add up very quickly and when accumulated can become huge money drains.
If you’re already automating saving a large percentage of your income (say, at least 35%, but hopefully more), you’ve earned a little more flexibility. Otherwise, it’s time to recognize that this is a big issue in your financial life – and that makes it a big deal in your life in general.
Where do Mr. and Mrs. R2R stand with FOMO?
You might be thinking that as folks who have reached financial independence, we’re impervious to FOMO… but we’re not.
Well, Ok, I tend to be resistant. It’s pretty rare that I feel like I’m missing out on something. I’d be content just sitting outside on a porch swing with a book on my Kindle in one hand and a beer in the other. Actually, that does sound good! Perfect really!
But even if all my friends were getting together somewhere and having the time of their life, that doesn’t bother me. That’s just how my mind works. Don’t get me wrong, I love to have fun, but I’m generally happy in the moment wherever I am.
Mrs. R2R is a little different though. When she knows that when something’s going on and we can’t be there, it bothers her… FOMO in action!
What’s nice is that we balance her out fairly well. I’d be fine just hanging out at home all day whereas she’d be happy to be out and about for every waking hour.
We have a pretty good mesh where she’ll “drag” me out on occasion and I’ll hold her back from letting the FOMO get to her (probably more often than not). That’s probably different than most relationships, but it works well for us.
So how do you stop FOMO from crushing your finances and destroying your path to FI?
Take some time off of social media
Stay away from Facebook (except my page, of course!). I half-jokingly tell people that Facebook is the devil.* It’s not Facebook per se that makes me feel that way, but rather that a lot of folks love to look at their news feed and think, “Wow, I should be doing that!”
Social media has brought everyone to be just a click away from each other. This was revolutionary and allowed you to find people that you lost touch with over the years.
But, it’s also become a feeding ground for FOMO. Try to remember, people tend to put their best foot forward on social media.
If you’re on vacation and you get a flat tire, a bird craps on your head, and you get food poisoning, do you think that’ll be what gets posted?
Or do you think it’ll be photos of the sunset over the ocean on the one good day you had? I’m guessing the latter.
And unfortunately, this is the kind of stuff that clogs the Internet and makes folks feel that they’re missing out. Between dinners, nights out on the town, concerts, and vacations, it’s easy to get sucked into this mind @#$%.
My advice is to leave it alone – especially if you’re prone to FOMO. Use social media as a tool to track down others, look something up, or send a message – but don’t browse your news feed.
And if you don’t have the strength to stay away, use a plugin like News Feed Eradicator for Facebook in Chrome. That one, in particular, will hide your Facebook news feed and replace it with an inspiring quote. Nice!
Suggest alternatives or compromise
Just because you get an invite to go out to an expensive place for dinner or drinks doesn’t mean it’s all written in stone. If your friends are real friends, there’s no reason you can’t say you don’t have or don’t want to spend the money.
Come up with an alternative place to go like a less expensive bar or restaurant. Or, if you truly want to enjoy people’s company, head to someone’s house where you can actually hear each other. Gathering a group of people together at your house or someone else’s can make for a fantastic evening and can save you a ton of dough!
And maybe a compromise can also be a way to help tame your FOMO.
That could be something as simple as skipping the pricey concert, but meeting up with those friends after it’s over. Yes, you miss the show, but at least you’re still part of the night!
Or if it’s a night out on the town and your friends want to check out the new club downtown with the outrageously-priced drinks, change it up. Meet for a few drinks beforehand at a cheaper place first before going. Or get together at someone’s house to get the ball rolling. That way you can still check out the place afterward for a short bit, but probably for about half the cost.
Enjoy the moment and make your own fun!
The best way to dodge the fear of missing out is to beat it at its own game! Come up with something fun to do yourself or with others.
- Head to the park with some friends or family for a hike or cookout.
- Gather some peeps and go for a bike ride.
- Have a movie night at your house or get a crew together and head to the drive-in. We do a 50’s night a couple of times every summer and go to a drive-in restaurant like A&W before heading off to the drive-in… we all love it!
- Go out for ice cream – seriously, who doesn’t love ice cream?!
- Throw a small party or cookout at your house. Buy the burgers and tell everyone to bring beer or a side dish.
- Check out a museum you’ve never been to before.
- Or just enjoy the time to yourself. Order Chinese food and read a book or watch a movie.
I’m sure you have better ideas than mine (feel free to suggest them in the comments), but the point is that it’s Ok to “miss out.” And that’s especially the case when you have something else that you’d like to be doing.
FOMO is the enemy of FIRE and there will always be another “well, I have to go to this one.” Stop letting FOMO take over your life – it’s a death trap on the way to financial independence!
Remember, the more you can fight back your feeling of missing out, the more money you can add to your stash. And that, my friends, will help put you on the right track to financial freedom!
Thanks for reading!!
*Strictly my opinion, of course. Mr. Zuckerburg, please don’t send your army of lawyers after me!