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Why We Feel FOMO and How to Overcome It

Chelsey Zhu  |  February 21, 2023

Fear of missing out causes us to spend more — but you don’t have to fall for it.

With all the time we spend online these days, FOMO (fear of missing out)  is often just one click away. We might see our friends dining at fancy restaurants or sporting designer clothes, and feel that all-too-familiar pressure to keep up … even if it means sacrificing our budgets. Almost 40% of young adults have gone into debt just to keep up with their friends’ lifestyles, according to a study by Credit Karma and Qualtrics.

The worst part? Everybody feels it! FOMO is “primal” and “hardwired into our brain,” says Mindy Weinstein, founder and CEO of the digital marketing firm Market MindShift. 

The friend whose expensive vacations you envy might be just as worried about fitting in — and secretly not too happy about their bank statements. That same study from Credit Karma also found that two-thirds of young adults feel regret after spending more than they planned in a social situation. So before you swipe your card on a peer-pressure purchase, take a moment to recognize and understand the influence of FOMO. 

Weinstein sat down with us on the HerMoney Podcast to explain why FOMO is such a powerful feeling — and how we can push through it. 

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How FOMO tricks our brains

Even though you might be feeling FOMO because of the latest trends, its roots are actually ancient. FOMO comes from a cognitive bias called loss aversion, says Weinstein. Flashback to the caveman days: resources that were essential to survival were scarce. Somewhere along the way, our brains learned to associate scarcity with worth and decided to make it extra painful for us to lose out on something we think is limited. It actually hurts more to lose something than to gain the exact same thing. 

Weinstein gives an example: “If you’ve ever been in a parking lot and found money on the ground, that feels pretty good…You’ve probably also been in a situation where you’ve misplaced money. You can’t find that $20 bill that you thought you put in your pocket. That feeling you start to get about that loss is actually stronger.”

The result is that we are more motivated to do whatever we can to avoid experiencing loss — even a potential loss like not getting the limited-edition shoes that all our friends are wearing, or not getting reservations at the new restaurant on the block. So we strike while the iron is hot, even when the price is too high. 

The first step to overcoming FOMO is understanding that the feeling is natural. Our brains are conditioned to make FOMO painful — but that doesn’t mean it’s completely out of our control. “You can still really think through it,” says Weinstein. “It doesn’t mean all of this is automatic, and you’re just a robot and you’re just going to purchase.” 

Unpack your emotions

Often, our desire to spend comes from an emotional place, and that’s certainly the case with FOMO. It’s helpful to identify the deeper, more personal reasons behind your purchases, especially if they’re pricey or impulsive. Did you see someone you admire buy the same thing? Are you trying to emulate a certain person, or project a certain lifestyle?

“Stop and say, ‘Why am I buying this? Is this truly something that I need?’” says Weinstein. “You can pause and think about it. And then all of a sudden, [you’re saying,] ‘Okay, I am buying this because I feel like everyone else has it, and I’m going to miss out.’”

Once you’ve identified the wants and fears that are under the surface, you can reflect on whether those emotions are rational — and whether you want to devote your energy and money to them. You might find that you (and your budget) are more confident when you don’t worry as much about fitting in. 

Step away from the buy button 

The best way to reflect on your emotions and whether you truly need to buy something is to give yourself some time and space. 

“Wait 24 hours,” says Weinstein. “If you still feel the next day that this is something you want, or you’ve had a chance to look at what you already own, then you can make more of a rational decision.” 

This might mean leaving something in your online cart overnight or actually leaving the store to mull things over before returning the next day. Both can be difficult if there’s a sale or a limited number of the thing you want — you might feel pressure to act sooner rather than later so you don’t miss out. But when it comes to impulsive buys, Weinstein says we’re more likely to regret going through with the purchase than we are to regret not buying at all. 

“Anticipated regret that we think we’re going to feel is actually short-lived,” she says. “So if you decide, ‘You know what, I’m not going to make this purchase, I’m not going to take this action’ — especially if it was impulsive — it’s not going to be something that you continue to regret.”

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