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Gen Y money: Fear of missing out really messes with my finances

Customers enjoy gelato on the patio at Kekou, an Asian Gelato shop on Baldwin Street, in Toronto, Ontario, Tuesday, July 22, 2014.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

Welcome to our Gen Y money blog, where a recent grad chronicles her journey to becoming a financially independent adult.

As much as I'd like to deny it, I suffer from FOMO – the fear of missing out.

These feelings of social anxiety stem from being active on social media and hyper-aware of notifications on my mobile phone. It's only gotten worse since I've graduated and shifted to a nine-to-five schedule.

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I wasn't any less "plugged in" during university, but my friends were all students who had similar schedules. We were usually all busy studying at the same times of the year. We were all on a student budget. If I missed one event, it wasn't a big deal because there would be another opportunity to hang out a few days later.

Since graduation inevitably scattered my circle of university friends, I rely more heavily on social media to stay involved in their lives. And whether they're in town or halfway around the world, their freshly filtered Instagram photos make me feel like I'm missing out or that I need to compensate to "catch up" with them socially.

If Facebook notifies me that a group of my friends are gathering for drinks on a weeknight, I want to join in. When my friend in Japan sends me a Snapchat of her drinking sake, I want to hop on a plane and try it, too. Whenever my phone buzzes to tell me there's fun to be had, I don't want to be left out.

The worst part? FOMO isn't just affecting me psychologically – it's also affecting me financially.

I'm fortunate to have a good group of friends who live in Toronto, and I see them often. It's not as though we drop hundreds of dollars raging every night (in fact, a lot of the time we stay in, split a cheap bottle of wine and watch Netflix). Much of my "fun budget," however, is eaten up by activities with friends – going to a bar, catching a show, or doing other fun stuff in the city.

My friends who aren't in the city are also motivating a lot of my financial decisions. I have a good friend living in England for a short while and every time she posts a picture on Facebook, I'm hit with a wave of wanderlust that sends me on a frantic online search for a cheap flight. After all, she's only going to be there for so long, and it will be more financially feasible to travel around the world if I can crash on her couch, right?

I've come to realize that part of containing my FOMO is managing my finances accordingly. I budget $200 a month for dining out or grabbing casual drinks with friends. On top of that (as a result of succumbing to debt repayment fatigue a few months back) I also allocate an additional $150 a month as "fun budget". Recently, I've been putting most of this toward saving up to visit the aforementioned friend in England.

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I've also made a few rules for myself when FOMO threatens to break my budget.

  • I rarely use my credit card. I only use it as a convenience for the odd online purchase, and I always pay it off right away. If I know I’m going to be in a tempting situation, I’ll take out cash and leave my cards at home to make sure I don’t overspend.
  • I try to schedule as much as possible. Sure, part of the fun of going out is seeing where the night takes you, but I’ve found it’s much easier on my wallet to look ahead and know what’s coming up in my social calendar. If a good friend’s birthday is later that month, I’ll take that into account when planning how I spend my other weekends.
  • I’ll splurge for experiences over short-term satisfaction. I enjoy a casual night out as much as the next person, but I’d so much rather spend my money on once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Looking back, I have more lasting memories from concerts and weekend getaways than I do from any Thursday happy hour.
  • I try to unplug every once in a while. I recently accidentally dropped my phone in a puddle and it was out of commission for 48 hours. At first, the disconnectedness made me feel panicky, but then I started to enjoy it. Since then, I’ve found that it’s liberating to turn my phone off for a few hours and really enjoy the time I’m spending with the people around me.

As ridiculous a concept as FOMO is, it makes sense. The idea of missing any opportunity – social, or otherwise – can be scary.

Acknowledging FOMO has improved my financial health by helping me understand what triggers me to spend, and how to manage it. As annoying as this particular spending trigger might be, it's helped me learn a lesson – and that's something I'm glad I'm not missing out on.

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