Five years ago, I was vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard, an island off the coast of Cape Cod in Massachusetts, when I realized I was out of sunscreen.
My beach cohorts—three other women—were SPF-averse and determined to return home with golden suntans, and so I excused myself and made way to the closest drugstore.
I threw a bottle of Coppertone into my cart, along with a bottle of Evian and a few fashion magazines. The total came to just under $20. I swiped my debit card. “Can you swipe that again?” asked the cashier. After the second swipe, she asked if I had another card to use.
“Why?” I asked. “Is something wrong?”
“It says your card was declined,” she said. “But maybe there’s just something wrong with the card itself?”
“Oh, probably,” I replied, as I hurriedly pulled out my platinum American Express card to cover the damages. The charge was approved, and instead of returning to the beach, I went to the nearest ATM, where I learned that the available balance in my checking account was two cents, and my current balance, including the overdraft fee and dinner out the night before, was negative $40.
I’d been on the island for three days. I still had four to go. And I had absolutely no cash available until my next direct deposit, scheduled for the end of the following week.
I plastered a smile on my face as I made my way back to the clan, determined to make the rest of my vacation as enjoyable as possible while my dirty secret burned from deep inside. And I had only myself to blame. When I’d received the invitation to join in on the house in January, I’d jumped at the chance, ignoring the fact that I lived paycheck-to-paycheck and could barely pay my rent on time, never mind afford another place to stay.
But, I felt like I “deserved” a vacation: The thought of hanging back in the city, alone, while my friends frolicked on the beach had triggered my FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out, thus overpowering the logic that I should simply have said, “No, thanks.”
How the Fear of Missing Out Can Hurt You
According to Martha Beck, life coach, author, sociologist and columnist at O, the Oprah Magazine, FOMO is a 21st-century phenomenon triggered (and coined) by social media enthusiasts that keeps its victims gripped in a constant state of fear that not only is the grass greener on the other side of that status feed, but that a big ol’ party awaits us there, and if we’re not on its VIP list—well, who are we?
Some say FOMO is at near-epidemic proportions: In a survey, Mashable found that up to 56% of social media users suffer from the syndrome, spurred by constant check-ins, likes, tweets and other visions clogging our personal feeds.
FOMO can also exact an emotional toll, triggering anxiety, depression and acute comparisonitis. That last factor can wreak havoc on our finances when we attempt to keep up with a million imaginary lifestyles while ignoring our own real bottom line.