Levin: Fear of missing out can threaten financial decisions

  • Article by: ROSS LEVIN
  • Updated: March 10, 2014 - 5:47 PM

In college, I did a lot of things that I didn’t really want to do, went to many events that I didn’t want to attend, and spent a fair amount of that time wondering what might be going on without me. This was not garden-style paranoia. This was FOMO — my Fear of Missing Out.

Decades later, my FOMO is not dormant, but it has been significantly curtailed. I have noticed it in clients, however. And FOMO can cause financial planning no-nos.

The U.S. stock market is up almost 300 percent from the market lows in March 2009. Now you want in? FOMO. If you didn’t participate in this rally, it’s because you most likely panicked and got out when the markets were literally falling apart. Maybe you even got out before the fall but you never got back in. In either case the result is the same.

But don’t let FOMO get the best of you. Ease yourself back into an appropriate portfolio by dividing what you want to invest by twelve and putting it to work monthly over the next year. And if you managed to ride this rally from its bottom, don’t let FOMO take over; peel back some of your investments by raising cash for needs that you know are coming in the next two years and rebalance back to your desired asset allocation.

A client was feeling consistently too stretched in her work and had an opportunity to do something that she would love, but for less money. Enter FOMO. She was mistaking financial security for current income. It isn’t. What she has is a well-paying job. If you don’t have enough money to live comfortably off your pension or your investments, you don’t have financial security. Financial security comes from wanting what you have and being able to sustain it. When we went through after-tax cash flow, a potential pension with the new job, career longevity, and a potential small future inheritance, we found that she’d feel the pay cut, but not as much as she first thought. More important, she knew that the work that she’d be doing would be more fulfilling, meaning that she could alter some of her spending that was induced by the stress of her position. Her FOMO on financial security was hampering her ability to achieve it.

Socrates said: “The man who desires something desires what is not available to him, and what he doesn’t already have in his possession.” FOMO. When we are worried about missing out, we tend to be reactive. We work in jobs we don’t really like to buy things we don’t really want to be able to compete in areas about which we don’t really care. The antidote to FOMO is being thoughtful, intentional and paying attention to what is in our control — actions and attitudes.

There is an obvious difference between the clients who come in describing how their parents are spending their inheritance and the ones who encourage them to do so. But there are subtle differences as well. While neither has control over their parents, the ones who are waiting for them to die are unable to live because of FOMO. The inheritance may provide a temporary reprieve, but it won’t rescue them from the perils of being left out by not keeping up.

In college, because of FOMO, I was always in a high state of alert. Only by noticing this anxiety, stepping back and really looking at what I wanted could I choose things that made me happy.

Spend your life wisely.

 

Ross Levin is the founding principal of Accredited Investors Inc. in Edina. His Gains & Losses column appears twice monthly. His e-mail is ross@accredited.com.

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