Student FOMO leads to living beyond means

by Jackie Roman / Beacon Staff • November 6, 2013

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For Boston-area students, the temptation to give in to the fear of missing out in spite of financial limitations is ever present.
For Boston-area students, the temptation to give in to the fear of missing out in spite of financial limitations is ever present.

You check your Twitter feed to find that your classmates have posted pictures of themselves at a North End restaurant and a concert in Cambridge. Suddenly, you wish you hadn’t forgone such a fun night just to save some money. With all of the glamorous metropolitan temptations Boston offers, it can be hard for a student in this city not to develop FOMO.

FOMO stands for the “fear of missing out” and has become a deep-seated issue in a society that is always digitally connected. Normally, it is used to describe the forlorn emotion you feel when you see your friends posting pictures on Twitter and Facebook while they are otherwise preoccupied. But this intensifies when you live in a city with successful sports teams, historic theatres, a lively music scene, and more than forty museums. In this metro-FOMO situation, there is more to see on Facebook than red Solo cups. Scrolling through your Facebook newsfeed, there is a picture at the Institute of Contemporary Art, and another that shows your friend bidding on artwork at an East Boston studio. There’s a whole album featuring an afternoon in Salem: a visit to the Gallows Hill Museum, the Salem Willows Amusement Park, and the Witch’s Brew Café. These urban-chic activities can make a student not in attendance feel all the more forlorn.

The difference between metro-FOMO and other forms of FOMO is that students aren’t getting anxious that they are missing out on activities they weren’t invited to. They are anxious of missing out on the fun activities they consciously turned down due to a tight budget.

Living in Boston can be exorbitantly expensive. And I mean just living. So some students who go to school here on scholarship or financial aid do not have the extra cash to spend on the recreational aspects of the city. However, some students arrive here with hefty scholarships or financial stability that allows them to indulge. The fear of losing fun opportunities occurs when these two types of students intermingle but find it hard to share time together because of their income disparity.

The unnerving feeling of missing out in this setting is all the more important to explore because it can be so exaggerated that it can actually cause students to live beyond their means. Students in Boston pay a higher price, literally, when they give into that fear and put off responsibilities to participate in fun activities with their friends. They feel pushed into spending and convince themselves that a cheap subway ticket, sushi dinner, and Brookline Bookstore purchase can’t be that big of a deal, especially when their friends are doing it.

When some peers in the mix have no need to pinch pennies, they creates a “fear of missing out” that blends with peer pressure, encouraging students who need to budget themselves to let loose every once in a while. As a student who plans to study abroad at Kasteel Well next year, I know I need to set aside money to be able to afford the higher travel costs. But already I find myself wavering when asked to go out for a late night South Street Diner run or 3D Gravity experience. The fear that I might be missing out on bonding and inside jokes when I turn down these opportunities makes me regret my responsible choice to stay home.

However, many students like me cannot afford to toss aside the responsible choice too often. Forgoing FOMO can create such euphoria that a student will want to splurge more frequently. Students can catch themselves off-guard by how fast their bank account begins to bottom out. And if you doubt that these occasional splurges can cause any real financial crisis, think of a hypothetical scenario: A sociable student has $200 in their checking account and a busy Saturday ahead. After spending $20 grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s in the morning, they head to Cambridge for lunch at Mr. Bartley’s. A burger and fries plus T fare amounts to $15. That night they head out to a James Blake concert, a single ticket costing $40. In just one Saturday, the student has spent about 40 percent of their entire checking account. This phenomenon is a real and present threat.

The issue of FOMO is relevant in a world where it is not uncommon to own more than three technological devices and create profiles on half a dozen social networking sites. Our exposure to the glamorous activities we are missing out on is at an all time high and can be haunting. But in the end, living beyond your means is not the right answer. In a city where students can come from very disparate socioeconomic backgrounds, it’s important to have an open dialogue about what is and is not possible. Don’t hesitate to suggest the free activities Boston can offer, like a visit to the MFA or a walk along the Freedom Trail on a sunny day.

Financial limitations are not something to be ashamed of, and nothing lasting will be missed for those who wisely choose to live within their means.