How to Deal with FOMO When You’re Swimming in Debt

This is a guest post written by Kelsey Yeager, founder of On My Way to Happiness, check her out for tips on saving money, reaching FIRE, and paying off debt.

When I paid off $20,000 of student loans in 6 months, it took hard work. It’s not because I’m filthy rich and can easily throw around that kind of money. It was because I made paying off debt my #1 priority above all else.

The “easy” part was changing my own habits. Since I was motivated to pay off debt, I didn’t mind eating rice-based meals, meal prepping, or not buying new clothes for a little while.

The hardest part was changing my habits when they involved other people. I noticed in my budget that my largest expenses were things that involved other people – like when co-workers invited me to lunch, summer weekends with traveling with friends, or going to the bars every weekend.

It’s really challenging to learn how to say no to friends when they ask you to do expensive stuff, because of FOMO! I was worried my friends wouldn’t like me if I stopped spending money on stuff. I was worried they would stop inviting me out if I skipped a couple of times. And above all else, I was scared of missing out on super fun events.

But the truth was, I needed to be debt free. I couldn’t keep going out on a whim anytime anyone asked. It wasn’t sustainable to continue going out to eat for every single meal with my boyfriend. I kept telling myself that I needed to get out of debt, yet my actions kept continuing to be me spending all my money.

Here’s a couple of tips I learned along the way to deal with all the FOMO feels while swimming in debt:

1. Find a strong “why” and remind yourself of this often.

This is the #1 tool that helped me deal with FOMO and get out of debt faster. Remembering my “why” helped me realize what was important to me and what was less important to me, even when it was hard.

For me, my “why” was to chase the FIRE movement – (financial independence retire early). I realized there was nothing I wanted more than to be able to have so much money that I no longer need to work anymore. The idea of quitting my job in just 10 years rather than 40 is so ridiculously exciting to me I still feel the energy welling up inside the pit of my stomach from pure joy. To be able to accomplish this goal, I needed to save a LOT of money – and my net worth was currently in the negatives with all of the debt.

I used this goal to help me navigate my social life. I would compare everything to my goal. Would I rather go to the same old bar with overpriced cocktails again this weekend, or quit my job for good? Would I rather buy this cute jumpsuit I know I’ll wear once for Insta and never again or quit my job for good?

The answer for me was almost always: quit my job for good. That idea was too delicious for me to ever consider doing anything else.

Note that this doesn’t mean I never, ever went out with my friends. If a friend was visiting from out of town and wanted to get lunch, of course I would rather see them than save a few extra dollars. If I hadn’t been to the bars in awhile I would make an effort to go out and have fun. I still saw my friends and had a fun life – but I always compared it to my “why” to make sure it was worth it.

It’s easy to just go out on a whim every single time anyone ever asks, but if you have debt, maybe consider staying in some of those times. Looking back, there is not one single night that I missed that I regret, and I am SO HAPPY to be debt free!!

I am still chasing the FIRE movement, and even though I no longer have debt, I still have massive savings goals. I think about the value of every dollar before I spend it.

2. Stop Caring About Social Media

Look, I love scrolling through Insta as much as the next person. But do you know how many people STILL text me about greek life drama happening on campus that they discovered on Snapchat?? We graduated over two YEARS ago!  I can’t understand how people can still care so much about that stuff to get upset over it.

In college, the social media drama was everything. Who went to what party?  Who went to what bar? Who was hanging out with who on Snapchat?

But in your adult life, you’ve GOT to let that go. Look, I still use social media to keep up with people I knew in college. I stalk all their photos, see who’s living where and doing what, who’s engaged and married and dating and single. It’s fun!

But you can’t let it affect you on a deeper level. You can’t see someone on vacation and get sad you’re not on a vacation. You can’t see someone got engaged, and get sad you’re not engaged, and then run to the bars or go on a shopping spree to make yourself feel better.

How many times have you been perfectly happy with your weekend plans, then gone on social media and seen someone with BETTER plans that looked MORE fun and you feel bad about yourself?

On the debt free journey, I understand it’s hard to not let these things affect you. You feel like you can’t do something while everyone else can.

But remember, these people are living above their means! In 10 years, they’re going to be the ones looking up to you. If you can haul yourself out of debt and actually begin to build wealth, that is way more than these people just “living in the moment” can say for themselves.

3. Suggest Cheaper Activities to Do With Friends First

The hardest part about FOMO is that internal conflict you feel when a friend says, “Hey a bunch of us are going to brunch, are you in?” and on one hand, yes you want to see them and enjoy awesome food, but on the other hand, you really don’t need to be dropping $40 on a random meal. It’s such a conflict because you either say yes and feel the pain of not meeting your debt payoff goals, or you say no and you feel the anxiety of missing out on a fun time.

One alternative to this is to be the first to suggest activities, or change the activity at hand. You can be the person to text in the group chat, “Hey wanna go hiking this Saturday guys??”

Before someone suggests a more expensive activity, you can be the one to make the plans with a cheaper activity!

After all, it’s really just about spending quality time with your friends – not about who can have the most expensive gathering. You don’t have to make it weird by mentioning all your debt woes (although your friends are hopefully understanding) but just mention alternative activities!

4. Here’s a Secret: Nobody else wants to spend money either

Look, nobody wants to spend money! The “pain of paying” is a real thing! Even if it seems like your friends love paying for things, the truth is, no one does. If you could have the same night for free, every person would totally do that!

We often default to going out to the bars simply because we think that’s what everyone else wants to do. We can’t always think of another activity, so we just suggest the bars. It’s fun, we’ve done it before, it’s a known great time.

But nobody wants to be spending the money out of pocket. Your friends are just as unexcited to spend money as you – they just don’t have strong goals backing it up.

If you say something like “Guys we should save money this weekend and just have a Franzia night in” people will 100% be on board. Sure, we all want to go out and do fun things sometimes – but not all of the time! If you can think of a fun thing that saves money for your friends to all do, they will love it.

5. Give In (A Little)

We aren’t trying to never, ever go out and stay in our house 100% of the time! It’s totally ok to go out still! Let yourself have fun.

Think about giving in a little as like a cheat meal on a diet. It’s ok to have a piece of pie at Christmas! That’s not going to make or break you.

However, it’s NOT ok to eat pie every day for every meal. You’re not going to meet your weightloss goals if you’re ALWAYS eating cheat meals.

On the other hand, if you NEVER eat cheat meals, one day you will totally miss out because you are depriving yourself! I know you will quit because it’s just not sustainable to never, ever eat a delicious fatty and sugary meal ever gain.

Just like eating pie, it’s not sustainable to never, ever go out with friends! I mean, who wants to live a life like that? Knowing you can never go out will only increase the FOMO and cause a crash right away!

The point is to be intentional about when you do go out. Choose the times that mean the most to you, rather than just saying yes to every single opportunity. You will get more meaning out of each interaction if you do prove to yourself you value them, as well as save money of course!

I still visited out of town friends, hosted friends, went out and ate at restaurants. I didn’t deprive myself at all! I just didn’t go to every single happy hour/night out possible, I held out for only the opportunities I REALLY wanted to go to.

Remember: it’s not about deprivation, it’s about intentionality.

Deal with FOMO by telling yourself you can still go out to the bars – sometimes. It’s ok to go out. I’m not saying don’t see friends and twiddle your thumbs staring at the wall while you pay off debt. I’m saying be intentional about when you go out.

Own your feelings and own your mindset. Don’t give into your weaknesses of wanting to fit in so you willy nilly do everything your friends do. DO own your strengths of deciding your own future – and what behaviors line up with it, and what don’t.

Remember how much your future self will thank you. I thank my past self so, so much for choosing only the most important days to go out – not every single one.

FOMO is REAL and it is a muscle to build up – putting yourself before everyone else. Remember your goals, future, and and dreams. Imagine the feeling of being debt free, or financially free. Feel how badly you want that and let it help you beat FOMO!

Kelsey Yeager is a chemical engineer, blogger, entrepreneur, home chef, craft beer enthusiast, and founder of On My Way to Happiness, a blog for millennials looking for “more”. Kelsey paid off $30,000 of student loans in 1.5 years off of an entry level salary, and helps other twenty somethings get their finances in order in a simple and fun way.