Millennials and Debt: How to Unplug from FOMO and the Expectations of Others

We’ve all felt the urge to not miss out on things, even when our credit or debt plans don’t support it. Chances are, you know someone who seems to live that way all the time—they  spend now, content to catch up on their savings and debt repayment later, unconcerned with mounting bills or potential creditors. For some Millennials, it is a way of life. They focus on living to the fullest today—enjoying concerts, vacations, gourmet coffees and meals, and big ticket purchases while they can, often relying on credit. This attitude sometimes stems from the “fear of missing out”, or FOMO – the feeling of envy and jealousy felt after viewing others’ social media posts. Think of it as a digital version of  “keeping up with the Joneses”. For Ontario Millennials living above their means, FOMO can quickly turn from splurge to financial difficulties when savings and debt are neglected.

The “you only live once” attitude is quite a contrast with those of Millennials’ Baby Boomer parents and grandparents, who tend to be more concerned with debt plans and retirement savings. But Millennials aren’t entirely missing the point—many understand the importance of saving for a rainy day and working towards a comfortable retirement fund, it just doesn’t top their list of priorities. So what makes Millennials act so differently?

While sometimes criticized for their reckless financial spending and credit mismanagement, Millennials attitudes might arise—in part—from the mantras created by the over-worked and under-appreciated workforce preceding them. Many have heard senior co-workers and family spout the importance of work-life-balance. Too many earlier generations worked as many hours as possible to provide for their families, only to miss out on their kids’ childhoods, or get sick before they could enjoy the fruits of their labour.

For some young adults, a debt plan is less important than avoiding those could-be-regrets. Especially if they’ve heard horror stories of loyal employees who ultimately aren’t returned the favour. Boomers who missed out on certain things in life because they thought a promotion and professional glory were around the corner, only to be shown the door when times got tough or a company changed ownership or direction. These stories resonate with many Millennials, who think they’re conducting themselves with the 20 / 20 hindsight wisdom of their parents, who might have worried less about bills if they’d known how things would turn out.

The bottom line: recognizing the value (physical and emotional) of vacations or other luxuries shouldn’t trump the necessity of putting away savings for emergencies, debt settlement or retirement. The fear of not being able to enjoy the best of life in the future is causing some Millennials to generate a state of financial insecurity for themselves—and possibly their parents who they rely on for support—in the future.

The need for debt relief plans like consumer proposals in Ontario isn’t surprising. For Millennials, reforming their behaviour isn’t easy, especially because the pressure of “keeping up with the Joneses” doesn’t stop at the curb anymore—their materialistic peers aren’t satisfied with the view from the street. This is a generation plugged into Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat—to name a few—technologies that insist on documenting users’ every day existence and every purchase. But unplugging from the expectations of others is key, since no one else will be eager to help pay off credit cards or cover the mortgage if hard times come a knockin’.

It’s never too late to restructure your financial reality to avoid debt problems. It’s true that credit counselling, consumer proposals, debt settlement and debt consolidation seem less exciting than international vacations, entertainment systems and vehicle upgrade packages. But talking honestly about finances with your partner or a debt relief professional can help you learn about your options. You may find you have more than you thought.

Financial responsibility doesn’t have to mean living without, but another old mantra still rings true: save now, spend later. You might just find that debt relief and satisfied creditors are more exciting than you thought, and vacations and purchases are even more gratifying when you can afford them.