“Girl dinners,” “lazy girl jobs” and one of the latest “girl” trends to take over TikTok, “girl math.” Girl math is reasoning that helps women justify what would typically be considered unnecessary purchases–everything from a daily latte to a designer handbag. For the most part, girl math doesn’t make financial sense. But are there nuggets of wisdom in the trend that are useful?
WHAT EXACTLY IS “GIRL MATH?”
Search “girl math” on TikTok and you’ll get thousands of videos of women explaining purchases using the logic. “I spent $200 at one store, but all the other stores we walked into, I didn’t buy anything,” says Casandra Mazzucco in a video that amassed 1.9 million likes on Tik Tok. “So when you spread it out, that was good. I saved money because I walked out of Zara without buying anything.”
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The other principles of Girl Math go a little something like this:
- If your favorite store is having a sale, you should buy something. Otherwise, you’re losing money.
- Cash is not real money. Buy a coffee with cash? It’s free.
- Anything under $5…also free.
- If you buy a handbag for $300, and use it daily for a year, it costs you less than $1 a day. So yes, according to girl math, that’s a free handbag.
- You spend hundreds on tickets for a concert happening several months in the future. Because you paid so far in advance, when you go to the concert, you’re actually going for free.
- Anything you pay for with a gift card is free.
- If you buy something and then return it, you’ve made money.
WHY IT’S BAD
Meant to poke fun at the mental gymnastics women do when weighing whether or not to spend on things that could be deemed frivolous, critics say girl math is perpetuating the notion that women don’t understand how to manage their money.
“The concept behind girl math represents something very real, but the term makes it seem as though it’s something specific to girls,” says Yanely Espinal, author of “Mind Your Money” and Director of Educational Outreach at Next Gen Personal Finance. “That’s the dangerous part, feeding into this trope that women are not well suited to make financial choices.”
Espinal says that’s especially problematic because of the impact it can have on younger women, who she says often let men in their lives make financial decisions for them.
…AND WHY IT’S GOOD
One of the best defenses of the trend comes from author Liz Plank, who on TikTok, says girl math doesn’t mean women are bad at math. Instead, it means we are very aware of the mind games our brains play to justify spending…And that can be a good thing. “Being aware of our cognitive biases, it doesn’t make us dumb, it makes us smarter consumers,” says Plank. “And it makes us less vulnerable to predatory marketing schemes and tactics that would take advantage of those heuristics we have.”
Ashley Lapato, a financial expert on TikTok behind TheOrganizedWallet and content manager for the budgeting app YNAB, says that at its core, girl math is just an opportunity for women to connect. “It is a lot of women just having fun…And a lot of bonding because it’s so relatable.”
Lapato adds that girl math points out the obvious fact that women are stressed about money and feel the need to justify their splurges. In her own life, she found peace when she got her money situated, and devised a plan that built in some wiggle room for treating herself. “Build in these fun things…shopping, treating yourself to a cafe stop. That way you aren’t depriving yourself, but you also aren’t hindering yourself from reaching your money goals.”
LEANING INTO GIRL MATH
There’s no shortage of chatter about how girl math is doing damage by promoting the stereotype that women are bad with money. But we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss it, says Espinal, who believes we should lean in and take the opportunity to open up a conversation about women (especially young women) and money.
“To me, it’s positive in the fact that it’s shedding light on how badly we need financial education for the next generation and how important it is to incorporate the psychology of money and behavioral economics inside that formal financial education,” Espinal says.
“Ask questions and explore why this is the way that younger people are going to make light of this issue and kind of dive deeper into that,” she adds. “We haven’t created a real space for it to happen anywhere else.”
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