Is the recent trend of ‘girl math’ a backwards step in the financial empowerment of women?

‘Girl math’ is a popular topic that has been trending on social media recently and for those of you who have given up on TikTok, it refers to how girls are starting to justify unnecessary and expensive spending through the concept of ‘girl math’. Girl math involves a series of justifications which can vary in degrees of delusion from anything under £5 being free to spend more for free shipping, which is supposed to help you rationalise spending money when perhaps you shouldn’t be. 

An example of girl math is when you want to buy a jacket that costs £210 from House of Sunny (this example is already hitting a little close to home), which would be an amount you would never willingly spend on a jacket. However, through girl math, you can work out:

£210 is basically £200 through rounding

This means that the cost-per-wear of the jacket for the rest of the year is:

Total cost of clothing / (No of weeks left of the year x Days per week I would wear it)

11 weeks left at time of writing x 4 days a week = 44

200 / 44 = £4.55 a wear

Realistically, I would buy a Pumpkin Spiced latte four times a week, which retails from Starbucks at £3.65.

£4.55(cost-per-wear of jacket) – £3.65 (coffee spending) = £0.90 a wear

So, if I don’t buy any more coffee for the rest of the year, I only really spend £0.90 every time I wear it. This means the £210 jacket is technically only £39.60 by the end of the year if I wear it 4 times a week at 90p a wear – which is a bargain! 

Although, my friends who know me well know that I will be unable to give up buying a coffee, so my girl math is severely flawed, but you can see the concept.

However, the issue of girl math is that could it potentially reinforce the sexist stereotypes of women being shopaholics and financially unaware compared to their male counterparts. The meaning of girl math centres around the patriarchal stereotype that women are not only financially illiterate but also financially untrustworthy. However, when you look at girl math, how much of it is delusional spending, or rather, is it an economic phenomenon?

Or in other words, to what extent is girl math financially savvy? Research conducted by Elizabeth de Luna in her article ‘The resplendent joy of girl math’ identifies the three key economic principles that girl math is based on:

  1. Cost-per-wear: this can be calculated by dividing the price of the outfits by how many times you are likely to wear them, as shown in my above example. 
  2. Sunk costs: in economic terms, this refers to a cost that has already been incurred and cannot be recovered. For girl math, this means that any clothes you have bought and then returned, that money has already left your account so if you spend it again, that item of clothing is free. 
  3. Prospective costs: refer to future costs that can be avoided when action is taken now. This principle of girl math comes in handy when it’s sale season.

Most ‘girl-mathers’ know the theory of girl math is a fun way to justify buying something you really want, but, can girl math be dangerous and exploit our love of shopping? Shopping can be an addiction. People can feel a temporary high when they impulsively and compulsively spend money and girl math has the potential to make being financially irresponsible seem like a legitimate lifestyle. The items bought because of a shopping addiction are often hoarded and unused because they do not provide any satisfaction to the buyer once they have them. Being thoughtful and logical in how you spend money is essential to having a healthy relationship with your wallet and making sure you can cover all your essential expenses.

The recent rise of companies like Klarna encourages this idea of ‘buy now, pay later’ which could be problematic for people who are often trying to justify impulsive spending with girl math and therefore prioritise short-term happiness over potential long-term debt. Girl math can also make women victims of societal expectations, such as the ‘pink tax’, which refers to the strategies by retail companies to create pressure on women to consistently spend their disposable income on clothes, cosmetics, and other things to improve their appearances.

The repercussions of women being financially inferior to men are still visible in society. The Equal Credit Opportunity Act was only passed in 1974 allowing women to open credit cards in their name and were finally seen as being capable of being financially responsible for their expenditure. When you contextualise the ‘girl math’ concept and review the limitations that a patriarchal society puts on a woman’s financial freedom, it can make girl math appear in a negative light. However, can we just recognise that girl math is a joke and women don’t actually think like this! 

Women are equally capable of making fun of themselves and their unconventional shopping habits as well as mocking the traditional image of being a shopaholic that girl math represents. This is because girl math often exaggerates their actual spending habits, and these large purchases occur very rarely. I personally do not think girl math is anti-feminist because it is seen as a joke, not a trustworthy form of budgeting. However, it is still important to remember and shed light on the financial struggles that women had in the past, in terms of their financial power and freedom. We should remember that there was a time when women couldn’t own credit cards, open bank accounts, or earn enough to support themselves and their families. Girl math is ultimately just a trend on TikTok, but the ultimate lesson is that even though it makes sense with girl math, it doesn’t make sense with your bank account.

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