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  • Anya Fernihough

The Rise of "Girl Math"

The concept of ‘girl math’ has exploded over the internet in recent months. With one of its earliest uses being on the ‘Fletch, Vaughan & Hayley’ show on the Kiwi radio station ‘ZM’, this international phenomenon has transgressed the limits of conventional social media slang into popular culture. This term is used to justify spending habits or other issues relating to the financial position of an individual. My friends and I have used ‘girl math’ countless times to rationalize the cost and benefit of purchasing everything in our Zara basket or buying a coffee from Starbucks. While it can ease conscience and allow for some short-term happiness, this concept does have a significant impact on societal and financial perception.


To begin with, we should address how ‘girl math’ can be used in everyday life. Say you want to buy a coffee, but you feel that you shouldn’t to save money. However, the day before, you used your ‘free drink’ coupon. As you would have originally spent that money yesterday but didn’t, that means that the drink today is ‘basically free’. Another method of ‘girl math’ is the idea of cost-per-use. A $1000 designer purse is an expensive purchase, nevertheless you know that you would use it all the time for about 5 years (it’s of excellent quality, of course). The cost-per-use of this item is hence 1000/(5*365.3) = $0.55. $0.55 is not a lot to spend on each day, therefore it’s ‘basically free’. This concept can be applied to any shopping circumstances you may find yourselves in.


In more cynical terms, ‘girl math’ could perhaps be a euphemism for the justification of consumerism and fast-fashion. The idea that “it’s basically free” is damaging to a more sustainable approach to spending as it takes away our moral conscience by lessening the impact on our finances. It drives this need for over-consumption. Not only is it entirely illogical, it also negatively impacts our financial savings. In an era of rapid inflation, many central banks raise their interest rates in order to tackle the issue. A rise in interest rates means that an individual can get a good return on their savings. From this perspective, it is more beneficial to save money than to spend it.


Aside from this, spending is in some ways linked to mood, with it leading to a short-term boost in morale. As a result, people may choose to overspend in order to achieve an improved disposition. However, the phrase: “money can’t buy happiness” can perhaps be used to dissuade the idea that spending has a positive impact on our psyche. The long-term costs outweigh the short-term benefits. The more you spend on material goods, the less you have for future investment or for other everyday items. Additionally, careless spending and the flaunting of wealth could perhaps be perceived as insensitive during an economic recession. Many people are struggling with the cost of living crisis, and seeing TikTok influencers using ‘girl math’ to justify spending thousands of dollars at a time can certainly cause for a worsening mood. On the contrary, there is this idea that ‘girl math’ could perhaps be making light of this tough situation. By turning it into a concept that is easy to understand and fun to do or even laugh at, financial anxiety is potentially reduced.


Some critics of ‘girl math’ may argue that it reinforces stereotypical views on the mathematical ability of women. The use of the word ‘girl’ implies a certain infantilization: the math has had to be ‘dumbed-down’ in order for it to be understood. Nevertheless, I would argue that ‘girl math’ has had quite the opposite impact. As quoted by Mina Le: “hot girls are walking, girls are blogging, dinner is girl, 40-year-old men are babygirls, we are in a girl economy.” There has been a cultural shift and societal expectations have been challenged through awareness campaigns and social media phenomena such as this. The girl-movement is, in fact, empowering; it encourages gender inclusivity in STEM fields through the promotion of diverse narratives.


I think that while ‘girl math’ is a fun concept for when with friends and looking for excuses to buy things, it’s important to understand the long-term implications. We should be aware of current economic issues and how it can affect our spending and vice versa. Mindful and responsible consumerism is of extreme importance, however it should not dictate our lives. ‘Girl math’ can be a source of empowerment and can positively affect our psychology. Despite my cynicism, I will almost certainly be using this concept to justify my next shopping spree or cafeteria hot chocolate.


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