The real reason you’re using ‘Girl Math’ isn’t as funny as the TikTok trend would make you think.
“Girl Math” is the humorous TikTok trend where users justify expenses with tricks.
4 experts told Insider the trend is rooted in financial insecurity and stereotypes. One likened it to “Buy Now, Pay Later.”
These experts said spending isn’t the enemy, it’s the unproductive guilt about our expenses.
“Girl Math” started as a TikTok trend offering satirical advice like measuring the cost of big-ticket items by their cost per wear until they’re “basically free,” or that you’ve actually made money when you return a purchase.
TikTok videos with the #girlmath hashtag — like the one posted by user @mckennaelianna in August — have amassed over 208 million views on the platform since July.
But behind the viral laughs, four experts told Insider the trend could be masking financial red flags.
“Girl Math” may just be “Buy Now, Pay Later” in disguise, the experts said.
“Several years ago, I “Girl Math’d” my own engagement ring into a cost of mere pennies… per day, over a lifetime,” said Ashley Morris, the director of financial planning at financial services firm Facet.
“Girl Math can make us justify expensive purchases, and that’s where the danger lies,” she said, referring to TikTok users jokingly justifying expenses by breaking the spending down into its smallest possible units.
And cost per use isn’t just “Girl Math” — it’s essentially amortization, Isabel Barrow, the director of financial planning at financial advisory firm Edelman Financial Engines, told Insider. Amortization is spreading an asset’s cost over its lifetime.
Comparing it to the “buy now, pay later,” or BNPL, schemes that have become prevalent in online shopping, Barrow warned that it might entice users to spend beyond their means.
Less than 1 in 5, or 17% of the Americans surveyed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or CFPB, in 2022 reported having borrowed using BNPL services — like Afterpay and Klarna.
The CFPB’s survey also found that, on average, BNPL users had lower credit scores — in the subprime range — and higher levels of credit card debt, compared to those who don’t use BNPL.
They feel this satirical trend could be rooted in financial insecurities and stereotypes.
The popularity of “Girl Math” could also point to concerning attitudes towards spending and saving, Erin Ellis, a financial educator at the Philadelphia Federal Credit Union, told Insider.
A 2023 Bankrate survey found that 57% of the surveyed US adults reported being uncomfortable with the level of emergency savings they have, and over half said they don’t have emergency savings to cover even a few months’ worth of expenses.
While rising costs contribute to these issues, “the lack of prioritizing saving plays a substantial role as well,” she added.
Ellis also added that the trend promotes a sexist stereotype — a characterization that Edelman’s Barrow agreed with.
“To me, the popularity of the “Girl Math” trend indicates a lot of pent-up guilt around our purchases,” said Barrow.
To Barrow, the viral trend contributes to and conceals the guilt women often feel about spending on personal pleasures — by reinforcing stigmas around traditionally feminine purchases like lattes and manicures.
That’s why it’s important to disclose when “Girl Math” is humor instead of fact, said Sara Samuels, a wealth management advisor at Northwestern Mutual. “I would love to see future iterations of videos showing powerful moves women are making with their finances and how they are intentionally saving and spending,” she added.
The enemy isn’t spending alone, it is unproductive guilt, per the experts.
Tracking expenses and budgeting is tedious and time-consuming, and “Girl Math” highlights that there may be budgeting irregularities that are difficult to balance out over time, said Morris.
Even so, Barrow says people shouldn’t feel guilty spending their hard-earned money on things that give them joy.
“In fact, I encourage treating yourself to that latte or concert ticket and recommend budgeting for such purchases as part of your long-term financial plan,” she added.
Barrow advocates for the 50-30-20 method: using 50% of your income for essentials — like rent and bills — 30% on wants — like gigs and dining out — and 20% for a rainy day emergency fund.
Financial educator Ellis even suggests setting aside money for savings or an emergency fund every time you make a “Girl Math” purchase.