“Girl Math” or “Girl Economic Irresponsibility”?

This piece was written for International Women’s Day 2024.

Words by Riley (she/her) 20 USA

Every March, women worldwide are celebrated for their achievements, hard work, or strength. Every March, we celebrate Women’s History Month after centuries of women and their contributions being overshadowed, relegated to the sidelines, or omitted altogether. For one month, the world finally turns its gaze to women as a way to “rectify” the historical imbalance.

Only for women to go back to being paid 82 cents for each man’s dollar.

A few months ago, there was the “girl math” trend on TikTok, of women discussing how money works. I saw examples of people explaining how “girl math” is maxing out your credit card because the money isn’t real, spending money with cash makes it basically free, making a return means you’re making money – that you should definitely go spend right afterwards.

On the surface, the trend is funny and relatable, and in all honesty, I personally have made a couple jokes with the cashier or my friends at the grocery store or cafe when I pay in cash and say that my cash is basically free. But I know it isn’t.

And while funny at first, after a bit of time, it has been taken to the extreme. I saw one example of a user on TikTok explain ing how she wanted to buy two items (around $250 each), so she decided to buy one item in the morning, then one later in the day. She did all this to avoid the eventual $500 charge on her account, but don’t worry she got free shipping on both. Girl math!

There’s even a sub-genre of this trend where women explain to their dads, husbands, boyfriends, etc., the idea of “girl math,” and they point out the flaws in the concept. This idea of showcasing “girl math” to men, perpetuates harmful stereotypes and misconceptions about women and their finance, taking us back to days gone by where women weren’t legally allowed to manage their own finances – precisely because men didn’t think they were competent enough to.

In all actuality it isn’t just a funny joke online. It is a real issue about the financial literacy in women.

Financial services and literacy shape women’s economic empowerment, yet how can we ensure that every woman and girl has access to that knowledge? The education system and the financial services worldwide have failed women.

While I am only familiar with the United States, the entire education system, in this country at least, needs to be thoroughly looked at and reformatted to support women. I never once took a class on budgeting, managing finances, how credit works, applying for a loan, finding a career, and finding a home in a fluctuating housing market. It wasn’t even that I purposely ignored that class; my school didn’t offer it.

I know my experience can’t be applied to every other woman worldwide, but the fact that at least the hundreds of women at my high school were deprived of this knowledge is heartbreaking. I am lucky that I am from a family that educated me on managing my finances and helped me have economic literacy, but what happens to the billions of women worldwide who are uneducated on finances and don’t have friends or family to help them?

In my own area there isn’t much change happening in the near future, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t change happening worldwide.

The Financial Literacy Organization for Women and Girls (FLOW) is dedicated to teaching all women (and girls) how to handle their money and finances.

Similarly, Girls Who Invest (GWI) is a non-profit organization that is focused on having more women in the investment management industry. GWI specifically prepares young women and gender nonbinary people for the finance industry through their community, education programs, and internship connections.

A woman’s education on finances directly impacts their ability to have a successful career and economic success. So, what does it say about education systems that don’t educate women and girls about the importance and how-to’s of managing their finances?

In the end, who is profiting off the “girl math” trend? Women? Or the corporations who feed off people making irresponsible financial decisions?


Illustration by Aileen. You can find more of her work on Instagram @aileenngstudio

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