The Problem With ‘Girl Math’—And How You Should Actually Justify Your Purchases

Woman enjoying shopping purchases, calculating finances"
Woman enjoying shopping purchases, calculating finances
Graphics by: Aryana Johnson
Graphics by: Aryana Johnson

We all know what it’s like to experience indecision before a big purchase—those brief moments in which you wrestle with yourself internally before pulling the trigger anyway. Afterward, you’ll come up with a list of reasons why you made the right move, regardless of what it did to your bank account. While some would call this justifying, TikTok calls it “girl math.”

This viral TikTok trend essentially helps women justify splurge purchases and encourages them to make money moves that don’t actually make mathematical sense. Case in point? Hosts and producers from the New Zealand radio show that coined the term argued that a bride spending $400 on hair extensions would help her save upwards of $40k in the long run. One TikToker claimed that anything under $5 is “basically free,” while another explained that exchanging a $68 item at Lululemon for a $58 one actually made her money, and then reasoned the remaining $10 could be spent on food. It’s a fun trend if you’re in on the joke, but that kind of thinking can actually impact your finances long term. Let’s dive in:


So… does “girl math” work?

Girl math admittedly doesn’t add up, but it’s still taken TikTok by storm because it’s so relatable. We’re all just trying to make it out here and want to splurge without feeling guilty. However, while I firmly believe in treating yourself occasionally, it should not come at the expense of women everywhere. “Girl math” suggests that the stereotypes surrounding women and finances are true when the reality is that women are statistically better at handling money than men. Perpetuating a different narrative serves no one.

Also, money doesn’t grow on trees. Regardless of whether it comes from your Venmo account or in the form of cash, it all has to come from somewhere, and you better believe it’ll be your bank account. There are very real consequences to habitually overspending and living beyond your means, and acting like they don’t exist only does us a disservice. Likewise, we must stop acting like money is a joke. Sure, discussing finances isn’t always fun, but we should prioritize having open and honest conversations about our spending habits and making money moves that help us, not hinder us.

That said, while this trend seemingly glorifies overspending and acting like money doesn’t exist and magically appears out of thin air, there’s actually some solid financial advice underneath it all. After all, life is meant to be lived, and that means occasionally spending a dollar or two. So if we can focus on ways to splurge without stressing and resorting to girl math, our finances will be all the better for it.


4 Ways to Justify Purchases Without Resorting to Girl Math

1. Check in on your finances before and after a big purchase

When it comes time to make a large purchase, take a minute to check in on your finances. Determine how this purchase will affect your finances and impact your savings and spending for the month, and whether this is something you can truly afford right now. Listen to your gut; if it’s telling you this is a bad idea, it’s probably because it is.

Also, if you know you’re going to be making a large purchase ahead of time, don’t wait to start planning for it. Find out how much the splurge will run you, and crunch the numbers to see if there are any ways you can make it work.

If the purchase is important to you, try reworking your budget accordingly beforehand and afterward to reduce the hit your finances will take. No one is perfect, and making money mistakes is a part of life. If you veer off course and overspend, be sure to compensate accordingly so you can get back on track to reaching your financial goals.


2. Decide where you want to put your money

A lot of people overspend because they don’t know what they’re saving for or where they want to put their money. Without a plan, money gets sucked up by daily spending. So determine what holds the most value to you—whether it’s buying a house, traveling, concert tickets, or what have you—and start consciously putting your money into whatever aligns with your values and goals. This will help you better plan for big purchases in advance and inadvertently save more.


3. Cut out small purchases

I hate to break it to you, but anything that’s $5 or less isn’t free, and if you want to be able to splurge without stressing, cutting out small purchases is key. Not only will you save boatloads of money, but you’ll also have more money to spend when it comes time to make a large purchase. So, look at your daily expenses and see if there are cheaper or free alternatives you could opt for instead. This could include making coffee at home, bringing lunch to work, and so on. Saving where you can daily is going to help create better money habits; you’ll naturally become more conscious of money and your spending patterns. Plus, it’ll also help you get a handle on any impulse and emotional spending, which definitely isn’t a bad thing.

If cutting out small purchases entirely isn’t in the cards (and it doesn’t have to be!), try cutting back where possible. Treat yourself to the bag of chocolate almonds in the Trader Joe’s checkout line every now and then or get your favorite Starbucks drinks at the end of a particularly long work week—instead of every day during your commute. An all-or-nothing approach isn’t the only way to save.


4. Reward yourself accordingly

Small and big wins should both be celebrated, but the key is to know when a reward is warranted and when it isn’t. Case in point? Surviving a particularly grueling week would call for girl dinner or grabbing drinks with friends, whereas getting a promotion, graduating, and so on would call for a weekend getaway, a new bag, or whatever big treat your heart desires.

But how can you tell the difference? The biggest key is to determine whether something’s a big milestone. If it’s a goal you’ve been steadily working towards, it’s likely something that deserves a larger celebration. On the other hand, if it’s a small win, take the time to acknowledge it, maybe order takeout from your favorite place, and move on. Learning how to reward yourself accordingly is going to go the extra mile when it comes to your finances.