In the realm of personal finance, there exists a charming phenomenon known as "girl maths". It's a trend that's been gaining traction recently, particularly among social media users, predominantly women, who embrace an unconventional approach to managing their money.
This intriguing trend, which originated in New Zealand after being coined on a popular radio show by hosts Fletch, Vaughn, and Hayley, has now become a source of humor and camaraderie among like-minded individuals online.
But what exactly is "girl maths"? At its core, it's the unique financial logic that women employ in their daily lives. It's a reflection of how women, historically excluded from financial independence, have developed their own distinctive ways of dealing with money matters. Throughout history, women often received a portion of the male family members' earnings to manage household expenses. It wasn't until the World Wars that women began to be compensated for their labor.
Even today, many women in the workforce have limited control over their finances and disposable income.
From an early age, girls are often stereotyped as being "bad at mathematics and logical reasoning." "Girl maths" is a playful embrace of this stereotype, as women jest about their seemingly unconventional financial choices. Whether they are buying an extra item online to save on shipping fees, booking an early morning flight to indulge in airport shopping, or splurging on comfort food for their "future hungry selves," these financial decisions are rooted in a unique blend of pragmatism and indulgence.
The "girl maths" trend has become a safe haven for women seeking support and acceptance for their unconventional financial choices. Instead of facing doubt and guilt, they find like-minded individuals who understand and appreciate their quirky financial rationale. The trend poses a fundamental question: Is "girl maths" logic really as absurd as it may seem?
Popular disability activist and writer, Imani Barbarin tweeted, ‘Girl maths is essentially the recognition that time, convenience and money are interchangeable currencies’.
Women are often responsible for household chores and time/ energy is a commodity they cannot spare very easily. Moreover, many of their obligations don't allow them to put their own needs ahead of their families'. Hence, the calculations hold other commodities like time and convenience at par with money. For example, by shopping online, if a hectic market trip (time & energy consuming, inconvenient) is avoided, surely an extra cosmetic product could be considered as a free little gift to themselves; even better if it helps save on shipping charges.
Does the concept of ‘girl maths’ have greater implications? Decode spoke to some financial experts.
When asked about the difference in approach for men and women with managing money, Srinivas Penmetsa, Fintech entrepreneur based in Bengaluru, says, “Women are good at management and multitasking. Our mothers and grandmothers always had money saved in some niche in the house despite limited resources and minimal financial independence.” He also talks about the under-representation of women in the formal financial sector, especially in the higher decision- making positions. “Under-representation of women is noticeable in almost all sectors barring a few; it will be good for corporations if more women join the world of finance since they seem to have a natural penchant for it.”
Gaargi Sharma, a Hong Kong based investment banker and psychologist says, ‘Women have a natural inclination for risk aversion. Their impassive and cold approach at finance helps them save more and perform better at investments. While men may tend to get overcharged or excitable in stock trading, women are good at practising restraint.’
Indeed, research on investment differences between the genders by Vanguard, a US based investment company does indicate that women choose balanced funds when investing, and tend to plan with the long term principles of discipline and diversification in mind’.
Debashish Banerjee, Actuarial science expert based in Hyderabad, raises the point of home economics. “More and more (working) women are taking major household financial decisions today. What was earlier limited to planning for grocery expenses and gifting activities, is slowly transitioning into planning for the big purchases like gadgets, vehicles, even jewellery investments. Women are deciding how and from where to liquidate money for these purchases and are proving to be quite efficient at it. Ultimately, planning for utility, cost benefit and use- time are all applications of economic concepts.”
While his view is validated by statistics published by Bankrate (a US based financial services company), Indian statistics do not look so optimistic.
A 2023 report by IndiaLends (an India based financial platform) says that even though a significant number of Indian women (90%) contribute to household expenses, 67% are still dependent on men for financial decisions.
Aarushi Kalra, an Economics scholar at Brown university (USA), explains, “In Asian countries, while women are managing the resources and deciding how to allocate the money in the house, they seem to have no real bargaining power. Their savings are marginal since a larger share of their money (as compared to male family members) is spent on the household”. Research by her Brown university colleagues Alex Zhou and Ruchi Mahadeshwar on the job market in Cambodia also supports this view. This points out the need for working women to actually enjoy the fruit of their labour- by spending on themselves and taking a well deserved break from home duties once in a while- a concept cohesive with the girl maths trend.
Apart from calculated investments, the trend also has a number of internet users joking about how they consider money saved on sales as ‘free money’, which they use to treat themselves with. “There’s definitely an element of self- indulgence in it,” says Gaargi Sharma. “At the end of the day, a penny saved is a penny gained, right?”
About justifying impulse purchases, she adds, “like in financial markets, the value of certain goods is very different from what they are priced at. Also, it's not necessarily gendered, since expensive gaming gadgets or sneakers aren’t smart investments either, but men indulge in these to feel good/ have a nice time, just like women do.”
Nalin Gupta, a data scientist based in Adelaide, says, “I personally have been doing girl maths my whole life- before there was a term for it. I definitely calculate time, convenience, money and also emotional effort. It’s not just how much the expenses are, it’s also the return on investment”. About the girl maths logic that if something is paid for in cash, it's basically free, he jokingly adds, “well, they're right, the bank account numbers aren't changing. Everything is a numbers game today.” Presumably, we all have practised girl maths at some point of our lives, before it became this popular internet buzzword!
What started as a witty trend with self- deprecating undertones, has evolved into mass appreciation for the simplicity and far sightedness of the logic applied by some people- regardless of gender, in everyday situations. These may even exceed the domain of finance. For example, it could be the risk to benefit ratio of making a lengthy trip or simply counting/ignoring your calorie intake on a vacation. If a certain activity aligns with time and convenience, it is worth investing in. Girl maths may not be completely fool-proof, but most of it is pretty sound logic to live by. At the end of the day, it could be viewed as a celebration of women’s financial independence, a commodity which was rare just a few decades ago.