To be honest, I had no idea what the concept of “girl math” was until about five minutes ago when I looked up a Buzzfeed article for explanation. It explained the viral TikTok trend started by Samantha Jane — and all that really needs to be said to understand it is that “girl math” is the mindset of purchase justification: If I return this item, then the next item I get technically costs less since the first item gave me money back” or “this item under five dollars feels technically free.” I have definitely done this before…don’t let me be anywhere near a bookstore during a sale.
It’s the repercussions of “girl math” that worries me, though. Yes, it’s something that a lot of people do, and yes, sometimes someone really does just need that little boost of confidence to buy the super cute dress that makes them feel good about themselves. But falling into the pattern of purchase justification also goes against the eco-friendly, mentally healthy push for lowered consumption rates.
It wasn’t all that long ago that a wave of YouTube videos dedicated to “decluttering” began to make their way onto the internet. Suddenly there was the idea that a person could own too much to the point of it all becoming suffocating and unmanageable. I know that “girl math” as an original concept is harmless — intended to be fun, laugh at a cultural mindset — but there’s the consequence of normalcy. The voice in the back of my head while staring at a price tag that says, “It’s not as bad as you think.” $500 flat out is too much, says “girl math,” but spread out between five purchases of $100 is okay. More bang for your buck, I guess.
To talk about “girl math” sounds like singing the ballad of American consumerism. It appeals to the companies who provide cheap products that are easily individually justifiable — but are even better when put together! Next thing a consumer knows, they’ve justified their way into a lot of little, insignificant things, and the company providing it (perhaps even leaning into the process of justification) is so, so happy that you “just went for it.”
The way I see it, “girl math” can go two ways: confidence or appealing to retail therapy. “Girl math” can either be used to justify finally getting those shoes or those jeans that boost you up, reminding a consumer that they are a piece of the world — acting on it instead of being acted upon — or it can be adopted to hide behind. To impulse buy because it feels nice to have new things around that look different from the uncertainty that was there before. Part of being an American is contending with consumer culture and the refreshing feeling of “changing things up a bit.” Goodness knows I’m guilty of this.
So, when choosing to engage in the trend of “girl math,” it’s important to step back and assess which path a purchase is taking. Ask who is benefiting in the long term from the consumption of this seemingly discounted or monetarily insignificant purchase. Why is there the need to justify?