Va. economist breaks down economics behind ‘girl math’ social media spending trend

We’ve all justified unnecessary purchases before but now social media has labeled the habit as “girl math.” So, what exactly is it?

It’s a mathematical, economics-based way of trying to make those purchases make sense, which includes the feeling of saving money when you buy something on sale or return an item you already invested in.

On social media, women are documenting how this number-crunching game makes a purchase feel more reasonable.

Jadrian Wooten, associate professor of economics at Virginia Tech, says the term could apply to anyone.

“‘Girl math’ is not the best name for it, I think it’s something that we all do internally,” Wooten said.

Wooten said the trend highlights basic behavioral economics, and that despite the unflattering name, it’s a fun way to examine mental biases.

“The trend part of it is we’ve started to say ‘This is how I do it,’ and then other people are like ‘Yeah, I do that too,'” added Wooten.


@mckennaelianna somehow it makes sense #girlmath ♬ original sound – kenna 📚🍷

He calls it a blend of creative rationalizations and financial justifications that turn the table on how some people perceive luxury purchases, while still trying to stay in line with personal finance advice.

“Imagine seeing a new $400 designer handbag in the store. Sure, the price tag might initially make you uncomfortable, but ‘girl math’ steps in and breaks it down into bite-sized pieces,” Wooten explained. “It’s the art of calculating the cost per use. Suddenly, that seemingly outrageous splurge translates into a mere $1.10 per day. That’s a bargain and an example of mental accounting.”

Wooten said on the small side, it’s OK to treat yourself. But when it comes to more costly items, one of the best things you could do is track your spending and figure out where you can make small changes, which goes for everyone.

You can read more on the economics of “girl math” on Wooten’s weekly blog, Monday Morning Economist.

WTOP’s Emily Venezky contributed to this report.

Melissa Howell

Melissa Howell joined WTOP Radio in March 2018 and is excited to cover stories that matter across D.C., as well as in Maryland and Virginia. 

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