How to crunch numbers in the girl economy
If you pay with something in cash, it’s basically free. If you purchase a dress, it’s automatically 50% off because it means you don’t have to buy both a top and a bottom. These are just some of the rules of Girl Math, a tongue-in-cheek, satirical trend that pokes fun at the mental gymnastics we can undertake to justify an indulgent purchase.
Although this trend is meant to be lighthearted and illogical, it’s copped some serious flak. Girl Math critics argue that the concept reinforces stereotypes about women having poor financial management or being materialistic, when in reality, women are more financially responsible than men. Statistically, we have less credit card debt, are more likely to be financially independent from our parents and are more likely to save for retirement.
But at the same time, it’s not that deep. Girl Math is meant to be lighthearted and silly. The trend has also opened up healthy discussion about personal finance, which helps us all to learn more about the ways we view money and improve our financial literacy. Sure, some of the “rules” that underpin Girl Math are slightly nonsensical, but at its core, the concept gets us to think about mindful spending and assessing the value of our purchases.
As a Girl Math advocate, it would only be fitting to put my knowledge of Girl Math economics by asking readers to send in their purchases to be Girl Math-ed.
Freya: “I bought a dress from a Facebook group for $20, which included shipping. Even though I wasn’t sure if it would fit or not, I’ve been able to wear the dress twice with some uncomfortable shapewear.”
According to the New Zealand Post’s website, assuming the dress fits within an S size postage bag, this would cost the seller $7 to ship the item to Freya using the economy service option. This means that Freya really only paid $13 for the dress.
Now to further rationalise this purchase, let’s bring in a core Girl Math economics concept, the cost-per-wear principle. If Freya has worn the dress twice already, that equates to a $6.50 cost-per-wear thus far. That’s the price of a coffee. What a steal of a deal. Name me one dress rental service that charges a price that eye-wateringly low, I’ll wait.
And the best news is that the dress’ cost-per-wear will only continue to drop the more times it’s worn. If Freya wears the dress more than seven times, the cost-per-wear will dip lower than $2. In this cost-of-living economy, what can you buy with $2? NOTHING. Therefore, it’s basically free, which is every Girl Math economist’s favourite saying.
Sure, the dress only works with some uncomfy shapewear, but this means that her shapewear isn’t gathering dust in the drawers, or becoming an idle resource. So by purchasing this dress, Freya is actually maximising resource productivity. What economist wouldn’t support this decision?
Lucy: “I recently bought some jeans from Glassons for $60 that I ended up returning. I decided to buy another pair that fit, but those jeans cost $45, so I technically made $15 profit, right?”
Another central economics concept in Girl Maths is sunk costs. Unlike boring old standard economics, which defines sunk costs as money spent on capital that cannot be recovered, in Girl Maths, the sunk cost principle is the idea that if money leaves your account, and it somehow is recovered, e.g through a refund or a friend transfers you, that amount should be considered profit.
So Lucy is absolutely right. Because $60 left her bank account and the jeans she ended up going with was only $45, she’s made herself a handsome profit of $15.
The sunk cost principle actually applies to a range of situations. If you made dinner plans and they’re cancelled, the money you had budgeted to cover the dinner is now considered pure profit, or in Girl Math terminology, “free money.”
Diana: “I recently bought a pair of genuine leather ballet flats from the shoe store that I work at. I wanted them because they’re super cute and versatile, so I can wear them to work and networking events. They were originally $280, but with my staff discount, I only paid $140.”
Alright, if we apply the sunk cost principle, this means that Diana has already made herself $140 in profit with her 50% staff discount. If there’s a discount or sale on something you were already intending to buy, and you choose not to, you’re losing money.
Considering that these ballet flats are made from genuine leather, they’re going to be durable, so $140 is a pretty reasonable price especially considering that other leather shoes, like Dr Martens, cost around $300.
Additionally, because Diana works at the shoe store she purchased the ballet flats from, she’s able to wear and model them while on shift. This means her ballet flats are no longer just any old pair of shoes, but PROFIT-MAKING PUMPS that can skyrocket Diana’s sales and commission through the roof. In this case, you could argue that if she didn’t purchase the flats, she’d be actively sabotaging her productivity as a sales assistant.
Wearing heeled shoes to work also increases Diana’s likelihood of injury. For example, in 2021, ACC received 326 high-heel related injury claims. Therefore, the ballet flats purchase is saving Diana potentially hundreds of dollars in physio fees and allowing her to continue to work and earn. Clearly, the Girl Math is mathing because without these shoes, how could Diana expect to girlboss?
Sam: “I’ve been eyeing up a Dyson Air Wrap, but it’s $999. Help me justify this purchase.”
Okay admittedly, 1k is quite a lot to drop on a hair styling tool, BUT there’s no purchase Girl Math can’t rationalise. Instead of fixating on the steep price tag, the focus should be put on the endless functions of an Air Wrap, which is effectively a high-end hairdryer, curling iron, and a hair straightener all rolled into one handy dandy device.
Let’s break down how much it would cost if you were to purchase each of those hair tools separately. A nice hair dryer would set you back around 100 odd dollars. A boujee hair curler and hair straightener, like the ones that GHD sells, would cost 300 dollars each, or 600 dollars for both. That adds to a grand total of $700, which makes the $999 price tag of an Air Wrap seem far more reasonable.
We also need to factor in the savings gained from putting your hair through significantly less heat damage. Another $100 can easily be shaved off the price to account for products, like hair oil and hair masks, you’d have to buy to prevent your hair from being fried off. This brings the price tag down to $100. With the purchase of an Air Wrap, you’d never have to pay for another salon blow wave, which costs anywhere from 50 to 100 dollars, in your life ever again. Frankly, neither would any of your friends. Honestly, consider it an investment for broader society. An Air Wrap is a public good. You’d only have to use it a couple of times before the cost-per-use dips into the negatives, meaning the Air Wrap is basically free. Also, let’s not forget that when your hair looks good, you feel good. And can you really put a price on confidence?