First, there was the “girl dinner” – aka the relatable act of throwing snacks like cheese and charcuterie on a plate and calling it dinner. Now, you’ve probably seen the term “girl math” floating around social media.

The viral trend can be traced back to TikToker Samantha Jane, who posted a video explaining the concept: “[If I] return something at Zara for $50 [and] bought something else for $100, it only cost me $50,” she said.

Soon enough, people across the internet chimed in with their own versions of “girl math” – paying more to avoid shipping fees, purchases made in cash not actually counting as purchases, and so on. “Girl math” is a funny way to describe the unique mental gymnastics that we go through to justify purchases – even if it doesn’t make logical sense from a personal finance standpoint.

The dark side of ‘girl math’

It’s all playful and lighthearted, but there’s a dark side to the trend: it romanticizes financial illiteracy for women. “The ‘girl math’ trend becomes less funny when I think about the fact that a lot of the women making these jokes probably have low financial literacy and/or are in credit card debt,” says Chelsea Fagan, CEO and founder of The Financial Diet.

“Many of these women are living paycheck to paycheck and are not taking financial planning seriously, which can be incredibly damaging to their financial health down the road. Once this joke becomes a reality, it really is sad,” adds Fagan.

As Fagan notes, women were not allowed to have control of their finances for decades – this trend “plays into the stereotype that women don’t know how to be financially responsible and are unable to understand and/or manage their finances.”

With factors like the cost of living crisis, now’s not the time to play into those stereotypes. There’s also the fact that as women age and potentially plan to have children, they have to work against added income disparities, says Fagan: “Income disparities for women continue to increase as they age and have children. Is it fair? No, but it is the reality for a lot of women.”

“For women who are single or do not have children yet, it is important to plan for an increase in expenses coupled with a decrease in earnings once you choose to start having children,” adds Fagan.

Yes, women should do what they please with their hard-earned money, even if it means indulging in the occasional “girl math” to treat themselves. That said, it’s more important than ever for women to plan ahead and secure their financial future.

Is it time to redefine “girl math”?

The good news is, not all women identify with the current definition of “girl math” in practice. Millennial women consider themselves good at saving, according to a recent Credello survey that revealed that nearly 25% of respondents gave themselves a 5/5 rating as savers and 28% gave themselves a four out of five.

Perhaps it’s time to redefine “girl math” and give it an even more empowering spin: Women earning more, breaking financial taboos, and investing. Fagan says there are three things women in their 20s, 30s and 40s should start doing now: Start negotiating, save for retirement, and be transparent about their finances.

A 2022 Credello survey revealed that one in three (33%) women in the workforce also don’t think they’re being paid what they’re worth currently. “Most women simply do not negotiate for their pay, meaning they are not reaching their full financial potential,” says Fagan.

Maximizing your earning potential is key as a woman. Making regular contributions to your retirement is also critical – even if you’re only able to contribute small amounts. “It can be difficult to envision yourself retiring one day, but planning now will ensure you will be financially stable when that time comes,” adds Fagan.

Lastly, Fagan says that being transparent about finances is also a smart move. There’s often social pressure when it comes to attending expensive dinners and bachelorette parties. Instead of spending beyond your means due to a lack of honesty with yourself about your budget, why not aim to be honest? Chances are, some of your friends and family members may be relieved as they find themselves in the same boat. This habit will save you money and stress in the long run, even if you deal with a short moment of awkwardness in the process.

Bottom line

Trends like “girl math” feel fun and playful until you realize that they romanticize harmful stereotypes. Why not flip the term on its head to focus on financial empowerment?