From The Straits Times    |

Did you know that women outperform men as investors? Several studies in the past few years have corroborated statistics that women make higher returns on investments, even though there are less female investors than male. 

Still, the prevalent rhetoric remains that women are not good with money. Look at one of this year’s most prolific Tiktok trends, #girlmath, which essentially sees young women on Tiktok share strategies – some perplexing, some smart – to rationalise their extravagant spending habits. 

It has engendered a host of commentaries and videos, some featuring young girls explaining the concept to older men, and the men shaking their heads in dismay. It’s condescending, trivialising, and reinforces our negative perceptions of women and money. 

We don’t see men justifying that exorbitantly expensive watch, car or video game, so we have to ask: Why do women have to do it? 

Where did it start?

The #girlmath trend originated from a New Zealand breakfast radio show called “Fletch, Vaughan & Hayley”. It started as a joke: They’d ask listeners to share a purchase, and help them justify their spending. 

For example, a caller would reveal the cost of her purchase, such as splurging $5,600 on four nights of Taylor Swift tickets, or purchasing a $699 Dyson hairdryer. The hosts of the show would then discuss and help the caller justify their exorbitant spending by calculating how often the item is expected to be used, or the potential savings it might offer. By their logic, the overall cost of the product or experience becomes practically negligible or, at times, even profitable in the long run. 

Sounds far-fetched and perplexing? 

Only when we tag the “girl” label to it, and reinforce the stereotype that women are frivolous. Nandini Joshi, chief operating officer at digital wealth management platform StashAway, says: “Tagging such logic as ‘girlmath’ does a disservice to women, feeding into the erroneous notion that only women indulge in frivolous spending that needs imaginative justification.

“Consider this: A 2014 Visa study found that affluent men in Singapore spent an average of $1,601 a month, overshadowing the $1,331 average by women. Deloitte’s global analysis similarly highlighted that men not only splurge as frequently as women, but often spend more in the process.”

Reclaiming the title #girlmath 

Photos: Getty & 123RF. Collage: Adeline Eng

This begs the questions: Why do women relate to #girlmath? And how can we reclaim the title to be positive and empowering? 

Cristina Jaeger, CEO and founder of HerFinancialFreedom, opines that #girlmath can be a conversation starter for women and money. “I appreciate that the finance topic is getting attention, especially by a younger population – it is so valuable when women (or girls) are talking about money and spending habits, sharing tips, and paying attention to where their hard- earned money goes.

“I think it’s great that this trend raises awareness of budgeting and spending habits. It is so important that we learn from an early age about the concept of money as the limited resource that most of us have.” 

HerFinancialFreedom is a learning platform that teaches women about investing, and the fundamentals of making their money work for them. “Work for them” is an important phrase here: Ultimately, most of us make money to go beyond our survival needs – to eat, drink, dress, and live well. In fact, if used properly, #girlmath could be quite a helpful concept in making us more mindful about what we’re spending on, and understanding the reasons why we open our wallet. 

In her #girlmath explainer video, Tiktoker Samantha James, 28, says: “I really believe that these little purchases and the way we justify them in our minds bring us joy, which ultimately contributes to our happiness.” 

Money equals power, a privilege that women have had to tirelessly champion for. By inadvertently supporting narratives like #girlmath, we risk fortifying age-old stereotypes designed to undermine women’s autonomy and authority.

Nandini Joshi, chief operating officer at StashAway

She also adds: “Justifying a really cute dress that you bought because you returned a shirt, or justifying $200 plus concert tickets when you had a really good time with your friend, that’s a good mindset shift to have – it’s money well spent. And I shouldn’t have to qualify all of this but, of course, it should be within your financial means. We can be silly, but it doesn’t mean that we’re bad with our money.”

Cristina adds: “Budgeting, and reaching your own savings and investing goals, should also be made fun. We at HerFinancialFreedom always say ‘a budget should restrict you, but also enable you’. Thus, if you spend where you set your priorities, or invest in quality, it can make sense.” 

Using #girlmath smartly 

The truth is that it’s fine to indulge in #girlmath once in a while – but instead of being cutesy about it, it’s important that we are intentional about its usage, and how it fits in our own financial situation. 

But as StashAway’s Nandini cautions, let’s be mindful about using #girlmath for reasons we know are frivolous: “Money equals power, a privilege that women have had to tirelessly champion for. By inadvertently supporting narratives like #girlmath, we risk fortifying age-old stereotypes designed to undermine women’s autonomy and authority.

“While it’s essential to approach our financial decisions with mindfulness, let’s not inadvertently perpetuate misconceptions. We owe it to ourselves (and previous generations who have worked hard towards financial equality) to redefine and celebrate the true essence of women’s financial power.” 

Before your next purchase, consider a few key questions. First, ask yourself what truly matters to you. Secondly, assess whether this expenditure aligns with your current priorities, recognising that these can evolve over time. Lastly, ask yourself if this purchase will continue to bring you happiness in the weeks to come. These reflections can help you make more thoughtful and satisfying buying decisions.

As Cristina advises: “Everyone’s situation is so unique. Also, in life, we go through phases, with different priorities at different times. Try to have a positive money mindset, enjoy your money as well, but definitely prioritise what’s important to you when you set your spending goals.”