One of the biggest trends on TikTok this holiday season in the US is ‘Girl Math.’ The videos, which also seem to have been embraced by the social media platform’s Greek-speaking users, take a humorous look at how females justify overspending during the holidays, but they have also been divisive.
Girl Math plays on the notion that females are not good at math nor at managing their money. The TikToks often present well-groomed Gen Z females rationalizing their spending habits on seemingly frivolous items in creative, yet financially unsound, ways.
For example, one TikTok video by shi_and_toni shows a female sitting in front of a Christmas tree with her boyfriend, explaining that if she buys things with cash that never went into her bank account, the items are essentially free. The TikTok has 2.7 million likes and over 90,000 shares.
@shi_and_toniit makes total sense idk why he’s acting like this♬ original sound – Forever L.A.S.T
Media watchers have expressed concerns that Girl Math videos spread negative stereotypes among TikTok’s one-billion user base by presenting females as lacking financial acumen. Others have criticized them for promoting poor fiscal management in general, along with overconsumption.
The TikTok trend has also made an appearance in Greek-speaking videos, with Greek females justifying their purchases with Girl Math. For example, one user explains how she “makes money” by walking instead of taking a taxi, so she can then splurge on expensive lip-gloss. In another case, a young woman relates how she charges her Starbucks card so she can get a free coffee every time she uses it.
Though intended as a joke, the TikToks have been in marketers’ sights since they appeared—not because they are concerned over the value systems they promote, but because they wonder if the TikToks might hold the keys to understanding “what women want,” and to getting them to part with their cash.
What’s more, whether the TikToks inspire or are inspired by consumer habits over the holidays, media watchers are noting a correlation between the start of the holiday-gift-buying season in October and an influx of Girl Math holiday shopping ‘relatables’ during the same month.
A McKinsey & Company report shows that the holiday shopping season in the US is getting longer. Over 50% of the consumers who took part started their shopping in October, explaining that they prefer to spread their purchases out over a longer period of time than in the past, with prices being the primary driver.
Meanwhile, ‘buy now, pay later’ (BNPL) installment services are also on the rise. Hitting a whopping 8.3 billion USD in November 2023, despite inflation and an overall gloomy economic climate, they show that consumers feel the need to make purchases, even if it means they have to spread out the payments.
Which brings us to one of the key messages of early autumn’s Girl Math holiday TikToks: if you buy Christmas gifts in October, they will be ‘free’ by Christmas.
Take a look at the gender side of consumer spending, and it turns out that females are driving new economic growth, in the US, at least. Indeed, a report by PwC says it expects females to spend more than their male counterparts this holiday season.
More inclusive economic growth is generally agreed to be a good thing, but it isn’t clear if women are spending irresponsibly, as shown in the TikToks, or if they are spending beyond their means and are fueling the growth in BNPL services.
Whatever the case, US retailers are not missing out on the opportunity to target women, who seem to have more cash in their pockets, or at least more control over how they spend it. They are factoring female economic empowerment into their sales strategies by tailoring their shipping and return policies to females’ preference for convenience over price, says CNBC.
In Greece, the jury is out on whether Girl Math will convince Greek retailers to adopt these trends. It seems unlikely, however, due to different market dynamics, female spending power in Greek society, a general lack of gendered data, and structural differences in the economy that work against it—for example, Greece has one of the highest gender employment gaps in Europe.
The values, laws and policies which underpin European societies are also other limiting factors. Because the spirit of consumerism which forms the backbone of Girl Math TikToks is often incompatible with Europe’s expressed commitment to transition to more sustainable practices, products and models of consumption that focus on a circular economy and on reducing anthropogenic impacts on our environment.
This holiday season, Greek-speakers will surely chuckle over Girl Math TikToks, as TikTok users do in the US. But the videos will hopefully also provide a lighthearted springboard for meaningful conversations with friends and families about more profound topics ranging from stereotypes and financial literacy to economic inclusivity, empowerment, and putting sustainability at the heart of our own consumption habits in 2024.