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I’m Just A Girl: “Girl Math” and The Cost of Living in NYC

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Columbia Barnard chapter.

College can be a daunting experience. For most people, it is the most independence they have experienced thus far in their lives. This is the time when, like a baby bird, you must spread your wings and try to fly (survive) on your own. This can be a very harsh reality check because, as it turns out, life is much more complicated when you are the one holding the reins instead of having an adult preside over your life choices. If you’re reading this, you’re probably a fellow “teenage girl” in your twenties — I don’t need to tell you how exhausting it can be to figure out how to resemble an adult, while simultaneously holding on to the notion of being a child who faces no real consequences for their actions.

The concept of “girl math” is fairly simple: it’s what users on TikTok are calling the act of justifying irresponsible financial behavior under the pretense that the expenditure was not as bad as it could have been. I asked some friends for examples of their personal examples of “girl math” and these are some of the answers I received.

“Going to a concert is free because you already paid for the tickets and made the money back; especially if you got them months in advance. The concert is free and you can buy merchandise.” The rationale here is that because you’ve already made the money back for the initial spending through your job or allowance, it’s as if the concert itself was free and can now spend money on merchandise, which tends to be expensive. It’s okay because it’s “your only expenditure for the event.”

“I didn’t have to pay $90 for my textbook even though I thought I was going to, so now I have a free $90 to spend on whatever I want.” This girl-mather ended up spending the money saved on clothes. The obvious explanation is that she had already mentally prepared herself to lose the money, and now that she didn’t have to spend it on a required textbook, she would be able to use it on something else. In fact, because she had already budgeted for the month, the loss would have been accounted for and she will now be getting something even more fun in exchange for her money.

While “girl math” might seem like a stream of poor fiscal choices by young women, it points to something bigger and certainly more serious. I can only speak in terms of the cost of living in New York City since that is where I go to college, but according to the Consumer Price Index, the cost of every item on the list has risen by 13% since April 2021. I’m no statistician, but I am a college student who often must buy textbooks, groceries and occasionally enjoys going out with friends. Life in New York has gotten so expensive that most nights my friends and I opt to stay in and watch a movie instead of participating in all the fun activities around the city, simply because we cannot afford them. Additionally, let us not forget the cost of transportation, especially with the subway and bus fare having increased to $2.90. If you want to go anywhere, you must not only take into account the amount you would spend on the activity, but also on transportation.
“Girl math,” in a way, is a form of escapism. There is nothing wrong with wanting to have a little treat every once in a while, like a coffee or a pastry. It is also perfectly reasonable for a young person to want to spend time with their friends outside of their cramped dorm rooms. They say a person’s college years are supposed to be the most exciting, but how can this be when it feels as if everything is just getting more and more expensive?

Of course, decisions and purchases made through “girl math” are not ideal. You did, in fact, spend money on concert tickets and you could have saved those $90, but who knows when that artist might tour again? Will you be able to afford tickets in the future? If your clothes are too old and don’t fit you as well anymore, are you not supposed to get new ones? Why does life feel like you are constantly compromising and trying to figure out how much fun you are allowed to have? It is definitely important to learn how to budget and to be financially literate, but let us never forget that life is supposed to be balanced. As college students, it is our responsibility to focus on school and our degrees but it is also important to unwind, connect with friends, go outside, and enjoy life.

Pia Velázquez is a Junior at Barnard College majoring in Political Ecology and Human Rights,