Girl Math by Jyl Barlow

Ladies, if you are not fully immersed in the world of Girl Math, then I need you to get cracking. While I was not aware of how widespread its use was, I stumbled upon New Zealand’s podcast dream team of Fletch, Vaughan & Hayley and their library full of Girl Math guides and, well, things may be taking a terrifying turn. The bad news is that my husband also stumbled upon this library and, well, now he may be onto me.

What is Girl Math?

It was created long ago by one of our queens, Sally Struthers. When Sally begged for our help, many of the Girl Math pioneers were lying on living room couches next to a bucket. We were home from school, sick, and Sally popped in during The Price is Right, pleading for assistance. Honestly, I’m not even sure what she needed my help with, as I was too locked into my first lesson in Girl Math:

For only four cents a day-

What? Four cents a day? Well, that’s nothing! 

For less than a cup of coffee-

Coffee? Coffee is less than four cents a day?

Okay, in fairness, this was the pre-Starbucks era of the seventies, and none of us actually drank coffee yet.

Did we heed Sally’s call? Well, no. We were still at an age when incoming funds were limited to what we received from our parents, typically in the form of allowances earned via a list of chores. Still, while Sally’s cause did not benefit, we did. We filed away that first lesson in Girl Math to be mentally retrieved at a later date. Today, Girl Math reveals itself at nearly every purchase price but, most importantly, in relation to items that some may see as frivolous and unnecessary. And by “some”, I mean our husbands or partners or parents or friends.

Just kidding, your real friends would never question Girl Math.

What? This purse is one-thousand-four-hundred-and-sixty dollars? Why, that’s only four cents a day! That’s nothing!  Add to cart—prayers up, Sally.

There are many versions of Girl Math called to the financial table, and all are dependent on exactly just how justified a purchase needs to be. Basic necessities? No Girl Math needed. New socks? Well, yes, I wear socks all the time – except when I’m wearing heels or sandals or flats or flip-flops. New socks, because they have cute pictures of tacos or cats? Well, yes, it’s not what they look like, it’s that they are a necessity. Anyway, a twelve-pack seems like automatic savings, so thank you and, no, I do not need a receipt.

Kitchen-related items require no Girl Math for the simple fact that no one will even notice the purchase. Anything that involves getting dinner on the table requires no justification, period. Do I need to buy a new coffee-maker every year? Some would say no. But being awake in the morning enables my ability to focus on the day, which will inevitably end with preparing dinner for my family. Sure, it may be more cost-effective to do a deep clean periodically on the existing coffee maker, but I’m going to get a new one in a few months anyway, so … no Girl Math needed.

Girl Math for shoes is a bit easier as you can divide by 52 as you’ll definitely/probably/maybe wear that new pair of Manolos at least once per week. Divide that price tag by 52 (don’t worry about taxes, those aren’t your fault). On sale for 520 dollars? Why that’s only 10 dollars per week! That’s nothing! Add to cart. Should I buy two pairs? That seems logical – what if my feet lose weight?

One of my Girl Math rules is that, if I am saving our house money, then those savings should belong to me. I’m not talking about clipping coupons or stocking up on a buy-one-get-seven-free item. I’m talking about savings that are born from filling out forms, eliminating a service call, or cashing in those credit card points. Savings resulting from those administrative tasks that typically land on the shoulders of the house managers.

My husband (hi, honey) loves ease. He will happily overspend infinitely if it means ease. Should the washer start making a high-pitched sound that screams, “There is something stuck in my guts!”, my husband’s initial response will always be, “Just buy a new one”. My initial response will always be: “I’m going to need a screwdriver, a headlamp, and the manual”. Just kidding, my husband will need all of those things because, while I do like to save money, I am not an appliance-mechanic and it’s always better if he breaks something worse than it was already broken. We often land on Google or YouTube, and we do have about a 70% success rate which means a savings of significantly less than, say, just buying a new one.

Should those spoils not go to me? Girl Math says, Transfer funds, you washer-wizard.

Years ago, I signed our pets up for insurance. Pet insurance is not the same as people insurance in that all claims have to be filled out and followed up endlessly, as if the supplier really, really, really wants to make sure you’re seeking a refund. I am willing to do this work as I know that, eventually, a check will appear in our mailbox as a gold-star reward for my persistence. Just last week, our beloved Gunter (rest in peace, big guy) sent me a few hundred dollars, posthumously, courtesy of that time he tried to chew my ankle off.

Turns out, Cigna considered the wound an “accidental injury” and sent an “Oh, yes, that sounds terrible and you could probably use a new tattoo” reward. Needless to say, Gunter very much did it on purpose.

I did think about depositing the funds into our family bank account, but dismissed that thought after three seconds and, instead, switched that drop-down to my own fun-money account. If you filled out the forms, the funds are yours—Girl Math.

In America, a favorite store is Kohl’s. It is a favorite because of its discounts plus rewards system known as Kohl’s Cash. Shoppers know that Kohl’s Cash is just a fabulous form of female crypto, that we juggle accordingly, purchase to purchase, while engaging Girl Math. Did I need another new curling iron? Well, no, but if I buy it, I will get 30 dollars in Kohl’s Cash which I can then use to buy my son new underwear, and free underwear is always a “yes”.  

Amazon is no different as we slide credit on returns to future buys with a quick shrug of the discount shoulders. I nearly always have a credit balance waiting to be applied to my cart, as I often make odd purchases after a few glasses of wine. As I do the returns clicks-of-shame, I always select “credit my account”, because I do love seeing that credit applied to my next purchase. It’s like a runner’s high with no need to tighten my laces.

Double bonus? The Amazon-Kohl’s sandwich. When dropping off a return at the Kohl’s Amazon kiosk, you are rewarded with a discount card or, occasionally, a 5-dollar-off-coupon to be used in-store, that very day! I really can’t tell you how many free greeting cards I have stacked on my desk.

As I took a new job a few months ago, I have entered dangerous Girl Math territory. I am in the infancy stage of my reign as a Travel Agent, and it seems perfectly logical to test my certifications with bookings for, well, me. Just yesterday I booked a flight/car/hotel to piggyback on my husband’s September work trip to California because:

  1. Wouldn’t he love to see me during his downtime?
  2. Shouldn’t I make sure I fully understand how the booking software works?
  3. Didn’t he mention once that he’d love to show me the gorgeous drive down the Pacific coast?
  4. Isn’t this kind of like a business expense?

Is it bad news that my husband has made the Girl Math discovery? Probably. Yesterday he sent this list followed by quite a few is-this-for-real question marks as he contemplates these Girl Math Basic Rules:

  • Anything under 5 dollars is free;
  • If you can pay with a gift card, it’s free;
  • If you buy something and then return it, you’ve made money;
  • If you’re going to a concert, it’s free because you purchased the tickets so long ago;
  • Anything discounted by more than 50 percent is free;
  • Money stored in Venmo doesn’t count;
  • If you pay in cash, it’s free.

I have yet to respond to his queries.

Jyl Barlow is an American writer. Her debut ‘What to Expect When You Weren’t Expecting’, a memoir about her path as a (step)mom, was released in February 2023 and is available from Amazon. Jyl lives in Virginia, USA with her husband and two (step)children. Get to know her at and follow her stories on
Image via Unsplash.