‘Girl Math’ returns as shoppers navigate holiday shopping finances

Pedestrians walk through the festively decorated Burlington Arcade luxury shopping arcade in London, UK, on Monday, Dec. 4, 2023. Inflation in UK shops has fallen to a 17-month low as retailers fight to attract shoppers ahead of the crucial holiday period. Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

“Girl math” makes a timely return this holiday season, throwing the spotlight on new seasonal spending habits that consumers are adopting this year.

Users on TikTok say if you’re buying gifts months before Christmas, it will be “free” by December. If you splurged during Cyber Week, you are technically saving more for Christmas day.

Welcome to girl math — but with a holiday twist.

Girl math is a viral TikTok trend on personal finance. It reveals ways women shoppers rationalize their spending habits — often involving mental gymnastics to justify one’s purchases in a way that maximizes happiness.

This holiday season, the return of girl math may be a sign that consumers are starting to feel a strain on their wallets, but just can’t stop shopping.

Kicking off 2023 holiday shopping

While inflation has stabilized, prices remain high and consumers are still spending.

Over half of holiday shoppers say they feel financially burdened this holiday season, according to a study by Bankrate.

However, even as consumers remain cautious, “shoppers do feel like they want to celebrate the holiday season right,” Bryan Gildenberg, managing director at Retail Cities, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia” in late November.

It's looking to be a 'moderately robust' U.S. holiday season: Retail Cities managing director

Analysts say shoppers may be working up to the gifting season with girl math to rationalize their purchases amid rising costs.

“An extended holiday season may be an example of girl math, as shoppers may view discounts as ‘saving money.’ For example, having a 40% discount on a $100 item is saving $40 to them,” Melissa Lee, a financial consultant from Great Eastern, told CNBC.

Girl math has become a means for shoppers to create a “mental label for their money,” and justify their spending habits, she added.

In fact, holiday shopping started earlier than it did in 2022, and it’s expected to end late this year, according to McKinsey & Company.

An “increasingly long” 2023 U.S. holiday season started before Halloween — 50% of holiday shopping began in October or earlier, followed by 40% in November, a McKinsey report said. Consumers also expressed that they would rather make purchases over a couple of months than all at once, and started browsing earlier in anticipation of price increases, their research showed.

Retail sector seeing return to pre-pandemic shopping trends, says JPMorgan's Matthew Boss

This pushed pre-holiday online spending to an all-time high of $76.8 billion in October — some $4.3 billion more than a year ago, a report by Adobe Analytics showed.

Holiday spending is also expected to surge in November and December, reaching up to $966.6 billion in 2023, according to a forecast by the National Retail Federation. November’s core retail sales — excluding restaurants, automobiles and gasoline — were…

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