How to tackle the pink tax and financial stress: a guide for millennial women

For Karen D., a recent graduate living with her partner and working full-time, going to the hairdressers always makes a dent in her budget, even when she’s just getting a trim. On a typical visit, she’s paying $90 for her haircut, four times more than her partner is, despite both services taking around the same length of time.

This phenomenon is known as the ‘pink tax’ – where products and services for women and girls have higher price tags than their male equivalents. It’s more common than one may think: studies have shown razors, clothing and even kids’ toys may include the gender price gap, with female goods costing 7 per cent more on average.

That’s extra costs on top of the pay gap, where women are earning around 83 cents for every dollar of a man’s salary, according to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency

And for those millennial women earning the same income as their male counterparts, research has shown she’s also more likely to feel as though she’s living paycheck to paycheck. 

As millennial women navigating the tricky waters of money making and saving, how can we find our way around the pink tax and financial stress? Five millennial women share their strategies:

  1. Look past gendered labels 

When hunting for the best deals, why restrict yourself to browsing only the women’s sections? 

Mirei Sakurai, a graduate working full-time at a major tech company, says one way to overcome gendered labels is to explore your options beyond those labels.

“If I’m looking at a product and it looks good, then I’ll also think maybe there’s something that’s directed towards men or labelled for men that’s going to do exactly the same,” Mirei said.

Ruth, a final-year university student, took this advice to heart when she bought men’s branded sneakers (2 sizes down) after discovering the female version costed $20 more on the same website. 

  1. Know your essentials 

Figuring out your necessities can also save you a lot of money in the long run, final-year university student Sam said. 

At one level, it’s asking yourself questions before you make purchases, so you don’t shop on a whim: “Do I really need it, or is it something I want? And if I want it, why do I want it?”

At another level, it’s being more aware of the societal pressures that compel millennial women to buy certain products.

“It’s just those extra things that we are ‘supposed to get’, like makeup,” Sam said. “So there are these extra costs we have to consider.” 

Ruth agreed that self-care and vanity items can add up to high expenses. “Even spending $50 on those products a week would build up to several thousands of dollars over the year.”

Yussie Feng, a 22-year-old animator, noted her own transition from wearing no makeup to feeling as though she needs to ‘cover up’ whenever she goes out. 

“I feel like there’s a double standard, where men can look good with messy hair or they can look good wearing whatever, but as women, we have to actively dress up or we look ourselves down,” Yussie said. 

“We have to do something more, and it’s just as fine as men doing less.” 

And having to ‘do more’ can equate to spending a lot more. 

  1. Talk about money

One survey found millennial women are more likely to talk to their friends about their weight, relationship issues or sex lives than about money. Mirei believes sweeping conversations about our financial struggles under the rug can make us feel more stressed, because it shuts down any possibility of sharing knowledge or the burden of managing money. 

“When I’m with guys and in a group where it’s predominantly men … the kinds of topics we talk about include cryptocurrency, stocks, shares or saving for a house,” Mirei said. “But when I’m with female friends, we talk about what’s been going on with your life, how your weekend has been and your plans for the coming week.” 

However, talking about personal finances can be empowering and emotionally freeing, Karen said.

“What helped me a lot was getting the support of my family,” Karen said. “It’s a big stress reliever knowing that if I feel like I’m not earning enough, there’s someone out there who knows I’m struggling.”

So for millennial women, saving your money could mean more than just a budget and a piggy bank. It’s a battle against pay gaps and the pink tax. Sometimes it’s paying attention to the gendered surcharge on some of your purchases and other times it’s having more open conversations about your personal finances with friends and family. Whatever you strategy may be, let’s not simply bear with those financial inequalities and pressures. Let’s learn to beat them down.

Guest author

Katherine O’Chee is a Sydney-based writer and journalist. Her work has appeared on platforms including the Sydney Morning Herald, the Bangkok Post and SBS News. Contact Katherine via her website or follow her on Twitter @katherineochee.