Money To Live made an excellent point following up on my post about what my parents taught me about money and credit. She said that besides teaching children about paying bills and the like, parents should make sure their children know basic math.
Without being able to do simple math well, you can’t have confidence about money. To make good decisions about earning and paying interest, you have to be able to figure out how that works. In everyday situations, you may not even be able to tell right away if you’ve gotten the correct change. Before anything, math is the key element of personal finance. Money is essentially numbers, after all.
I didn’t do so well on higher math (calc continues to frustrate me), but I completely rocked basic mathematics. I think it’s due in part to my early interest in math and a great deal to my parents’ decision to follow-up on that.
I remember being about 4 (not yet in school) and walking into my parents’ closet with a piece of paper singing the “equalling is fun” song I’d made up. To my mind, if “2 plus 2 equals 4” then what I was doing should be called “equalling.” I also have some brief memories of the special math class my parents had me take somewhere around 5 or 6. I particularly remember some of my first computer experience during breaks of this class.
Later on, my mother got my father to write a program which would generate a worksheet with perhaps 50 math questions that I had to solve. I remember being timed, though I’m not sure if that was them or me…being competitive. They had worksheets for addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. The sheets started out with single digits, but I believe they moved up.
Still later, in high school, my father impressed on me the importance of showing my work in science homework. I could do a lot of math in my head, but he wanted me to always make sure I laid it out properly so that I’d get more practice on the steps necessary to solve the complex problem. I still do a lot of mental math, but I think that’s where my enjoyment of spreadsheets stems.
I do basic math all the time when handling used book sales at the library (tax). Or when making change from from fines and sales. I use the cash register, of course, but I can do the calculations in my head on the way there so I’m already getting out the right change by the time I can double check it with the number the register spits out.
I don’t think every child needs to be a math wiz in order to be able to handle their finances when they grow up. But basic addition and subtraction, combined with knowing how to work out more complex equations—even if it takes calculator to do the actual computation—is critical. If you don’t know how percentages are formed, you’ll have trouble understanding APY and APR. If you don’t understand the basics of compounding, you’ll find loans and investing confusing.
Katy (Money to Live) has some recommendations for helping your kids learn math, some sound like fun! So be sure to check them out.
How did you learn basic math? Do you plan to do anything special with your children or just make sure that they do learn it through their schools (and only intervene if it seems like they’re not learning)?