The Struggling Student Rants—Money has Nothing to Do with Math

The Struggling Student Rants—Money has Nothing to Do with Math

If math, algebra, calculus, and anything number-related is something you have avoided like the plague, it’s time to stop.  I do understand the aversion and still stumble with the simplest of calculations when someone is watching or waiting for the answer.  At 17 and right out of high school, I could not have given a lesser shit about Pythagoras and his theorem.  I also don’t remember any of my teachers’ names, but I do remember my algebra teacher still—almost 25 years later.  He made me feel like a pudding head and dread math for life, in any shape or form.  I barely passed his class and annoyed the hell out of him, constantly asking “but why?” and never getting a valid answer out of him.  His response, most days, was “because I said so.”  Now, at AU, asking “why” is not only encouraged, but also a requirement for success.  You need to try to understand the why behind the math; simple memorization won’t cut it.  The same applies in life.  You can’t possibly know everything there is to know out there, but you should at least try to understand what it is you’re looking at or dealing with.  Life usually won’t work very well in your favour if you blindly do as you’re told, because they said so.  Additionally, being numerate won’t guarantee you’re going to make the right decisions, but it is preferable to play an active role in your financial future, rather than ignore any roadblocks for lack of confidence, don’t you think?

Us 80s kids were raised to believe that good math skills would reward us with higher wages, in almost every industry.  We were told those who did well in math—in high school or college—would end up with a higher income, a brighter future, and less likely to be unemployed.  “If you want to be rich, you better be good with numbers, math, algebra, calculus…” and the list went on, depending, of course, on the degree of your parents’ involvement in your curriculum.  However, correlation is not causation.  Lifelong students, those who embrace learning, may or may not earn more money.  Nevertheless, acknowledging that we do not know everything and not shying away from the difficult allows us to live our daily lives feeling more secure and confident in our abilities.  How you feel about something can determine the outcome.  Your fear, hopes, anticipation, or nonchalance will usually predict how you act—or react—to a situation and, likely, amplify any effects (Polyportis, Kokkinaki, Horváth and Christopoulos, 2020).  There are countless of studies out there both theorizing and proving this, so whether you think you’re good with numbers—or not—you know that you’re absolutely right, but it may just have nothing to do with your financial success.

This isn’t to say that knowing whether you’re losing money on your credit card interest versus any investment ROI you may have coming in is irrelevant.  You also need to be able to talk numbers with colleagues, potential business partners, and the bank if that is the industry or career path you’ve chosen.  If you’re in management, you should know what your company’s income statement is telling you to make the right decisions and not go over budget.  At the end of the day, math skills are to finance as milk is to peanut butter—corny joke, I know… However, most of the concepts have their basis from the math we learn in grade school; they are simply then taken a few steps beyond that.  This is nothing a good textbook and some trial and error can’t help you master.  I’ve also been told that many students who were never inclined toward math in grade school or high school tend to excel in the financial sector.  It’s not that they were stupid at the time; they simply couldn’t give a rats ass about how many chocolate bars little Tommy could fit into his backpack while riding his bike at 20 mph downwind.  They do, on the other hand, care about their sales level and commission.

If you, too, would like to give it another shot, Athabasca’s MATH 100, Developmental Mathematics is exactly what can help you face undergrad math courses head on.  I can personally vouch for this and I believe it was the best course selection I’ve made to date.  The content has applied to so many other courses down my path I’ve lost count; it’s also applied in real-life.  My only stupid decision was not keeping the physical textbook.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve needed it since—both for my own courses and to show a few know-it-all managers a thing or two about basic multiplication and percentages.  You see, I no longer accept “because I said so” as a satisfactory argument.  Knowing your numbers also makes others second guess themselves before trying to pull a fast one on you, both on a personal level and as a consumer.  “Cognitive limitations create incentives for financial firms to pursue increased profits by systematically attempting to manipulate consumer behavior,” (Williams, 2007, p. 245).  Therefore, if they can take advantage of you, they absolutely will.  You must be willing to question things and dig deeper when you don’t understand what someone is trying to sell you, rather than walk away in fear of appearing ignorant.

The basis of any ignorance can be justified.  However, many take secondary education for granted while most people on this planet will not even make it into high school—never mind out of it.  The school system, until recently, also didn’t have a finance component either, neither at the primary school level nor at the secondary level.  Some schools are rethinking this and implementing finance education into their curriculum now.  However, we are still a long way from making any real progress.

There’s no need to feel bad, because we all need to make life decisions around money, in some shape or form, we were simply ill-equipped to do so from grade school.  The key question is, what are you doing about it now?  Using your upbringing as your crutch will not prevent others from taking advantage of you.  There is absolutely no excuse now with the infinite resources available to us, all with the click of a button—whether you are a math major or studying the Philosopher’s Stone.  Throwing those crutches away will feel amazing and tour financial habits, as a result of your confidence in balancing your budget, are what will determine your financial success.  There’s also a strong link between basic numerical skills and financial prosperity (Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, 2012).  Innumeracy, on the other hand, plagues far too many people (Paulos, 2001, pp. 3-4) and numeracy, on the other hand was determined to be ““by far the most … numeracy and financial literacy were both found to be predictors of wealth” by Smith, McArdle, and Willis (2010, p. 18).  So, if you want to be rich… pick up a book and learn how!

Williams, T. (2007). Empowerment of Whom and for What: Financial Literacy Education and the New Regulation of Consumer Financial Services. Law & Policy, 29(2), 226–256.
Paulos, J. A. (2001). Innumeracy: Mathematical illiteracy and its consequences (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Hill and Wang.
Smith, J. P., McArdle, J. J., & Willis, R. J. (2010). Financial decision making and cognition in a family context. In RAND Labor and Population (Ed.), Working Paper Series (pp. 1-36). Santa Monica, CA.
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