Money is Math

At the Financial Literacy Summit 2011 in Chicago earlier this month, leading financial literacy experts talked about improving financial literacy levels for people of all ages. There was the repeated mention of one necessary basic skill. Take a guess.

Here’s a clue. It’s a four-letter word. Math.

Most people are not born with natural math skills. It takes practice, mistakes and more practice to develop the ability to use math.

Many people think math is just too difficult. When learned in the classroom, many students absorb just enough to get by.

Math is often dismissed by students as not being important in real life. The math learned in the classroom is often left in the classroom.

However, when learning about money, kids start by learning about cash, introducing them to math in action. Manipulating cash reinforces counting and math skills in a setting that makes sense to children.

Playing games with cash involves five math concepts that are important for understanding and using money.

Addition: Adding cash or depositing in an account increases the balance, resulting in more money.

Subtraction: Removing cash or withdrawing from an account reduces the balance, resulting in less money.

Constant: Values of coins and bills never change. A nickel is always worth five cents.

Equal Value: The combined value of coins is the total money value, not the combined number of coins. Five pennies are worth five cents (one nickel), but five nickels are worth twenty-five cents (one quarter).

Interchangeability: Any equal assortment of money can be used in place of another of equal value. One dime and one nickel can be substituted for three nickels.

When your child is responsible for keeping track of his own money in a written account, the power of adding and subtracting come to life. By keeping track of money as a number, your child sees how every money decision affects the balance.

Spending decreases the balance and makes the number smaller. Every deposit, for whatever reason, increases the balance and makes the number bigger. A decision to not spend (save or defer spending) keeps the balance from changing.

Learning to manage money as a number is the skill your kids will need in the future. No amount of looking at a pile of cash or a shaking a piggy bank will teach your kids the power of adding and subtracting numbers in an account.

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