Many adults feel worried or stressed when faced with maths and dealing with the numeracy involved in managing their money. Maths anxiety or a fear of maths is common, and although it can limit performance in certain situations and contexts, it’s not linked to intelligence or ability. Anyone can experience maths anxiety and it can stem from varied causes including pressured situations such as tests, negative past experiences or even cultural bias.
Fortunately, there are many steps your learners can take to address and overcome maths anxiety. One of them is to challenge commonly-held beliefs about maths and expose some as myths. Challenging the way we think about numbers can make a real difference to our self-confidence and decrease our anxiety. The following statements are commonly-held beliefs about maths and money. Some are myths; others are true.
Maths skills are not important when it comes to managing our money – MYTH.
For many of us, our feelings towards maths are embedded in the abstract learning from school, such as algebra, trigonometry and simultaneous equations. Often people believe that they “haven’t used maths since they left school.” This is a belief that is supported by the negative culture towards numeracy in the UK with the media annually reporting the delight of GCSE students, “hopefully never having to do maths again.” However, without basic number sense, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to manage our personal finances. Activities such as budgeting, understanding payslips, getting the best deals all require number skills, meaning that maths skills are actually important when managing our money. We also use number skills every day in other areas of our work and life. From planning journeys, scheduling appointments, cooking, D.I.Y., to managing our money, confidence in our numeracy skills is important to help us get by in work and life.
Some people are maths people; others are not – MYTH.
Many people we talk to say that they are simply not a maths or numbers person. While it’s true that we all reach adulthood with varying levels of ability and feelings towards maths, this is not because we were born with or without the ability to do maths. The true reasons for people’s differing abilities, feelings and preferences are environmental, often relating back to school and childhood. People with bad school experiences may have been discouraged from engaging with maths, whilst those with more enthusiastic teachers and/or strong parental input were encouraged to practise more and so improved. The more we practise a skill; the more highly skilled we become. It’s critical to remember that whilst we may not all enjoy maths or have had the best experiences with it growing up, we are all capable of improving and being maths people.
Spreadsheets, calculators and other budgeting tools mean people don’t need maths to manage their money anymore – MYTH.
With the growth of technology, there are many budgeting and money management tools available for people to use to support their financial wellbeing. Many people believe that these tools are a way of avoiding numeracy as the calculations are often done for you as part of a formula. However, there is more to maths than mental arithmetic. While these tools are beneficial and help to take the pressure off, to be able to use them effectively, you still need basic maths skills and the confidence to avoid shying away from tackling numbers. Without some number skills, you wouldn’t know what to put into your calculator or spreadsheet or which functions to use. You have to be able to translate your real-world situation into something that the tool can understand.
The skill of estimation is also critical in checking that the answer given is the correct one. It’s easy to get a decimal point in the wrong place, add an extra zero or press the wrong button so estimating helps you identify if there’s been an error.
Some people experience such a level of maths anxiety that it stops them from even trying to manage their money – TRUE.
Maths anxiety is common and for some people it can be so severe that they avoid any maths they might face – including managing their money. They might also avoid seeking out support for financial difficulties due to worries about needing to work out the numbers and looking silly or being judged if they can’t find specific information. For learners feeling very anxious about maths, it’s important to address their anxiety before starting to improve number skills. They should talk about their anxieties with people who can support –lots of people feel the same about maths. They could try lowering the pressure – doing the maths in private and at their own pace. When they do feel ready to look at improving number skills or money management, they could set goals to improve a little at a time instead of big targets. Learners don’t need to be the best; just improving step by step from where they are now will help.
Everyone can improve their maths with effort – TRUE.
Often when we work with people who feel anxious about maths, they believe that they are incapable of improving their maths and will “never be a numbers person.” However, our ability is not actually fixed and there is no specific gene for maths ability. Not everyone will become a maths expert, but everyone can get better than they are now.
When we acknowledge that ability isn’t fixed and that anyone can improve, it’s important to recognise we are also saying, “I can improve.” It’s often more difficult to apply this to ourselves than to accept the idea that everyone can improve. Even learners feel anxious or have found maths difficult in the past, it’s true that everyone can improve.’