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Math Anxiety Could Hurt Your Finances: 5 Ways to Get Over It

This article was written by in Money Management. 18 comments.


I just ran across a cute article by TODAY Financial Editor Jean Chatzky which really spoke to me as a hater of all things mathematical.

According to Chatzky, math anxiety, one of the biggest roadblocks to getting one’s finances together, affects half of all Americans at some level. It can result from any early numerical trauma, from a bad experience in school to overdoing things on your first college credit card. And it’s a recognized condition:

The phobia is so real, it has its own diagnosis code from the American Psychological Association: 315.1.

mathIt’s a serious affliction, Chatzky says, because to do money, you need to do math. To get beyond the fear and into your finances, she offers some useful suggestions:

1. Take a refresher course - Noncredit courses at a local community college are a great way to dive back in. Not only will it improve your skills, but can help you develop positive associations with math.

2. Start a money group – Clubs can help you to overcome a math phobia and increase your learning in a fun, social way. I think investing clubs sound like an interesting way to get information and experience on a topic that might otherwise bore me to tears. Even Finance 101-type topics would be very valuable to me, so I think I need to follow Chatzky’s advice on starting a “money group” among your friends:

At one meeting you might cover the basics of investing, at another you’ll talk about sending your kids to college. This support system can be a huge confidence booster, but more than that, you’ll be able to feed off of each other’s strengths. If your friends don’t go for the idea, you can link up with an existing group in your area by visiting Oprah.com/jean and clicking on “money groups.â€?

I bet that Meetup.com has some groups in my area as well. Just as long as I can make sure I’m not lured in by an advisor with a personal agenda, I think this can be really helpful and enjoyable.

3. Use shortcuts – Calculators and estimating, especially when rounding up, can make things simpler since you’re not manually crunching every digit.

4. Learn by osmosis – Even if you don’t have time to focus on financial topics, listening to a radio show or perhaps some Jim Cramer or Suze Orman in the background might help you start to absorb more information. Personally, I’ve found I burn more calories on the elliptical trainer when Mad Money is on at the gym. If you find you’re more open to reading about finance, the local paper or personal finance magazines at the library are great places to start expanding your knowledge.

5. Set your kids on the right track – Discuss math at home so that you help future generations of your family to be more financially confident. Real-life examples help you monitor your progress towards financial goals as you educate.

Have math anxiety? It might hurt your finances [Today Show at MSNBC.com]

Image Credit: Silence of Night

Updated February 10, 2011 and originally published December 6, 2007. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Along with her partner, Sasha owns and manage six residential rental units. Sasha endeavors to support the causes and organizations she believes in through more conscientious spending practices. View all articles by .

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Heidi

This is totally me! I changed my undergrad major from Marketing to Communications in order to avoid having to take stats and accounting!

I really started taking control of my finances when I started teaching Financial Management at a local college (the irony is not lost on me).

Another thing that is scary is owning up to how much debt you actually have. It’s fun to manage finances when you have a postive net worth – but I used to go months without looking at my credit cards statements because I preferred to be in denial about how much debt I had acquired.

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avatar Brian

I agree with your points, but having a picture of trigonometric memorization tables is just mean!
The odds of someone needing to memorize that (sin x – cos x)^2 = 1 – sin 2x to do their budget is very low. :)

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avatar Sasha ♦644 (Dime)

@ Heidi – I’m with you on this 100%. I’ve been in your position with debt as well! Thanks for sharing.

@ Brian – The photo does illustrate how frightening math can be, yes? I was looking for numbers with devil horns but there were none to be found, sadly.

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avatar mbhunter

Trig? C’mon, that’s child’s play! ;)

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avatar fathersez

This reminds me of the time when we used to classify people as dy/dx comfortable and dy/dx phobic.

But what Brian say’s is true. We don’t really need to know calculus to be financially savvy or at least careful.

My mother and also my wife’s unschooled grandmother are good examples.

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avatar plonkee

I think that asking for help can be good. I’m not the maths phobe amongst my friends and family, and I’m always willing to explain things to people where I can.

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avatar vh

Quicken. The answer is Quicken, or one of the other programs like it.

I couldn’t balance my checkbook without Quicken, because (despite a Ph.D. in English) I can’t add, subtract, multiply, or divide without counting on my fingers.

Once the computation bugaboo is out of your face, you discover that a lot of math is just plain logic, and logic is something anyone (even an English major) can do.

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avatar Free From Broke

Maybe we don’t all need calculus be we need to have a solid grasp of math. Imagine all the trouble that could be saved on all the sub-prime mortgages if more people understand what was really going on with their interest rates. I need to understand compound interest calculations better. I’ll be taking calculus again after ten years this spring (it will help me better understand my major – economics).

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avatar LJS

Listening to Jim Cramer in the background is probably not going to relax anyone about anything.

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