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Do you have to be good at maths to be good with money?

10th July 2019

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Maths anxiety is the term for the panic many people feel when faced with mathematical problems. The knock on effect? A lack of confidence in calculations, which can impact money management. Yet it doesn’t have to be this way.

Maths anxiety and money worries

Earlier this year, Cambridge University surveyed 1700 British pupils and found that 1 in 10 suffer from maths anxiety, experiencing ’overwhelmingly negative emotions’ and physical symptoms such as a racing heart, butterflies and struggling to catch their breath.

A further study by the Money Advice Service found that of its 2000 participants, those with low numeracy levels were also less likely to keep up with bills and set money aside in savings.

With many people tangled in a web of maths anxiety, low levels of numeracy and a lack of financial education, it’s no wonder that money is the biggest cause of stress for UK adults.

When Kayla Fuller discovered that she’d have to retake her Maths GCSE if she wanted to do a teaching qualification, the panic she’d felt in maths classes came flooding back. “There was nothing to help me manage the feelings I had in school, they were all still there,” she says.

Today, Kayla is the Digital Communications Coordinator at National Numeracy, the charity that helps people improve everyday maths skills so that they can make better decisions in daily life. “I wish it had existed when I had to go back and do my maths GCSE,” says Kayla.

A key part of the charity’s work is making people feel less alone in their difficulties with maths. Their research found that four in five UK adults have low levels of numeracy, struggling to work out percentages or calculate exchange rates.

Gain numerical confidence

“The really important message is that it’s normal to struggle with maths, the crucial thing is what you do next,” says Mike Ellicock, founding Chief Executive of National Numeracy. The National Numeracy Challenge is a free tool designed to help you improve your maths in manageable steps whilst building your confidence.

Lack of confidence in maths could stem from failing a school exam or may have been passed on from parents to children. “When a parent tells their child ’I can’t do maths,’ the daughter’s performance immediately decreases in school,” says Mike.

Two young children smile whilst working with an abacus.

“The exam system doesn’t do anyone any favours. When students fail their maths exam, they often carry that into adulthood,” he explains.

“The biggest thing that holds people back is believing they can’t change their ability. But numeracy is not a gene, it’s more like fitness.” Believing in yourself and knowing you can learn is the first step to becoming more confident in your maths ability and money management. Numerical confidence seems to translate into numerical ability - it’s a virtuous circle.

Improve your financial fitness

Similarly, being ’good with money’ is not set in stone. At Starling, we’ve built our app with smart money management tools to help. “We carry around in our pocket more computing power than it took to get to the moon - let’s use that,” adds Mike.

The Starling app does lots of maths for you: we work out the percentage of your outgoings spent on bills or food, add up your daily and monthly spend and have one simple interest rate of 15% EAR for our overdrafts. We’ve created a bank that makes money easier to understand so that you can improve your own financial fitness.

For me, financial fitness is all about healthy money habits: checking how much I’ve spent each day and not burying my head in the sand, paying my credit card bill off in full each month, moving the majority of my salary into a savings Goal so that I’m not so tempted to splash the cash on payday.

Change the way you talk about maths and money

When it comes to being ’bad at maths’ or ’bad with money,’ focus on your mindset, not your GCSE grade or your bank balance. Know that your abilities and habits can change, aided by tools such as the National Numeracy Challenge and a Starling bank account. And try to change the conversation, both in your head and with those around you: just because you were told you weren’t ’good with numbers’ at school, it doesn’t mean you can’t be ’good with money’ today.

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