How Middle School Algebra translates to smart personal finance advice

Posted: February 25, 2011 in Blogging, blogroll, Budget, Community, education, Finance For Youth, Life, Saving, School, Spending
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The other day, I was teaching a pre-algebra class. Our lesson of the day was learning how to create and solve equations based on word problems. During the lesson, I realized that this was a skill that we could all use to help us deal with complex personal finance decisions. I know, this doesn’t sound like it is going to lead to personal finance, because I’m talking about a lesson I taught to a bunch of pre-teens, but I’ll get there. Stick with me.

So here is one of the examples of questions we went through: 

Mandy has $440 in the bank. She withdraws $20 each week to pay for piano lessons. How many lessons can she afford with her savings?

Quickly, to remind people of how we would solve this, the steps are simple:

Step 1:    Circle the important information.

Step 2:    Define. Express the unknown as a variable the variable. What are you looking for?

Step 3:    Write the equation in words.

Step 4:    Write the equation.

Step 5:    Solve

Okay. So looking at Mandy and her piano lessons,

Mandy has $440 in the bank. She withdraws $20 each week to pay for piano lessons. How many lessons can she afford with her savings?

Step 1:    üComplete!

Step 2:    I’m trying to find out how many lessons. Let’s call that “X“. üComplete!

Step 3:    Cost per lesson ($20.00) times the number of lessons (X) is equal to total amount ($440.00). üComplete!

Step 4:    20(X) =440.00 üComplete!

Step 5:    x=22 lessons. üComplete!


Briefly putting aside that I showed very little work (a huge pet peeve of mine), I want you to look at the steps. What we did, and this is perfect for young people, is we took a paragraph (for 12 year olds, this might as well be a paragraph. I know it is only a sentence.), and turned it into a text message! How did we do it? We started to focus only on the important parts of the question. We ignored everything that isn’t important.
So how do we make that make sense in our lives? Well, how many times do we consider our finances and just get lost in what seems like the sheer enormity of it all?

Now, how many times do we actually write down our problems in words, so we can look at them? If we don’t write them down, how can we set the stage for coming up with a solution? If we don’t set the stage, how can we determine what is the variable? If you don’t eat your meat, how can you have any pudding? It all follows itself.

I told a teacher friend of mine about this systematic way to solve what seems like complex money problems, and we laughed at how simple, yet effective, the whole system was. She reminded me of the very last step. You have to practice.

Sometimes, it is really cool that stuff you experience in school follows through the rest of your life.  Times like this, when something you thought you would never find a use for comes in really handy.  Of course, there are other times when you realize that some stuff you went through in school will follow you forever.


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  1. Romona says:

    Major lover from this website, a ton of your posts have truly helped me out. Looking towards updates!

  2. Martha Smith says:

    This book is one that should be kept in your library of books. Loads of information on how to become financially secure in your future. Thanks!

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