Budgeting/Investing/Money Management

How To Love Your Finances When You (Really) Hate Math

By | Thursday, December 14, 2017

Confession: I hate math.

But Sarah, if you hate math so much then how the heck did you end up working in finance and writing a blog about money?!

You’re not wrong to be a little confused, but let me try to justify my life choices.

For as long as I can remember, math was always my least favorite subject in school. I struggled through, but my brain just wasn’t built to comprehend algebra and trigonometry. I have memories of my engineer (aka math brain) Dad attempting to patiently walk me through my math homework and me having multiple meltdowns because he didn’t do it the same as my teacher. That’s how math brains work; they can just figure out complicated problems. For me, it was more about memorizing steps than ever actually understanding what I was doing.

I went to University without having a clue what I wanted to do for a career and made it through my entire four-year Bachelor of Arts degree without gaining any more clarity on the subject. I did what I could to avoid taking any math classes, and like many like-minded individuals, I ended up in a stats class (AKA easy math) to check that requirement off my transcript. My major in University was history — clearly the path of someone who knows exactly what they want to do with their life — and I loved it. I discovered that writing is my jam, and I can seriously rock an essay (oh…there’s the blogging tie-in). I might think that a two midterm, all multiple choice course is like winning the lottery, but in actuality, the more writing there is, the better I’m going to do.

After I graduated, it was time to start looking for a job. I still didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. At that point, I planned to work for a few years and then maybe go back to school and get my graduate degree in, you guessed it…history! I had worked admin jobs in the past and figured that was as good a place as any to start the job hunt. I applied for a bunch of jobs and accepted the first one I was offered, which just happened to be at a financial advisors office. And as they say, the rest is history.

When I look back at the past ten years, I’m still surprised I ended up where I did today. It all just sort of fell into place. Most importantly, I enjoyed the work and was good at it. Less importantly (but still a factor), I hate the job hunting process, so there was very little that would have made me change paths. I can count on one hand the jobs I’ve held since I started working at 14. I am so not the typical millennial in that regard.

The fact that I started out in an admin position was beneficial for me. I was able to do things I was already comfortable doing, while at the same time learning lots of new things and understanding how the business worked.

There was one distinct moment when I realized how much I was picking up from my new finance job. I was chatting with my parents about work and mentioned TFSAs…they looked at me confused because they had no idea what I was talking about. I was shocked. My parents are savers and have been investing since before I was born, but they didn’t know about something that came up almost every day at my office. After giving them the rundown, I thought, hey, I know more about this than I thought….maybe I could do this as a career.

There’s More to Finance than Math

I’ve held different roles with different responsibilities, but there’s been one constant. My job may be in finance, but complicated calculations are very rarely a part of my life. This isn’t the case for all positions, but that’s kind of my point. If you are a super math whiz and want to run numbers all day long, there is absolutely a role for you. If you’re like me and would rather work with people and solve non-math related problems, it’s totally possible.

This doesn’t just relate to my job. Money is a part of almost everything we do. Even if you’re not handing over your credit card to make a purchase, you might be walking your dog on sidewalks your tax dollars paid for, or watching Netflix that your parents pay for. As they say, money makes the world go around. That’s why it’s so vital to put aside your hatred of math and build your relationship with money on your terms.

Hating Math is Not an Excuse

Have you ever heard anyone blame their poor money habits on being bad at math? I have…and then I’ve ranted. You do NOT have to like or be good at math to be wealthy. All it takes is spending less money than you earn. That’s not math; it’s common sense. Plus, there are so many automated tools available today that will take care of all the math for you. If you can type on your phone, iPad, or computer, you have all the skills necessary to maintain your budget and save money.

If you’re having a hard time getting past the numbers, then relate your spending and saving to something else.

If I cut my daily Starbucks habit down to every other day, I could afford a vacation every year.

I could buy these shoes, or I could save the money and retire a little bit earlier.

Leave the Numbers to the Pros

Know what you’re good at and don’t be afraid to delegate the things you find challenging. Usually, when we think about delegating, we think of assigning responsibilities to a co-worker or hiring someone to clean our house. It doesn’t have to stop there, though. Taking advantage of technology is also a sort of delegation. There are apps out there that track your spending, remember your passwords, plan your vacation, and even remind you to drink water. No one ever said you have to do it all; you just have to find a way to make sure it all gets done.

Don’t want to keep track or your budget? Download an app like Mint to do it for you. Not sure where how to get started with investing? Try out a robo-advisor that will do almost everything for you. I wrote about how many millennials are scared to invest, but they shouldn’t be. Whether you hire a financial advisor or use a robo-advisor, there’s no reason not to invest, and many reasons to invest. Spend your time focusing on the parts of finance that you enjoy, and find ways to be hands-off with the elements you hate.

Still Think You Hate Finance?

Maybe you’re sticking to your finance-hating guns and aren’t entirely sold on the idea of embracing money management. Let me give you a few examples of why I think finance is so amazing:

  1. There is almost no better feeling than paying off the last dollar of your debt. Not there yet? Stick with it! You’ll be dancing a serious happy dance when your debt hits ZERO.
  2. Hitting the “Book It” button on a vacation after saving up. Trust me, going into debt to travel does not feel the same as being able to pay for it in cash.
  3. Have you ever bought something and instantly knew it was a bad idea? Having a budget will give you the freedom to spend money but never have regrets about affordability. I can’t guarantee you’ll never make a bad purchase (mall mirrors make everything look good), but you won’t have to worry about paying your rent because of it.
  4. Eliminating the money-fight. Couples fight about money more than anything else, and for good reason. Floundering in debt, conflicting spending styles, or large income gaps can be crazy stressful. Communicating and getting on the same page about your finances makes for a happier relationship.

I hope you’re convinced that personal finance isn’t limited to math whizzes. It’s all about making use of the tools available and finding your own twist to keep things interesting…no math skills required.

Sarah is a Canadian personal finance blogger over at Smile & Conquer. She has been working in the world of finance for almost a decade and uses that experience to help other millennials get smart about their money.

Image via Unsplash

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