A few months ago, I visited my local Target store with the objective of purchasing a bicycle. My wife had been eying a particular model with the intention of adding a child seat so that she could take our son out on nice days. While removing the bike from its rack, I noticed a tag that offered a 10% discount on any bike helmet with purchase of a bicycle. Knowing that we would need a child’s helmet for our son, I grabbed one and headed for the register.
Once there, the cashier rang up the bicycle and attempted to scan the 10% off coupon. Despite several tries, the register would not recognize the barcode. This forced him to manually enter the discount and, after keying in the UPC code, it prompted him for an amount. Now the helmet was priced at $19.99 and he was attempting to calculate a 10% price reduction in his head. After several seconds of staring blankly at the screen, he turned to me and sheepishly asked “What would 10% off be?”
Somewhat taken aback that anyone would look to me for mathematical guidance; I replied that it would be $2 since the helmet was essentially $20. Obviously relieved, he dutifully entered the new price and apologetically commented that “math was not his thing.” Unfortunately, we hit another snag and our transaction had to be rerouted to guest services.
Once there, I was assisted by a friendly young woman who soon discovered that the 10% coupon would not ring up for her either. She asked me if the previous cashier had been successful in applying the discount and I replied that he must have had to enter it manually because I had to help him estimate 10% of $20. The young woman laughed in disbelief for a few seconds before leaning in toward me with her hands on the keypad and asked without a hint of irony, “And what did you tell him?”
Incredulous that I was being asked for an arithmetic consultation twice in the same shopping trip, I responded (perhaps somewhat more harshly than was necessary) “It is $2! Just move the decimal!” These people must spend hours agonizing over whether or not they tipped appropriately at restaurants. By no means did I inherit my father’s mathematical prowess, but even I can mentally run those numbers.
It was only after we had vacated the store that I realized we are failing these youth. How in the world do our high schools produce personable, gainfully-employed young adults who cannot move a decimal effectively? Heaven help them if they ever find themselves negotiating for a raise or comparing interest rates on a loan.
My contention is not that every high-school student should be a CPA candidate, but we should work to equip each and every one of these people with a fundamental mathematical skillset to assist them in common decisions. Otherwise, this poor guy is going to hop on Twitter one afternoon and post:
“Just scored a sweet 29% interest rate on my car, they tried to offer me 2.9% but I wasn’t born yesterday!” #FinancialBeastMode!