5 quick ways to boost your everyday maths skills

Don't let numbers hold you back

Experian – Consumer Credit Reference Agency

by National Numeracy | Independent charity

Aiming to improve adult numeracy in the UK


Ever feel confused by the financial deals on offer? Want to build your understanding of numbers but don’t know where to start? You’re not alone. Nearly half of adults in the UK have poor or low numeracy skills, and one in three of us cannot work out the correct change from a shopping trip or work out discounts on household products.

National Numeracy, a charity promoting the importance of what it calls ‘everyday maths’, organises National Numeracy Day every May to encourage people in the UK to become more confident with everyday maths – so if that sounds like you or someone you know, read on.

Think you’re not a numbers person?

Many of us say we’re not numbers people. But numbers play a big part in all our lives, and understanding how they work can have a hugely positive impact. From finding a new job or getting a promotion, to managing debt and getting a better handle on family finances, everyone can benefit by finding a way to make numbers work for them.

And good number skills pay off, with research indicating that those with better numeracy skills are on average £460 a year better off, better at saving money, and less likely to be unemployed. So, what can those of us with little time to get started – and feeling overwhelmed by the idea of sums and equations – do to feel less stressed? 


Time to rethink your approach to maths

Being able to understand numbers does not mean you have to become an A-grade maths student. It is about being confident and good enough to make the best decisions for you and your family.

Here are five ways to help you take a step back and get ready to improve your maths skills.

  1. Take a deep breath. The first step to being able to improve your maths skills is to control any stress you feel about numbers. If being presented with a calculation makes your heart thud, hands sweat, and makes it impossible to concentrate, you wouldn’t be alone. One in two working age people in the UK struggle with numbers and one in three of us would like to improve our skills. Take a deep breath and you will be in a better place to think straight.
  2. Slow down. That feeling of being put on the spot to work something out can make your mind go blank. But resist the temptation to blurt out ‘I can’t do maths’ as the truth is you can. Don’t be afraid to ask your financial adviser, colleague or whoever is presenting the sum to go over the figures. Get your phone out in the supermarket to double check that multi-buy is a bargain and not a rip off. It’s not like school – you don’t have to hurry and you can use a calculator!
  3. Don’t struggle alone. If your first attempt to solve a problem doesn’t work then ask someone else what they would do, find out if they would struggle too, or look for help online. There is no shortage of places to go for help once you start looking. You could even bookmark an online calculator so you have it to hand should you need it.
  4. Do what works for you. Many people have painful memories of being told they are approaching a sum the wrong way. Perhaps you like to use a calculator to check something ‘simple’, or have your own way of working out percentages. Have the confidence to find your own way to work out a problem, and allow yourself the freedom to approach it in a way that helps you to develop a better and more meaningful understanding. 
  5. Practise. Like most things it takes practise to improve your numeracy skills, but this does not have to feel daunting. So think about when you could practise your everyday numbers, such as setting a monthly spending budget and sticking to it, understanding the deals on the high street or correctly measuring out ingredients when cooking at home. You’ll be surprised at just how much numbers are a part of your life.

How do your skills measure up?

If you’d like to check your everyday maths – or challenge yourself to improve – then why not take this short Numeracy Quiz to see how you measure up? There are 10 questions to complete, and if you score 7 or more you are in the top half of the population for good maths skills. If you don’t – then don’t panic.

The National Numeracy Challenge is a free, online learning tool designed to help you improve your everyday maths skills, in your own time – with manageable steps to help build your confidence and work towards getting the essentials of numeracy which you need in daily life and the workplace.

If you’re feeling confident enough to really challenge yourself, why not check out our other article written in partnership with National Numeracy, Are you as good at maths as you think you are?, which invites you to join over 225,000 others and take the more in-depth National Numeracy Challenge

Before making financial decisions always do research, or talk to a financial adviser. Views are those of our mentors and customers and do not constitute financial advice.