Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Because of You: A Calculating Exercise

When I was around 7 or so [when do we learn multiplication?], Dad started to teach me about calculating the GE Tax on a product. It was namely any My Little Pony or Barbie item I happened to ask for; I had to calculate the tax on the item before he would give me the money to pay for it.

This isn’t to say that I was spoiled and always got whatever I wanted. There were times that Dad said no, but also I didn’t like asking for things very often; sometimes I was too lazy to do the math so got denied that way. For some reason, I wasn’t the kind of kid always seeking to have stuff, as if I knew we weren’t poor but neither were we rich. It also helped that Mom was quick to beat the tantrums out of me early.

Back to the tax lesson, GET back then was 4%. Dad would tell me that it’s 4¢ per dollar, 1¢ per quarter. If the item cost $9.39, that meant 36¢ + 1¢ for the quarter= 37¢. He would tell me if I had to add another cent for the remainder, which it does in this example [remainder 14 > 25/2], totaling 38¢ tax. Then he would have me calculate the total, this example being $9.77 [$9.83 today].
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I’m not sure what Dad was thinking when he decided to start teaching me this shortcut to tax calculation. I wonder if he knew that he was also making me aware of money and that things cost a lot of it. My finances right now aren’t that great, but I’ve been more sensible about it than some friends, especially when I’m working.

If one thinks about it, Dad’s way of making me aware of money was much more subtle and manageable than the picture of parents today. I’ve seen kids walk up to their parent, carrying something in their arms. The parent tries to say “no,” but as soon as the kids’ about to make a fuss, the parent tosses the item on the check-out conveyor belt.

I didn’t have to do chores to earn stuff, but I did have to do the math. If Dad could afford it, and I did the math, he would give me the dollar bills for it. I would take the item and money to the register and go through the whole transaction myself. I would see Dad’s money go to someone else, and notice how little of it came back if at all.

Now that I think of it, perhaps the act of having to go to the register also helped deter me from asking for stuff. I was extremely shy as a child, still am quite shy. I would have Dad carry up until I was too big; I would pretend to be asleep on his shoulder as he carried me from say, the car to the elevator so that I didn’t have to interact with people saying how cute I was and all that. Visiting relatives, Dad carried me a lot so I didn’t have to hug uncles and aunties. Terrible, no?

I still don’t really like going up to cash registers. I look for the shortest line, have my club card and money ready, so I can get the awkward [for me] interaction over with, not because I’m in any hurry. In a long line, there’s also more chance of awkwardness [me] with other customers, like if the person behind me is holding his one item 3 feet behind me, do I do the polite thing and put the place-holder bar on the conveyor belt behind my items anyway?!!
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Dad’s tax shortcut would make me think of other “shortcuts.” I am usually faster than my friends when calculating tip at a restaurant; I’m just too lazy to do it nowadays. If the bill is $9.39, move the decimal over to find that .939 ---> 94¢ is 10%, $1.88 is 20%. If I give $11 for my bill, that’s about 17% tip, pretty good.

To calculate a 33% sale, I divide the total by 3 then double it. 9.39/ 3= 3.13 x2= 6.26. $9.39 on 33% sale is actually $6.29 before tax. 20% off would be 9.39/ 5~ 1.88 x4 =7.52 [7.51 by calculator]. Or I could estimate 20% off of $10 is $2, so I’d pay about $8. It also depends on how close to the price I want to be.

I may not be able to add 4 10-digit numbers all in my head in 5 seconds, but I’m a little more mindful of numeric relationships than I believe I would have been if I had never made the connection in what Dad taught me with the tax [that 4% tax means 1¢ per quarter].

Mahalo for reading.
[Photo: Dad teaching me to exercise the body too]
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What’s a lesson that you remember learning as a kid?