The Ultimate Guide to Consumer Math – Teach Your Kids Math that Makes Cents

Our kids are growing up in a fast changing and complex world. 

Increasingly bombarded with offers for various services and products, it’s more important than ever to teach them how to critically assess offers and manage their resources and money more effectively. 

The concepts of budgeting, interest rates, insurance, banking, taxes, leasing and more, are often tightly woven into our daily lives, yet many parents are concerned that their student’s typical math curriculum doesn’t go far enough in preparing them for these real world issues. 

A more practically-oriented branch of math, consumer math can be a solution to this problem. 

Specifically focused on teaching these types of everyday math concepts, a consumer math curriculum’s overall goal is to help students develop the skills to better understand the real world and learn to make smarter financial decisions in the long run. 

If you believe you might be interested in introducing consumer math to your student’s learning, either as a supplement or a course of its own, read on as this guide explores this practical branch of math and discusses ways that parents can get started teaching it. 

What is consumer math? 

Consumer math is a branch of mathematics that is mainly concerned with more practical applications of math. That is, it’s a subject that teaches kids how they can use math in various important day to day situations. 

Rather than the general, all around (but equally important) concepts they learn as part of a traditional math curriculum (such as trigonometry, geometry, inequalities and more), students instead learn to apply specific concepts in math (such as decimals, percentage change and operations) to understand and then solve real life problems.

In consumer math, students may come across units about budgeting, shopping, understanding interest, loans, payrolls, avoiding fraud, managing banking and investments, taxes, mortgages and much more.

In this way, consumer math is very different from the math most students encounter in their textbooks. 

How Does a consumer math curriculum compare to other math curricula?

For the most part, partly owing to it’s more practical nature, a consumer math curriculum will be far more computational than other high school math programs, more focused on getting kids to understand, assess and then solve problems rather than dive into math theory or reward creative approaches to problem solving. 

Generally speaking, consumer math curricula also tend to be spiral based. Rather than diving deeply into one concept at a time, as with mastery methods, in spiral courses concepts are introduced, practiced and then combined with previously learned skills and knowledge, with plenty of time given for review. 

At what grade should parents start considering consumer math?

Consumer math is best taught to high school students, that is between grades 9-12. 

While money handling and basic financial skills can be taught at any age, even to students in early elementary and below, a good consumer math curriculum usually delves deeper into how math can be used in  real life situations and touches on topics like: 

  • Wages
  • Taxes
  • Insurance
  • Recreation and Spending
  • Personal finance and budgeting
  • Personal banking 
  • Investments
  • Interest
  • Credit and loans
  • Mortgages 
  • and more

While these can certainly be taught to younger students to one degree or another, to really get the most out a consumer math course (and to really understand the importance of what they are doing) students should be old enough to have some life experience or wider knowledge of the world and the issues that arise. 

After all, calculating the angles of a triangle can be a little more understandable to a younger student than  federal income tax and APR loans. 

Another thing to consider when it comes to grade level is that consumer math is intended to be as practical and immediately useful as possible. 

It is more likely that a 15-18 year old will use the concepts involved in the course sooner than a 10-12 year old. 

Why should I teach my kids consumer math, anyway?

Our kids are entering a rapidly changing world with tons of products and services at our fingertips and highly complex financial instruments and services promising us a million ways to be able to afford them.

While traditional math education is extremely important, and a strong foundation in and comfort with math concepts is certainly crucial to success in the careers of tomorrow, high school math, such as Algebra I, II, Precalculus and Calculus, don’t always adequately prepare students for the more mundane, day to day complexities of the modern world. 

These courses can often fall short of helping students develop the practical skills and understanding of commerce and personal finance that they’ll need to make smarter decisions when they graduate. 

In fact, according to a study done by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), less than 20% of respondents ages 18-34 could demonstrate basic financial literacy when tested on financial literacy, a worrying trend in a world of easy credit and no money down contracts. 

Developing a stronger fundamental understanding of budgeting and financial math in high school can be a good first step in helping students make smarter financial decisions in their immediate and long term futures, especially when it comes to critically assessing long term financial obligations like college loans, car payments, mortgages, taxes and more. 

So, why isn’t consumer math part of a standard math curriculum?

While some schools do include consumer math as an elective, many schools do not and there can be a number of reasons for this. 

For one thing, many schools have adopted common core state standards, a national set of math standards that don’t include much in the way of consumer math. 

With little in the way of extra time and budget at the best of times, and with an ever-present pressure to improve student performance in the core math curriculum, schools have little incentive to offer extra math material. 

The issue of common core standards aside, when it comes to math the general idea that most schools have is to focus on the general principles of mathematics and theory, preparing students as best they can for state exams and university courses.

Practical skills may be touched on here and there, but the expectation has been for many years that the student would learn more conceptual and academic math skills in school, while real life skills would largely be taught by parents. 

Unfortunately, as modern life becomes more complex and more parents themselves require specialists to help them with their day to day financial issues, a significant skill and knowledge gap often develops. 

Example of a consumer math curriculum

There can be a lot of variation between consumer math curricula and there really is not a “typical” consumer math curriculum per se. 

There are, for example, secular, religious and neutral consumer math curricula, and there are those that are more focused on personal finance, while others focus on general financial literacy and computation. 

In addition, like other math curricula, there are also those that are more rigorous and those that are more approachable for those less sure of their math skills. 

To give parents an idea of what a curriculum might look like, we’ve created a sample table below that outlines what students might learn in a consumer math class and the math skills they’ll need to use in order to succeed. 

UnitTopics Math Skills
Understanding the Workplace WagesSalary vs CommissionTime CardsFormsStocks and bondsThe stock marketWorking with DecimalsWorking with Fractions Percent and Percent ChangeEquations and inequalities
Payroll, taxes and DeductionsWhat is a payrollWhat is a payroll deductionInsuranceIncome TaxGraphsStatistics Means and Medians Central Tendency 
SpendingBudgeting and Allowance Leisure activities and costsSales and Discounts Net Worth and Purchasing PowerSales Tax and tippingOrder of OperationsWorking with PercentagesFractions and decimalsGraphing Linear equations
Checking and Savings Principles of bankingChecking SavingsThe principle of interestSimple interestCompound interestInvestmentsExponents and exponential equationsPercentagesGraphing and linear equations
CreditCredit CardsFinancing purchases Loans and MortgagesInstallments and interest Annual Percentage RatesPercentages and percent increaseGraphingExponential equationsAlgebraic equations
TransportAuto LoansMoney down and buying a carInsuranceOperating expensesPercentages and percent increaseGraphingExponential equationsAlgebraic equations

Does Consumer Math have to be a full course?

No, although it certainly can be, consumer math does not have to be its own math course. 

Overall, it is a very open branch of math and, based on what a parent feels might be important to know, some (or all) of its possible topics can be used to supplement a student’s regular math curriculum. 

For example, parents can add sections on simple and compound interest to Algebra 1 or 2 courses and, as a project, go over some of its uses in everyday life, such as credit cards, loans and investments. 

This piecemeal approach can be a particularly good idea for parents who want their student to take the necessary courses leading up to Calculus, for example but still want to ensure that their student receives a more holistic math education with a practical understanding of how math can be used to solve problems in the real world. 

Some recommended consumer math resources to look at

When it comes to finding homeschool resources for consumer math, things aren’t quite as simple as they might be for finding a good Algebra I or Precalculus textbook. 

Compared to precollege courses, consumer math simply isn’t as popular an option for most families and schools and so finding a curriculum can take a little more work.

Below we’ve listed a few options that we think can help parents and students out, as well as some of the reasons we like them.

Note: all prices are current as of writing and are in USD. 

Calvert Homeschool Consumer Math 

Price: $9.95 per month for the individual course, $99.95 per year

Calvert Education is a renowned and accredited provider of online courses and schooling for at-home learning, having been established and active in the homeschool scene since 1906.

Their courses are online and pretty well set up for individual learning, making them a relatively tech-forward and hands-off homeschooling solution for parents. 

Classes are taught through lessons that combine videos, texts, questions, quizzes and projects, and are pretty interactive and use a fair amount of multimedia, which makes them a little more interesting to students than traditional pen and paper textbooks.

Calvert offers an elective course in consumer math, which can be purchased on its own or added to a broader subscription to Calvert’s homeschool program.

The course costs just under $100 for the year and, in keeping with the company’s reputation, it is expansive, up to date and fairly comprehensive in our opinion. 

Students start off the course with a basic review of key math skills, from operations with fractions and decimals to factoring and percent changes, and then cover more specific units in personal finance, statistics, taxes and insurance, banking and investments, credit costs, purchase and sale of goods and the like, before summing it all up with a comprehensive review. 

Along the way, students are periodically quizzed and given a variety of fairly interesting short projects here and there to complete, all of which provide continuous review and make learning a little more hands-on and interesting for students. 

When it comes to math learning, we feel that Calvert’s consumer math program is pretty in-depth and rigorous. 

While the course does explore and provide background information on various consumer concepts, such as financing, different kinds of insurance, different taxes, financial planning and investment vehicles and more, it is certainly no slouch when it comes time for math concepts. 

Calvert does a pretty thorough job at teaching, reviewing and honing math skills compared to other programs, with a dedicated unit on statistics, as well as fully integrating and demonstrating practical applications of geometry, algebra and even graphing/data analysis in each lesson, 

Additionally, as an online homeschooling course, Cavlert offers a number of tools to help make learning a little easier.

As an online course, it can be accessed from any PC or Mac and quizzes and assignments are automatically graded, and it includes fairly detailed and helpful progress tracking, record keeping and even a calendar function to keep everything as organized as possible. 

Finally, because it can be a stand alone elective course, it can be easily integrated as an extra course into just about any homeschool program for less than $10 per month.

On the downside, the course is taught by recorded instruction. Although not as much an issue for students in grades 9-12 as it might be for younger grades, not every student enjoys learning in this way and some may prefer more real-time interaction.

Similarly, as a self-directed course it does require a stronger degree of discipline on the part of the student in order to complete it. 

Overall however, if you think you might be interested in an self-paced online consumer math curriculum for your student, Calvert Homeschool’s high quality curriculum curriculum, ease of use and flexibility as part of a homeschooling program make it an excellent choice to consider.

Abeka Consumer Mathematics

Price: $40.45

Abeka is a leading provider of homeschool curriculum and products that is known for its traditional, faith-based and fairly rigorous approach to teaching.

In addition to its fairly well-regarded college prep math courses, Abeka also offers a highly practical consumer math curriculum aimed at grades 10-12.

The Consumer Mathematics set includes three books – a student textbook and workbook, a teacher’s manual (with answers) and a Skills and Review Exercises book that serves as a review of the essential math required for the course,

Overall, we feel Abeka’s Consumer Math textbook can be highly useful and covers a variety of topics in consumer math. 

Students learn about income, small business math, budgeting, taxes, car and auto financing and more in a fair amount of depth and with Abeka’s well known academic rigor – the courses uses a lot of word problems and even includes replica tax forms and other realistic documents that students can work on. 

While Abeka is known for its faith-friendly, Christian curricula,we don’t feel that this should deter those looking for secular curricula from this consumer math textbook. It is a very practically oriented course and there really isn’t all that much that could be deemed Christian or faith-oriented in it. 

That said, as a downside while the overall quality of information and math skills are solid, some of the more specific details in Abeka can be a little outdated from time to time (such as with modern banking) and may require a little supplementing from the internet. 

Additionally, Abeka is well known for offering a more academically challenging math program than some other providers. While this ensures a more thorough learning experience overall, it can be a little more challenging, with word problems and quizzes that can be a little more time consuming and frustrating to students who are a little weaker in their math skills. 

Overall, however, if you are looking for a high quality, pen and paper style consumer math curriculum that offers a thorough and rigorous course in practical math, and your student doesn’t mind a bit of hard work, Abeka Consumer Mathematics might be just what you’re looking for. 

Steck Vaughn Mathematics Of….Series

If you’re someone who prefers to focus on a specific area if consumer math, such as banking and credit or personal finance and budgeting, or if you are planning on supplementing an existing curriculum and want an easier and more fine grained way of doing so, Steck Vaughn’s consumer math series might be for you. 

The Mathematics Of… series is a paper and pen curriculum that explores various topics in consumer math, breaking it all down into several, highly specific individual books that each touch on an aspect of the subject. 

There are, for example, individual books covering:

  • Banking and credit
  • Personal finance and investments
  • Housing and taxes
  • Cars and transport 
  • Mathematics of work
  • Mathematics of trades and professions

And these can be purchased alone or together, depending on the parent’s preference. 

At about 130-160 pages each and covering only three units per book, Steck Vaughn’s Mathematics Of…series  dives a little more deeply into each topic than other consumer math curricula, forming more or less a complete and individual study for each topic. 

The units themselves are fairly comprehensive, as well. 

Each contains a skills quiz at the beginning and a review/test at the end and, in between, students are introduced to various concepts, given lots of practice problems and are introduced to various tips and practical problem solving strategies that they can use to improve their skills and general capabilities. 

There are also group projects options that students can try as well as replica forms they can fill out to better understand certain processes. 

All told, these books offer pretty thorough and traditional math lessons that do a pretty good job at both explaining and reinforcing key concepts and can generally be used mostly as self-directed study by students, especially those in more advanced grades. 

As each book is more or less self-contained, parents can therefore use individual books to explore topics they find particularly relevant and supplement a more traditional math curriculum, or explore the entire series. 

This not only gives them a good amount of flexibility, but, as each book costs less than $20, it also allows parents to control homeschooling costs a bit more than a full course. 

As a downside, because each book is so comprehensive and rather lengthy, those looking to incorporate them as a full series will find that going through all of them can take a significant amount of time, perhaps even a couple years to get through. 

Similarly, while these books are very thorough they aren’t the most rigorous as a math curriculum. They do a good job at imparting key skills, but may not offer too much of a challenge to, say, those supplementing pre-college math courses. 

Overall, though. as a series the Steck Vaughn Mathematics Of… books offer an in-depth study of consumer math. 

As a collection they offer a very comprehensive overview of the subject, while the self-contained nature of each individual book  gives parents a lot of flexibility in adding individual consumer math topics to just about any existing curriculum, as needed, without sacrificing the quality of learning. 

Conclusion

With students entering an increasingly complex world filled with financial tools and products, it’s more important than ever to give them a better and practical understanding of how the world works and how to use math to make proper financial decisions. 

Adding consumer math to a student’s curriculum, either as a complete course or as a hand-picked selection of topics, can be a great way to add a more practical, real-life component to their studies that they may thank you for down the line.

Picture of our tech author David

About the Author

David Belenky is a freelance writer, former science and math tutor and a tech enthusiast. When he’s not writing about educational tech, he likes to chill out with his family and dog at home.