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You're a maths genius, you just don't know it

YOU'RE a maths genius! We all are, actually, but sometimes we're not even aware of our abilities. The truth is that we all use maths every single day but it can be so automatic that it's not obvious to us. But anyone who shops for family groceries or who has children or runs a car is constantly using their maths skills -- even if they don't know it.

Maths isn't about working out Fermat's last theorem or solving quadratic equations. Well, it is to some pointy-headed people. But for most of us, it's simply knowing a bargain when we see one. Are those buy-one-get-one-half-price tins of beans in the supermarket worth it? What about buying the 750g box of cornflakes over the 500g one -- is it really better value?

Usually we just, well, know. Sometimes we have to furrow our brow to work it out but we're doing it all the time. When it matters to us, we find we're great at the long division. During the January sales we're only mega at working out if that dress to die for is actually priced 40pc off or not -- and in double quick time before somebody else nabs it. Yet we often talk ourselves down about maths. "I'm rubbish at sums", or "I was never any good in school".

Deciding between Bord Gais or ESB for your electricity needs, or choosing Vodafone or Meteor for your bill pay mobile? It's all down to maths and most of us are far better at working out practical examples like this than we think.

That's what Project Maths, the new schools programme is all about. Less theory, more practice. We've tried to get kids better at maths over the years to little avail. Results are down, and universities and employers are bemoaning our efforts. It's time to take the sums out of maths and we parents have to set the example.

When I teach transition year students about personal finance, I avoid any mention of maths at all. It might seem impossible, because surely learning about interest rates and loans is all about numbers, but the first thing I tell them is to put away the calculators -- they won't need them. The relief on their faces is palpable. Before long however, some of them are sneaking them back out again -- voluntarily -- to double check something we've talked about.

Telling them how banks calculate interest is usually nod-off time. But showing them the gap in interest rates between what a borrower is charged and a lender gets wakes them up quickly. They do the "sums" in jig time before realising that the bank is the only winner.

They know it's cheaper buying an iPad off the internet rather than a shop, but if they do it using a credit card and only make the minimum payments, the €500 costs them €750 instead. Some bargain!

There are great tricks you can do to train yourself to be better at maths. If you're putting petrol in your car, do it in litres, rather than euro.

In the supermarket, mentally work out the bulk buy item in grams or kilos. When you're driving, try converting distances into 'old money' miles -- you'd be surprised how quickly you're doing it automatically.