To begin this article, let’s think of how many ways the number 4 can be made up using just the number 2, for example:

2 x 2, 2+2, 22, (2 x 2 x 2)/2, ((2+2+2)-2)

Are you still with us? What about expanding our reach to come up with 1,000,002 –999,998. OK, some maybe we are getting a little silly now, but let’s think of a few ways in which numbers are used to entertain or distract us.

In a certain Saturday evening television show featuring dancers and celebrity partners, the range of numbers from 1-10 is used by the judges to provide a score for each celebrity. A mark of 1 is generally thought to be outstandingly bad, and a mark of 10 outstandingly good. Yet when the scores of the judges are added together, it is the couple with the highest score that heads the leader board with a rank of 1, and the couple with the lowest score that is at the bottom of the leaderboard, with a rank of n – n being the number of couples in the contest. So already we have two uses of the numbers 1-10 (or 1-n) where in one case 1 is highest and in another 1 is lowest. So we could say here that 1 counts low but ranks high.

In football, a penalty shoot-out is usually won by the team scoring the most goals from penalty kicks. But penalties are often thought of as financial “fines” or similar, or a “penalty” being a deduction from a marked score.

In the supermarket, a price of £9.95 or £9.99 leads us to think of £9 or thereabouts, but this is just 5 pence or 1 pence short of £10.00. A clever gimmick to make us think our goods are £1 cheaper than they really are. Buy five or six items priced thus and your shopping bill is £5 or £6 more expensive than you first thought. A similar tactic is noticed at petrol stations where fuel is x.9 pence per litre. Think of all those litres flowing freely through the pump increasing the amount you need to pay!

A survey by a consumer group recently appeared to be suggesting that a third was equivalent to 29% referring to actions by users of a credit product and one half equated to 48% of users of that product. If this is indeed the case, then maybe the maths needs re-working here. In a similar vein, 51% is often referred to as “a majority” which is technically true as it is more than half as compared to less than half, but it cannot be said to be a “significant majority”.

But perhaps the most surprising “misrepresentation” in numbers is the Annual Percentage Rate of Charge calculation. This complicated mathematical formula provides us with the annual percentage rate of charge on various types of financial products such as mortgages, short term loans products and credit cards. However, it annualises the numbers, so for products with less than one year’s duration, the formula often returns numbers that seem very large in comparison to the actual amount required to be repaid in total based on the interest charged. The APR takes into account the time value of money, so a repayment schedule over a shorter term will generate a higher APR than the same total repayment over a longer repayment schedule.

What does this tell us? Read the numbers and the small print carefully!

Back