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The math questions on our homework and tests are all structured as questions with a correct answer.
However, many real-life issues are too subjective to have one correct answer. You will partially explore four of these, in a group, during class.
Towards the end of the term pick your favorite and finish researching the problem to solve it. Ideally your project will be about something practical and important to you! An important part of this project is to cite your sources. If your project involves prices, where did you get them? If your project involves nutritional information, where did you get that? Etc.
Then present your finished project to the class. You will be graded on five criteria:
- Is the presentation organized? (Are you prepared? Do you share ideas in a sensible order?)
- Does the presentation flow? (Is your pace smooth? Do you handle questions well?)
- Is the presentation interesting?
- Does your audience learn something new?
- Do you exhibit confidence and/or excitement?
Plan two versions of a vacation. First describe an average American vacation that costs about $1,100 per person. Then refine your plans by cutting costs to make a definitely affordable version.
Decide on categories of expenses. Plan how much you can afford to budget for each category. Then do the details of the vacation planning.
Write a report that compares the two versions of your vacation idea. Discuss how you were able to cut costs. Represent the budget categories for the affordable version as a pie graph. Were you able to include everyone you wanted? Is your less expensive vacation still satisfactory? How would you save up that much money?
Plan two versions of a wedding. First describe an average American wedding that costs about $26,000. Then refine your plans by cutting costs to make a definitely affordable version.
For weddings, the categories of expenses include per-guest costs (pre-reception food and drinks, the reception meal, reception drinks, tables and chairs at the reception) as well as fixed costs that do not depend upon how many guests attend (invitations, music, photography, flowers, dress, rings, bridesmaid expenses, rehearsal dinner, the ceremony room, and honeymoon). Decide how much is affordable for each category. Then do the details of the wedding planning.
Write a report that compares the two versions of your wedding plans. Discuss how you were able to cut costs. Represent the budget categories for the affordable version as a pie graph. Were the bride and groom able to invite everyone they wanted? Is your less expensive wedding still satisfactory? How would you save up that much money?
Compare renting a house to buying a house. How do the categories of expenses differ? How do the costs differ?
How many hours each month on average does the owner of a that size house spend on home maintenance? How much does monthly rent differ from the combination of monthly mortage payment and average monthly home maintenance cost?
Buying a house should be cheaper, in part because your own time is spent on home maintenance. What would your hourly "pay" for doing your own home maintenance turn out to be?
The website Zillow might be a good place to start to make this project appropriately personal.
Analyze the math in your paycheck. Compare your gross pay and net pay. Confirm that the deductions for Federal Income Tax, Social Security, and Medicare are correct according to the formulas used to compute them.
Also calculate your cost to your employer, which is more than your gross pay because the employer also has costs for Social Security and Medicare, as well as Federal and State unemployment taxes and possibly health care.
Keep track of which groceries you use for a month. Then compare prices in three ways.
First price your grocery list at three or more different grocery stores. Which store would be least expensive overall?
Then break down your costs more carefully. How much do you spend on each category of grocery items do you spend the most (dairy, produce, meat, frozen meals, baby items, etc.)? Are different stores especially inexpensive for certain categories?
Third, check how much location affects grocery prices. Pick one of your stores, and price your list at a second location of that store. If one location is significantly more expensive (sometimes true at the edge of town, compared to downtown or at a major intersection) is that because most prices are higher, or especially with certain categories?
Many money problems (and agruments) can be avoided with careful expense tracking and budgeting.
Start by practicing with a ficticious budget. The Speck family keeps track of their income and expenses on the spreadsheet below (also a Google Sheet, four month Excel file, twelve month Excel file). Most of their expenses are the same from month to month. Garbage pickup is billed quarterly. Their home has about $3,000 of property tax due each November, which they budget for by saving throughout the year. In March they receive some anniversary money from family. In April they need to fly to a wedding, and income tax is due. They want to reduce their expenses to save 10% of their annual income for retirement. How should they do this?
Next, track your own household expenses for a month. Put all your receipts in a box when you get home, and archive your credit card statements there too. At the end of the month, use that box to create your own spreadsheet with real totals in the categories. (You can use the Speck family spreadsheet as a model for yours.)
The final step is to turn your expense tracking into a budget. In which categories are you spending too much or too little? What are your goals for adjusting your spending? Are you able to budget to save 10% of your income for retirement?