Play the Percentages
a baked potato with some minced ham, sour cream, a sprinkle of shredded
cheddar, and a little minced chives or green onion. With many foods, you can't
eat 100% -- no apple seeds or stems, no carrot tops with the carrot, no orange
rind - but with a potato, the skin is the healthiest part, so you can eat 100%
of it and be happy. Add a glass of milk to be 1,000% happy!
Scratch paper and pencil
Here are some examples of ways that
understanding percentages can help you in everyday life. Follow along with your
scratch paper and pencil so that you understand these tricks of percentages and
can avoid being on the losing end of them in the future:
important to know what is included in statistics so that you can understand
their significance. One year, the federal government reported that a whole lot more people had jobs than
the year before, and everybody was happy. That seemed to mean that the economy
was doing better. But oops - what few people realized is that the government
had decided that year to count members of the U.S. military among the employed
people, which they hadn't done before. Similarly, one year the statistics about
people with AIDS took a huge jump, and it looked like the epidemic was getting
worse, but all that happened is that a whole new group of AIDS patients -
people from Haiti - was included in the American statistics, making it look
like there was a big increase in the disease, but there really wasn't.
It is very important
that you know how many people were included in a particular poll. If you saw an
ad that said "67% of those surveyed favored our brand of salsa over all
others," that's impressive - but what if you found out that only THREE people
were surveyed? That means only two people added up to 67% as claimed in the ad.
That's a LOT less impressive than what you were thinking, right?
price increases. If you
receive a notice that your water bill is going up by 6%, you probably wouldn't
squawk. But what if the notice pointed out that the water utility was
increasing its spending by $91 million, and that's why they need the rate
increase? Of course, you'd be mad. But percentages can be used to conceal the
truth just as much as they can be used to reveal it.
fractions to percentages. Let's
say that you know that 1/4 of the world's population is Chinese, and 1/5 of the
remainder is East Indian. So what percentage of the world's population is East
Indian? Multiply .20 x .75 = .15, or
15%. You do this because .20 is the same as one-fifth, and .75 is the
three-fourths of the world who are not Chinese.
Shopping. If you don't understand how percentages
work, you can lose money, or cheat yourself when you think you're getting a
good deal in a store. For example, a pair of jeans whose price has been increased
by 50% and then reduced by 50% does not cost the same as it did before -
it actually had a NET price reduction of only 25%. You have to re-figure the
percentage after each change in the price in order to understand the deal.
Let's compute it: say the jeans cost the
store $30. The store marks the price up to $45 to try to sell the jeans. They
don't sell. The store reduces the price by 50% to put the jeans on sale.
Multiply $45.00 x .50 and you get $22.50, so that's how much the jeans will
cost. But $22.50 is nowhere near 50% of the original $30. See the trick? You
have to know the actual cost to evaluate how much a sales price really saves
Next time you see a piece of clothing
that has been "slashed" in price by 40%, and then another 40%, keep in mind
that it hasn't really been cut in price by 80% -- it's been cut a lot less than
that. Let's figure it: let's say the original price of the shirt was $20. If it
went on sale at 40% off, it was marked down to $12.00 ($20.00 x .40 = $8, and
$20 - $8 = $12). If they mark it down 40% again, though, it's not $8 that's
being reduced, but 40% of the $12.00, which is just $3 ($12.00 x .40 = $3). So
the sales price is now $9 ($12 - $3 = $9). Now, $9 compared to the original
price of $20 is pretty good, but it's a 55% reduction, not the 80% reduction
that two 40%-off stickers might have you believing.