A financial whiz kid

Nine-year-old tax whiz Carlie Weinreb is living proof that financial literacy can start early.

She is nine years old and already she can complete a personal tax return without using a computer or even a calculator. In fact this tax whiz is so good she has already given lectures to Ontario university students at the U of T, Western, Windsor and Ryerson about how to do their taxes. (Please see CPA Magazine, May 2016, “CPA Junior”).

I first heard of Carlie Weinreb when she was speaking at the CPA Canada Mastering Money Conference on financial literacy last November, where I was also speaking. Fortunately I didn’t have to follow her.

Carlie’s dad is CPA Lorne Weinreb. Weinreb’s firm offers out-sourced controller/CFO services to a variety of clients, but in the past he operated a niche firm that did tax returns 12 months a year. Her mom, Melanie Borst, is a grade school teacher.

According to Weinreb, Carlie learned to count to 10 by counting the stairs in their home and by counting cookies. This was at age two, soon after she learned to talk. Weinreb and Carlie spent a lot of time at the dollar store, where the challenge was to see how far $3 could go. According to Weinreb this would cause the rejection of “expensive” items and the acceptance of “cheap” items. There was even a reward system for correctly calculating the tax and total after-tax amount to the nearest 5¢, as well as the change due.

The next step was to focus on multiples of 10. Road speed limit signs they saw while they were walking in the neighbourhood or driving on the highway provided the teaching tools for this. To further develop Carlie’s multiplication and division skills, they moved on to skip counting. This involves counting up by individual numbers from 1 to 10, then 12, 13, 15, 18 and more. It was a gradual process, taking a month for each digit to build confidence. The whole process took from age three to five, but it resulted in getting to Grade 6 long division level. The exercises would take two hours a week, but for every hour of lessons, Weinreb would take five hours to plan and tweak them. He learned the importance of lesson planning from his wife, the primary school teacher.

Carlie is now a straight-A student in math and once won a bronze medal in a math contest in the Toronto area. But she is not just a math whiz; she plays piano, ice skates, swims, dances, water-skis, sails and has lots of sleepovers with her friends.

The Weinrebs — including Carlie and her seven-year-old sister, Saige — operate a Sunday math school in Toronto in a space at the back of a toy store. Carlie does a two-minute warm-up each lesson by mentally calculating sales tax on any price up to $100 and Saige does a warm-up doing long division — all while they are Hula-Hooping. Both parents run the class, which concentrates on addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

It is refreshing to hear a story like Carlie’s in this day and age. Financial literacy is an important skill to have, but many kids don’t show an interest and never excel at math. This deficiency leads to poor financial decisions later on in life.

You are probably an accountant if you are reading this, but do you know someone who is math-challenged? Think of how tough it would be to handle your finances if you couldn’t balance a chequebook, or didn’t understand how much carrying a credit card balance is costing you, or know how GST and HST impact what you pay.

I asked Carlie what her friends think of her amazing math skills. She said, “They like it and think it’s cool and when they talk about how much something is they ask me to calculate the tax.” And does she get nervous in front of university classes and the media? “No, I like it — it is fun,” she says.

What does she want to be when she grows up — maybe an accountant like her father? She’s not sure at this point, but she likes math and she likes teaching so anything like that would be great. I don’t think she’ll have any problem finding a job teaching math.