How to Keep “Math Issues” from Stopping Your Jewelry Business

by Rena Klingenberg. Β© 2003-Present Rena Klingenberg. All Rights Reserved

How to Keep Math Issues from Stopping Your Jewelry Business, by Rena Klingenberg  - featured on Jewelry Making Journal

A fellow jewelry artist told me about her biggest roadblock:

“I am poor at math-related issues and have been terrified about starting out: taxes, insurance, pricing, etc.”

math issuesI know from my own experience that if you have “math issues” or find mathematical things hard to understand, it can close a lot of doors for you.

I have a math dyslexia where my brain tends to jumble numbers that have more than one digit (19 becomes 91; $19.86 becomes $18.96).

Because of this math dyslexia I often get the wrong answer in simple math problems, I misdial phone numbers, and I write numbers incorrectly unless I really concentrate on what I’m doing. I also can’t make heads or tails of most math word problems.

In addition to that, I have trouble with measuring things. Figuring out how much wire I need for part of a jewelry project often takes longer than actually making the entire project.

Although most of my life I’ve avoided things involving math as much as possible, I’ve never let my math issues keep me from starting and operating my own successful jewelry business.

Instead, I’ve simply developed “work-arounds” that don’t let math get in my way.

It occurred to me that some of the math work-arounds I’ve come up with for my jewelry business may be helpful for other jewelry artists with math issues, so I’m sharing them below.

Even if your particular math issues are different from mine, they shouldn’t prevent you from operating your own successful jewelry business!

Here are some things that have helped me:

My Jewelry Business Math Work-Arounds

See if you can adapt these work-arounds for your own needs:


  • Once you’ve figured out the measurements involved in a specific type of jewelry project, write the measurements down and keep this info in a notebook. Then the next time you make a similar project, you can simply look up the measurements, cut the wire (or whatever you’re using) to the proper length right away, and get on with making the project.
  • For jewelry items you make often, make a measuring template. For example, I use wooden popsicle sticks, measured carefully and marked with a Sharpie pen, as template guides for marking precisely where to bind wire bundles used in making pendants for common cabochon sizes. Now I can simply lay my wire bundle across the appropriate popsicle stick, and draw a Sharpie mark across the wires in each spot where the binding wires will go.

Taxes and Other Business Finances:

  • Business income tax – I use the services of an accountant for my income taxes, and also for various bits of advice and assistance throughout the year. Accountants are surprisingly inexpensive – and worth their weight in gold, especially if you have math issues. I recommend finding an accountant you feel comfortable with, who specializes in home businesses. Ask your accountant to help you devise a simple system for keeping track of the information he/she needs from you at tax time.
  • Sales tax – When starting your jewelry business, contact your state’s Department of Revenue Sales Tax Division (you can find them in the state government section of your phone book). Ask them for the paperwork you’ll need to get set up for collecting and paying sales tax. If this form overwhelms you, take this paperwork to your accountant and ask for his/her help in filling it out. Also ask your accountant to devise an easy system for taking care of your quarterly sales tax.

Pricing Your Jewelry:

  • Simplify pricing by using a pricing formula as a starting point to determine your lowest profitable price for selling a piece of jewelry. Then decide whether to adjust your pricing upward from that minimum price point.
  • Before your jewelry show or party, figure out all of your jewelry prices at home, where you can concentrate and take your time. Then put removable price stickers on each jewelry item (or on its tag) so you don’t have to remember any numbers or do any math when customers want to know how much something costs.
  • Bulk-price similar jewelry items. For example, all similar sterling silver cuff bracelets might be $60; all similarly-sized earrings might be $18. Then place a price sign near these groups of items (“Mini-Gem Earrings – $18”).
  • Price your items in whole dollars, without cents ($49 instead of $49.99). It makes checkout so much easier, with less opportunity for math errors, especially when people purchase more than one item.
  • Even easier: Make all of your prices end in 5 or 0 – for example, $15, $20, $25, $30, etc. Totaling up your transactions will be much simpler!

Handling Jewelry Transactions:

    • Always use a calculator when adding up a sale, and do the calculation at least twice to double-check your total.
  • Don’t try to talk to your customer while you’re writing up their sale. Smile in a friendly way and let their conversation wash over you while you focus on getting the numbers accurate.
  • Use a sales tax chart for quick, accurate calculation of how much sales tax to charge. On the tax chart simply find the dollar amount of your customer’s total jewelry purchase, and charge the amount of sales tax listed next to that number.
  • When you need to write or proofread a multi-digit number, use your finger or a scrap of paper to cover the number as you go, so that you see only one digit at a time. I find this very helpful in keeping numbers from getting jumbled.
  • For busy shows, consider having a trusted friend or relative (who does NOT have math issues) helping in your booth – and assign them to writing up the sales and handling transactions.

If you have math issues, you’re not alone – and there’s no need to let math stop you from achieving your jewelry business dreams!

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  • zoraida says:

    Thank you for this article. I think many creative people have math issues. I already do most of things you’ve suggested like pricing everything at shows at $40, $50, etc., grouping similar items at the same price and taking someone along who is not intimidated by math (my husband, usually).

    I put up a small sign with price ranges for necklaces, bracelets, pendants and earrings because I don’t tag individual items. Customers do have to ask about particular items but then it gives me the opportunity to explain why one piece costs more than another (the stones, the type of wire and the amount of work). Very often, they are really interested in the design and creation process.

    I exhibit the same items that are already in my online shop so price tags have to be removed for photos. Sometimes I explain this to a customer and also let them know that my show prices are lower than online. I’ve had no issues with this so far. I also never leave home without a calculator!

  • Diana Redlin says:

    Great post Rena,
    I am right there with you. I am easily confused by numbers and math. And that makes me feel really slow and dumb. In the real world you can’t let that happen and I know I have missed out on some opportunities that came my way just because I couldn’t think fast enough.

    I love your work-arounds. The pricing particularly. One thing I do religiously is have a journal on my desk and I take notes as I’m doing measurements, etc. Many times I draw my pieces after they are made and add facts to the page, including a list of my time spent. I have to take breaks frequently so this helps me keep track in increments of the time I spend on a piece.

  • Brandy Gough says:

    I was really encouraged by this article. I have been working on my jewelry making skills for a few years now and am really ready to get out there and make myself a legitimate part of the jewelry business but I am so afraid of my inability to do the math. It is so wonderful to see someone with the same problems who didn’t let the fear keep them from their goal. I am more motivated than ever to get out there and create a business now. Thank you so much for this article and all the wonderful tips. They seem so simple once you read them but I hadn’t thought of so many of them and am grateful for your sharing them.
    Thank you .

  • Thank you all so much for letting me know these tips helped you! I used to feel like a “math dummy” – but now I realize that we all have our strengths and weaknesses – and numbers are just not one of my strengths. πŸ™‚

    Thank you also for sharing your math workarounds – I’m always interested in picking up new ways to tame numbers! πŸ™‚

  • Elizabeth says:

    I also suffer from β€œmath issues” following a brain injury. And word finding issues. So doing show’s is very hard for me. But I do it anyway! I have a little β€œspiel” that I say when people walk up, that way I dont stumble over words and sound dumb.

    I also always work on a jewelry design board, with measurements on it. Once I determine the length of wire I need for each link, i pre cut a bunch of pieces to make it easier.

    You idea to keep a notebook with measurements that would work for many things, like all bead of the same size, is great!!! I’m getting a notebook tomorrow!!!

  • Janet says:

    Ii too have math issues and believe me I add everything twice!! I also use the 5, 10, 15, etc. scenario because it makes life so much easier. I went online and got a copy of the sales tax chart for Maryland and I keep two copies with me at all my shows. I also have a friend who helps me at shows and it’s her job to help customers when I am busy completing an order.

    Thanks Rena,


  • I too have math issues. To solve some of my issues. I include my sales tax into my price which makes it easier for calculations, but also I don’t have to worry about lugging around the heavy coins. If I incorporate any % off, I just round to the nearest whole dollar.

    I also purchased a cash register for my shows. It is great to be able to just ring up the sales and have my totals for deposits and record keeping. I purchased one that will also run off of batteries. But if you can find a good inexpensive one that has to be plugged in then you can also purchase one of the portable power battery jump starters (found in the automotive sections of stores).

  • YES!!!! Math dyslexics of the world unite! It is a commom, common problem with the general population, and even more common with the artsy crowd. Love all the work arounds that are covered in the article and in the comments, especially the ones where you simply give the issue to someone else -an accountant or non-math challenged friend. Never let an issue in one area of life make you feel dumb – can the math wiz make the things you make? We all have our strenghts, lets celebrate those and find ways to work around the rest πŸ™‚

  • Sally says:

    I price all items in $5 increments and my prices include sales tax. I have a spreadsheet that “backs” out the sales tax from each sale and calculates the selling price of the item. Prices are decided on and them rounded up to the nearest $5.

  • Lee Brigham says:

    Thank you for this post. I’ve had math issues my entire life and it never really got in the way of much until I started designing jewelry. Measurements are particularly difficult. It can take me forever. Some of these tips are great and I love what Natasha said upthread. Don’t let these math issues make you feel dumb because sometimes I really feel that way. Glad I’m not alone in this struggle.

  • I used to feel like the only person who had trouble with numbers and measuring, but over the years I’ve been amazed to see how many other folks have these issues too.

    And many of the workarounds (keeping a notebook of jewelry measurements, using templates, keeping prices simple, etc.) are actually good practices for making and selling jewelry even for people who don’t have math issues.

    Thank you all for sharing! πŸ™‚

  • Cris says:


    Another math dyslexic here!
    I just wanted to share with you my pricing tip: I made a simple Excell sheet where I write my components and their prices, add the formula and as soon as I input cost prices and labor it automatically adds up and gives me the total. Usually it’s not a round number, so I added a cell for rounding it up. When I’m done I print it and now I have a full form that describes everything about that particular piece, photo included!

  • Robin Showstack says:

    All of these ideas and “cheats” are a great help. I thought I was the only one with this problem! In addition to my math dyslexia I am not very computer literate! Chris is it possible for you to send me a copy of your Excell sheet so I can figure everything out like you are?

  • Hi Everyone, πŸ™‚

    Alicia here. JMJ Content & Social Media Specialist.

    Just wanted to drop a note here for Robin and anyone else who would like to have a copy of Cris’ spreadsheet.

    Posting emails here in the comments makes you and JMJ vulnerable to spam attacks, so please contact Cris via her store, which her name links to in her comment above.


    From Cris:

    Hi, Robin!

    Sure! Send me your email and I’ll send you the file.
    I have to translate it to English,since I wrote it in Portuguese, but that’s no problem.

    Everybody that wants this Excell file just say so and give me email addresses. I’ll be happy to share.


  • Cris says:


    I have the Excell sheet translated to English and I converted the currency to USD and I’d be happy to share it with you all. Clicking on my name up there will take you to my poor neglected shop on Etsy where you can convo me and I’ll send you the file, or… go to and download it from there, although I’m not sure how it will come out because I’m only seeing “doc” and “pdf” icons on the download area.
    If you have any problem with it or wish me to change something up and improve it, just drop me a line.

    And a special thanks to Alicia for elucidating me in such a nice way! I love this site! Wish I could participate more!

    Wishing you all the best,
    Cris Pinho

  • Alicia says:

    Hi Cris,
    Glad I could help. πŸ™‚ Your download worked like a charm for me. Thanks for sharing!

    JMJ Content & Social Media Specialist

  • Kim says:

    Another one here! Thanks so much for this article! I don’t feel so alone with my math issues now! I have also had problems with calculating postage even using a scale. I can’t even read the weight right! πŸ™‚

  • Pam says:

    I have difficulty in making change when someone tries to be helpful by giving me “extra” coins. I know how to simply count up from the amount owed to the amount handed to me, but when they give those extra coins, trying to be helpful, it just throws me off – my mind isn’t wired that way! I usually have my husband with me at shows, so he is my designated “change maker”. Also, as suggested, I don’t try to make conversation while fiddling with calculations or money. I usually feel fairly intelligent, but this is one time in life I often feel very much less so! Having had a son who was wired differently, calculated things just fine, just differently, I do understand that we all have our own wiring systems. Those who don’t “get” this shouldn’t judge. πŸ˜€

  • Nasra says:

    thank you… you’re great πŸ™‚

  • Wendycats, thank you for adding that important point about keeping sales tax a separate part of the customer’s total!

  • wendycats says:

    It is not legal (at least in some states) to “hide” your sales tax in the purchase price. It must be stated and accounted for separately, so the end customer knows exactly what part of the sale price is the tax amount. Check with your own state. or move to NH; we don’t have a sales tax here.

  • Great ideas, Rena. While I’ve never had problems with math, I do try to make things easier when it comes time to calculate sales and taxes. Have always priced my jewelry ending in a 5 or 0 – makes it so much easier to tally. Fortunately, the two states in which I mainly do Arts Festivals do let us hide our sales tax in the price, just so long as we have a sign clearly stating that the sales tax is included in the price. I find selling a pair of $20 earrings is easier than selling them at $20 + $1.65. I have a chart for each state that backs out each increment and I tally that after each show and put the amount on a master list. I also have a line of dog rescue jewelry where 1/2 of the purchase price goes to the local Human Society. They have a separate inventory code and the total sales go on that master list, as well. Then at tax time, it’s easy peasy to figure the tax owed for each state and the donation to the Humane Society.

  • Phyllis C says:

    Great article!! Thanks, as always Rena, for letting us share. I am a BIG excel fan, and have always used that as my basis for costs/pricing etc. Just knowing how much a piece costs me to make really lets me decide ( ultimately) what I will sell it for, and IF I want to make it again. Sometimes, just to keep up, I have to make a lot of less expensive items, to gain the time to make the bigger most costly items. Most of everything of mine is OOAK, but there are always “variations”~~ LOL!

  • Cat Slavin says:

    Great article. Lots to think about here….

    I am unable to download the spreadsheet but copied it to Word so I can print it out. Thank you for that . . . it will be helpful.

    Coming up with a base price is important but has always been difficult for me and I usually do a quick calculation in my head, then tack on the commission.

    Once I’ve arrived at a placed price, it’s out of my head….. so it’s difficult to re-create that base figure if the piece gets pulled and relocated to a different shop. So I can see that I really need to keep better track.

    I just made commission table for easy reference because I have to add 10%, 15%, 20%, 25% or 40% depending on which shop the piece is being placed.

  • Sande Gene says:

    So many ideas and so many thoughts. Here is one more. I have always then a photo of every piece that I have made. After the photo, I copy all of my measuring and prices, etc to the back of the photo and save the photo by inventory number in a photo album. Even tho all of my pieces are OOAK, some have kindred prices, and the photo tells me exactly what I need to know.

  • Great tips, Sande! Thanks so much for sharing those with us!

  • Great tips from everybody.

    I had a show a week ago and I too grouped the earrings and pendants together.
    It’s way easier for me to remember what price they all are.

    The website with the spreadsheet from Cris is not opening, the server is out of reach, so I have to try it again tomorrow.

  • I used too joke about my maths being poor and saying it was maths dyslexia didn’t know it was a real disorder, but I get by,36 bit late too worry now. thanks for this news letter like the tips and advise, Claire meaddows

  • You’re very welcome, Claire! And you’re right, by the time we grow up, we “math challenged” folks have figured out a lot of workarounds so we get by without too much trouble. πŸ™‚

  • Michele C. says:

    Rena, thank you so much for these math tips. I am mathphobic, and I have let it keep me from pursuing goals throughout my life. Your blog and posts are so helpful, and I don’t have that math-shame feeling after reading everyone’s stories. I love your JMJ! You are so supportive and helpful, and I feel more confident after reading each JMJ issue

    d/b/a MikkiMikki Art Jewelry

  • Michele, it’s my pleasure. And thank you so much for your lovely comment, and for being part of JMJ! πŸ™‚

  • Bev Carlson says:

    Rena, I was always good math in high school and majored in math in college. My husband says, however “I know you majored in math but how did you get out of high school arithmetic?” Especially, when dealing with customers I get flustered and often make silly mistakes. I think with a pencil in my hand. So, yes use a calculator, don’t get distracted while writing up a sale. I’ve also said to a customer “Check my figures please”
    Thanks for the other tips. (I get 6 and 9 mixed up all the time)

  • Michele says:

    If your article did nothing else, it brought out so many people like me, and that’s reassuring! In addition, many thanks, as others have said for your creative workarounds and for sharing them with us.

  • Bev, thank you for sharing your math and number issues. I agree – if I get rushed or flustered, my math issues are more likely to pop up.

  • Thank you Michele! I appreciate your lovely comment.

  • Claudia says:

    I have never been very good at math, and I would never trust my math without a calculator. I keep 3 or 4 simple calculators at my craft show booth, all tucked behind the display necks. I tally the items on one calculator, then move over to do the sales tax on another calculator, and, if it is a cash sale, I tally the change to give on the 3rd calculator. When the customer is happy and has left my booth with her treasures, I try to remember to delete all the info so I don’t confuse it with the next sale. I also have made identical tags with each item, and I save the identical tags, just in case I was too busy to write my sales down in my book.

  • Claudia, great idea to have multiple calculators available – I’m going to borrow that strategy! πŸ™‚

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