How much does it cost to fill Panini’s 2018 World Cup sticker book?
Here's a GCSE-style question designed to exercise those suitably rested, post-Easter holiday brain cells.
If a maths professor has too much time on his hands, how long does it take him to concoct a worthless, if playful, calculation which, according to one media outlet, appears to highlight the impact of rampant inflation? 'Not very' is the correct answer.
You may have seen that Paul Harper, a maths professor at Cardiff University, calculated the cost of filling Panini's 2018 World Cup sticker book.
If you were unfathomably lucky and never bought a duplicate sticker, you could fill the book's 682 spaces by buying 137 packets, says Professor Harper. At a cost of 80p a packet, this would run to £109.60 (and you would have three stickers left over).
However, the prof clearly knows a thing or two about probability. It's 'extremely unlikely' that the book could be filled just by spending £109.80, he reckoned. Instead, he calculates that seriously keen sticker collectors will need to buy 967 packets before they can fill the book and although they will still have three left over, the cost will be £773.60.
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This expense, apparently, is more than double what it cost to fill Panini's Euro 2016 sticker book (£374), but it would be truly staggering if anyone actually spent that. In fact, it would be cheaper to travel to Volgograd and buy a ticket to see England play their opening match against Tunisia on 18th June.
Swapping duplicate stickers with your mates, described by the London-based media outlet as a 'cost-saving measure', could save sticker collectors more than £520, assuming they were keen enough to actually fill their album.
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Alternatively, as a spokesperson for the publishers said: 'If you have difficulty swapping, you can send off to Panini for your missing stickers.'
It would be nice if you could send a cheque for £109.80 to Panini and they would despatch all 682 stickers with which you could fill the World Cup album, but where's the fun in doing something like that?
A 60% increase in the price of five Panini stickers over the course of two years does appear a little steep, but almost every other aspect of football's relentless commercialisation has come at a cost. It's brought us everything from the Stalinist-style obliteration of the game's pre-1992 history to the modern player, kissing the badge, logo and sponsor's name after scoring.
However, a purer, less cynical era is depicted in a book called Got, Not Got, published half a dozen years ago.
The book's title comes from the playground words excitedly blurted out while simultaneously checking your friends' collection of football cards (or stickers). The jacket cover may give the impression of being the fruit of a gloriously involved cut-and-paste exercise, but scratch the surface only lightly and you will find it is much more than that. It is an absolute gem, one from which football fans of every age may extract something to amuse, recall, regret or simply enjoy.
If you're well past the age at which you might ordinarily buy stickers depicting young men in garishly-coloured football shirts as part of the exciting, pre-World Cup build-up, you may wonder why they're referenced in a column purporting to focus on personal finance.
Actually, professor Harper's calculations regarding the cost of filling a child's sticker album are prescient as we near the cut-off date for this year's ISA allowance on Thursday.
Just about everyone in the land is entitled to put a maximum of £20,000 into an 2017-18 ISA.
There are several different types of ISA, the popularity of which continues to grow, ostensibly because investments made in them, and any income generated from them, are tax-free.
Of course, it's possible that at this late stage, readers may have used their 2017-18 allowance in full, or may only be a little short of their maximum. Alternatively, other readers may be thinking 'I should have done something about this earlier in the tax year'. Don't worry. You still have one particularly useful option.
In much the same way that you don't need to spend a small fortune filling a sticker album if you're good with swapsies, so it is with ISAs. Sort of. Let's say you have £5,000 you wish to invest in an ISA, but time is tight (if you're to make use of your 2017-18 allowance) and you do not have enough of it to consider the funds or shares in which you would prefer to invest.
Fortunately, provided you open a simple cash ISA before close of business on Thursday, you can revert back to the investment at any time and allocate it to your preferred funds or shares when you're ready. The important point is that without breaking the bank, you will have secured at least a portion of your 2017-18 ISA allowance which, in the long run, should prove a tad more beneficial than buying stickers.
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Peter Sharkey read economics at the University of Bristol. He was an accountant on three continents and has been a company director and investor for more than 30 years, building and selling three different companies.