Excel Spreadsheet Basics for Personal Finance

I am a spreadsheet junkie. I use spreadsheets to help me track my spend, track my net worth, help me figure out how extra payments will affect my debts and other random needs. But I realize that spreadsheets seem complex and mysterious to a lot of people. I’m hoping these quick tips will change that. 

Because I use Microsoft Excel, this page focuses on tips for basic formulas in Excel spreadsheets.

First, some basic Excel spreadsheets terminology:

  • Workbook – is the same thing as the Excel file. A workbook is the file that houses spreadsheets.
  • Worksheets or Spreadsheets – are the individual sheets inside a workbook. Each one has its own tab which you’ll spot towards the bottom of your spreadsheet page.
  • Cells – are the individual boxes in each spreadsheet. When unformatted, these look like small rectangles. This is where your data and formulas will be entered.

Calculations in Excel spreadsheets are written in the same order as algebra equations – as far as the use of parenthesis. Formulas or functions are what you will use to figure out any calculations. Each cell can contain data or a formula.

Here are some basic Excel formula commands:

  • = All formulas need to start with the equal sign
    • When writing a formula, the equal sign will always be the first thing you type 
  • + use the plus sign to add
    • Your formula may be “=1+2”
  • use the minus sign, or dash, to subtract
    • Your formula may be “=2-1”
  • * use the asterisk to multiply
    • Your formula may be “=1*2”
  • / use the slash to divide
    • Your formula may be “=4/2”
  • ( ) use parentheses to organize the order of functions like you would in algebra
    • For example, the result of (2+3)*2 is different than 2+3*2

Some videos on how to use Excel functions:

YouTube is a great source for teaching yourself how to use spreadsheets. Below are links to a couple of videos I think are helpful. Here is a page you can look at for more tips on how to use Excel.  

How to track your spend using Excel

With a little basic know-how, you can create tools to make your own budget and track your spend from the comfort of your home.

How to Add in Excel