Excel can equal magic

Posted on November 9, 2002

I decided to take a break from talking about Web sites and Internet applications for at least one column. Amazingly enough, there are other programs on your computer or close by that can be beneficial. The one I plan to discuss today is more useful than a paperweight, although it may not be as helpful as a stapler or rubber band or the largest watergun museum on the Internet.

Microsoft Excel, which is part of the Microsoft Office package, is a standard spreadsheet application. There are certain ways to store text information on a computer. If you are just typing a memo or note, you need only a single text document to house your information. If you have a lot of data that can be ordered, sorted and structured, then your information should be placed into a spreadsheet. For more complex uses of organized data, and to relate information in a storage area to the Web and other places, you may even need a database. But wait, we aren't discussing the Web today.

Spreadsheets are great to perform calculations based on just about anything. For instance, you can set up a spreadsheet to balance your checkbook, keep track of loan payments, organize your rubber band collection, etc. Doesn't everyone sort rubber bands by color, length and resistance?

p>I did a search in Google and found a couple of Excel programs that you can purchase to help balance your checkbook. But why buy a program when you can do it yourself? p>The most important thing you need to know in Excel is use of the equals sign. This begins the calculation function in a particular cell. If you know what I'm talking about, keep reading. If you have not used Excel before, check out this help pageto get an overview of how to navigate around a spreadsheet.

Anyway, you need only addition and subtraction for your checkbook function. Enter your beginning balance at the top of the third column; enter a check number in first column of the second row; enter the check amount in the second column; and enter a subtraction formula (subtracting the value to the left from the value above). Repeat this all the way down, for as many checks as you have. Add in withdrawals, deposits and whatever else if necessary.

Congratulations! You just made your own adding machine. Your rubber band collection would be proud!

The above example was extremely simplified, as there are many other useful calculations in Excel. One I use frequently is a sequential numbering system. Start at a row and enter any number. In the row below it, perform a calculation to add one to the row above. This simple formula can be copied down the page.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when using Excel. The uses for spreadsheets are unlimited. Again, some basic Excel applications can be downloaded from the Web, so if you have something that needs to be organized, there's probably a program out there for you. I wonder if the watergun museum data is sorted within a spreadsheet. If not, I have a head start on the guy with my rubber band collection.