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If you’ve used Microsoft Word, then Excel will not be a mystery. The only mystery that I had to unravel was the simplicity of the Excel program. I had imagined that it was much more complex than it is. If you are looking for a job, and a working knowledge of Excel is required, don’t let that scare you. If you can navigate Word, Excel will not be foreign to you.

The first thing to realize is that although Excel is considered accounting software, it is really only a checkbook with a calculator. It contains all of the accounting formulas you will need and is user friendly. You just plug your numbers into a formula. It does what you tell it to do.

Excel is a spreadsheet program. That means that you store your data in intersecting columns and rows. Imagine a sheet of graph paper. Each little square of the graph is called a “cell” on the Excel spreadsheet. When you open the Excel program, it will open up to a worksheet. The worksheet is a spreadsheet and almost fills the page with rows and columns. If you keep a record of your checks in a checkbook, then you can keep track of money or inventory with Excel.

Just look at the page when you first open up Excel. The toolbar and menu items are similar to Word. Along the top menu bar you’ll see File, Edit, View, Insert, Format, Tools, Data/Chart, Window and Help. “File” is similar to File in Word. Use it to save, title or print your Excel pages. In “Edit” you can cut; paste and copy etc. “View” is to change the look on screen. “Insert” allows you to enter extra columns, rows and other goodies. Click on each of the headings just to see what’s there.

If you’re starting a new worksheet you need to call it something (like Cash Receipts or Stock on hand). You click on “File”, “Save As’, and save it with the name you are calling it. Now your worksheet means something. You’ll notice little tabs at the bottom of your sheet: Sheet 1, Sheet 2 etc. These are pages of the same workbook. If you’ve just started a new book, you’ll be on page 1.

The columns and rows need names. The first column could be “date” (think of your checkbook). You can click on the first column, top row and type “Date” in that cell. You can write anything you want in any cell. If you’re keeping track of an item of inventory, then this page will be for the one item you are tracking. You can track another item in a different workbook by opening up a blank sheet and saving it with the name of that item. Count the columns from left to right and decide which column will be “new stock received”, which “stock sold” and which will be “goods in stock”.

Now we can enter some numbers. Here’s an example:
Widgets A B C D E
Row 1 Date Rec'd Sold Customer Balance
Row 2 Jan1 100 0 0 100
Row 3 Jan2 0 10 Jones 90
Row 4 Jan3 0 20 Smith 70

With your mouse, click on the cell where you will write the title. When you click, the pointer will turn into a white cross. Now type the name. Press “enter” on your keyboard. There it is in the cell you chose. Go across and type the column titles you decided on. I will explain entries using the example above.

A, B, C, D, and E are Columns going from the top down. 1, 2, 3, 4 are rows. Each little box is a “cell”. If you start with 100 blue widgets on January 1, then you can click your mouse in cell A1 and type “Date”. Now the “A” column is your date column. Enter Jan.1 in cell A2 the same as you entered “Date” above. Go to Column “B”, Row “1” and enter “stock received”. Now Column B is where you record incoming inventory.

In row “3”, Jones Inc. has purchased 10 widgets on January 2. You can put your “sold” column in column C and enter the customer’s name in column D. You can arrange the columns any way you want, or any way your employer wants you to. Excel has the tools to calculate the “stock on hand” in column E; this you need to know.

Just above your column headings is a “formula bar”. It has an X, a checkmark and an = sign on it. There is a blank space to the right of the equal sign. This formula bar is your calculator.

Using our example, calculate the stock balance after the sale to Jones Inc. on Jan 2. Click with your mouse on E3, which should be empty, then click on the formula bar and enter your formula, which will be: “E2-C3=”. E2 has your previous stock balance (100). Next to it enter the “minus” sign and C3 (10), your shipment to Jones. Enter “=”, just like you would with a calculator. Press “enter” and “90” will appear in cell E3. Don’t enter 100-10=. Enter the cell and row locations. Excel knows what’s in those cells already.

It’s really that simple to start working with Excel. Excel has a lot of tools for making graphs and charts and now you have the basics to get started.