How to Set Up a Basic Excel Spreadsheet

By David Weedmark

Learn how to create your first worksheet, including formulas and cell formatting in Microsoft Excel.

In businesses and schools throughout the world, Microsoft Excel is practically synonymous with spreadsheets. Creating your first basic spreadsheet is not a complicated task by any means. It's something you can do in about 10 minutes.

In this tutorial, you'll create a full spreadsheet to calculate school expenses. Screenshots use Excel 2013, however the steps are essentially the same if you are using the free online version, Excel Live.

Step 1

Launch Excel and click the Blank Workbook thumbnail. A fresh, blank workbook opens.

Tip

In Excel, spreadsheets are called worksheets. Worksheets are stored in workbooks. If you click the + tab at the bottom of any worksheet, you can add additional worksheets to a workbook.

Step 2

Type in cells A1, B1 and A2.

Click the A1 cell, the first cell in the upper-left corner, and type Item. To move one cell to the right to cell B1, press the Tab key. Type Cost in this cell. Press Enter to move to the first cell in the next row -- A2 -- and type Books in this cell.

Step 3

The Home ribbon's Currency option.

Press Tab or click cell B2 and then type $822.47 in this cell. When you begin with a dollar sign, Excel automatically changes the number format to Currency. You can also change the number format yourself by clicking the Home menu and selecting Currency from the Number menu. Note that the Number section of the Home ribbon also has options for other currencies, percentages, and options for increasing or decreasing the number of decimal points.

Step 4

Resize the columns.

Press Enter and type Microwave in cell A3. This time, the word is a bit too big for the column. To resize columns or rows, drag the line between the row numbers or the column letters. To resize all the columns or rows at once, click the upper-left square to select all and then drag any line.

Step 5

Insert AutoSum in cell B9.

Finish listing the items as displayed in the screenshot and their values. Click in cell A9 and type Total and then click cell B9. Excel can calculate totals automatically when you click the Formulas tab and then click the Autosum icon. By default, Excel adds all the cells above the selected cell. Press Enter to accept the Autosum formula.

Step 6

Copy and paste a formula.

Add a column for shipping charges by typing Shipping in cell C1 and then add a couple of shipping charges below it. To calculate the total shipping charges, copy and paste the Autosum you already inserted. Click cell B9 where the Autosum formula is located and press Ctrl-C to copy it. Click cell C9 and press Ctrl-V to paste the formula. Autosum once again adds up all the values above the selected cell to give you the correct total for shipping charges.

Step 7

Insert a row.

Insert a new row so you can add a title to the spreadsheet. Click the 1 to select the first row and then right-click it. Select Insert.

Step 8

Merge cells.

Drag the cursor across cells A1, B1 and C1 to highlight them. Because this is going to be a title, we want to merge the cells so we can center the title above the three columns of data. Right-click one of the highlighted cells and select Format Cells from the drop-down menu. In the window that opens, click the Alignment tab and then click the Merge Cells check box. Click OK.

Step 9

Center-align the title.

Type School Expenses in the merged cells. Right-click the cells and select the Center Alignment icon.

Step 10

Type a SUM formula.

Suppose your parents have promised to pay for your school supplies. In this case, you want to make sure the grand total of costs plus shipping is accurate and noticeable. Leave a space after the Total line and type Grand Total in cell A12. Instead of using AutoSum this time, type =SUM() in cell C12. Place the cursor between the parenthesis you just typed and then Ctrl-click cells B10 and C10. Press Enter. The SUM formula adds the total costs to the total shipping.

SUM is the most basic Excel formula. After completing your first worksheet, you can learn how to use other formulas, like Average, Mode and Mean.

Step 11

Put a box around the grand total.

Highlight cells A10 through C10 by dragging the cursor over them. Right-click the cells and then select the Border icon from the drop-down menu. Select Thick Bottom Border. Select cell C12, right-click it and select Thick Box Border. Now no one can miss where the totals and grand total are.

Step 12

Change the title background color and font color.

Add some color to the title by selecting cells A1 through C1, right-clicking them and then selecting the Fill color. Use any dark color you wish. If your school color is dark blue, use that. The black text on the dark background won't be legible now, so right-click the cells again, select the Font Color icon, change it to White and then click the B icon to make it a bold font.

Step 13

Highlight the grand total row in yellow.

Finally, add a yellow highlight to the grand total cells by highlighting them, right-clicking and selecting Yellow from the Fill color menu.

Step 14

Save the workbook.

Now that your worksheet is all done, you can save it so you can print it out, email it to your parents, or use it as the basis of a monthly budget. Click the File menu, select Save As and then click the Computer icon. Find a folder to put it in, type School Expenses in the File Name field and click Save. The workbook file containing your worksheet is saved in XLSX format.