There used to be a time when I thought of spreadsheets as boring tools for managers of companies, financial advisers and data analysers. In short, I didn’t really understand why Microsoft would include EXCEL as part of their Home packages, but Publisher – a program I used for drawing up invitations and the occasional greeting card or two – was only accessible if you bought the much more expensive Professional package. Seemed a bit of a waste to me.
I have to say, I have never benefitted from the ICT curriculum our students are able to take part in now; maybe if I had, I would have seen the potential of spreadsheets much earlier. It was only around the time of my wedding that I learned to appreciate that any halfway computer-savvy person can use spreadsheets to record and organise pretty much any aspect of their lives.
Spreadsheets are, essentially, a mixture of tables, calculators and graph generators, making many of your smartphone apps or random bits of paper strewn across the house obsolete.
As tables, they are great when you make shopping lists and want to pre-calculate how much a shop is likely to cost you. For example, you can easily make lists of ingredients for your favourite recipes and their cost per quantity, then simply copy and paste to see how much you’ll be likely to spend. The spreadsheet may even be set up in a way that the cost per quantity is calculated for you. Say, you want 1oz milk, but you can only buy 2pt bottles – the spreadsheet can work out exactly how much that 1oz will cost you with a simple conversion table. A second table can then add the cost of all your ingredients, making it easy to stick to targets, such as only spending £5 per day on food to feed your family.
My earliest use of spreadsheets at home was to track weight loss. I would make a very simple table – date, calories consumed, weight, weight loss – and would let the computer not only add my daily calories up for me and calculate my daily weight loss, but I wold also have it generate a graph, which tracked my weight loss over time. What a great motivating tool, once started.
My husband uses spreadsheet to keep track of finances. He has set up monthly sheets to add up all our regular outgoings in one column, our separate regular outgoings in another and subtract them from both our salaries. Additional spending, savings etc – they are all there in his spreadsheets to show us exactly how much is in each of our accounts, making long-term saving for e.g. holidays and big household items much more visible and helping both of us decide whether or not we can afford to buy something or how long it will take to save for a particular goal.
The great news is that once you understand spreadsheets on a fairly rudimentary level, they are incredibly versatile as aids to pretty much any goal you have. Like with any Microsoft application, there is much more to EXCEL than meets the eye (I am still astonished just how complicated MS Word can be if you know all its features) and you do not need to be a genius to be able to utilise it for your personal life. Most of it boils down to simple maths, so as long as you know how adding, subtracting, dividing and multiplying work, setting up a simple spreadsheet is easy.
If you really want to get organised this year, try it out. It’s worth it (and looks impressive to your peers and employers)!