Google Spreadsheets 101: The Basics

Spreadsheets are one of my favorite organizational tools because they are fun and easy to use! I use Google Spreadsheets to budget, store my favorite recipes, create travel itineraries, make shopping lists, organize potluck dinners with friends, and more. Spreadsheets are a quick and simple way to efficiently store, organize, and share data.

In the new series “Google Spreadsheets 101,” I will share the tips and tricks to make using spreadsheets an effortless part of your everyday life.

The first five tips you see below answer some questions you have asked about customizing the starter budgeting spreadsheet. In the beginning, spreadsheets may seem overwhelming and cumbersome, but they can become a fun part of your budgeting process!

Tip 1: Overview of a Google Spreadsheet

First, let us review the main parts of a spreadsheet using Google Spreadsheets.

  • Name: If you click on this you can edit the name of the spreadsheet directly.
  • Toolbar: You can format the look of the spreadsheet with colors, borders, number formatting, etc.
  • Function Box: This allows you to perform functions such as summing a set of numbers to find a total value. See the complete list of functions here.
  • Column/Rows: These make up the body of the spreadsheet.
  • Tabs: You can create new sheets within one spreadsheet to group relevant data.

Tip 2: Freezing Columns

The first step when starting a new spreadsheet is to determine how you want to use it. Will it be a simple shopping list, an itinerary for your trip, a new budget? This will help you determine which headers you need. Start by filling in the main headers. You can freeze the first column so that whenever you scroll to the right on your spreadsheet, the headers are always showing. You can also freeze the top rows as well.

Tip 3: Adding Columns

If you want to add a new column simply right click on the top of the column (with the letter) then click insert to the left/right depending on where you want to place the new column. If you have a specific formatted set up that you want to implement in your new column (like colored highlights or bolding), you can also right click, copy the appropriate column, and paste it in your new column to duplicate its format. This is also true with rows.

Tip 4: Creating a “Sum” Formula

The most common reason to use a spreadsheet is to take advantage of its handy formulas. For example, if you want to add up all you spent last month, you may use a “sum” formula. In a new box on the spreadsheet, write “=sum(” (without the quotations) and then highlight all the boxes you want to add up. If you want to add the numbers in the boxes in a row or column, just drag your cursor along the row. If you want it to add up boxes that are not connecting, hold the “ctrl” button on your keyboard and click the selection of boxes to add up.

Later on you may need to double check that your formula is adding the correct boxes, especially if you add new rows or columns. Double click on the box that has the “sum” formula. In the function box at the top of the screen you will see which boxes it is adding. It should also highlight those boxes in different colors on the spreadsheet to help you easily identify any boxes missing from the sum formula.

Tip 5: Duplicating a Tab

I prefer to keep my budget spreadsheet organized with a new tab for each month so that I can easily review a year’s expenses. To create a new month’s spreadsheet, right click on the appropriate tab at the bottom of the screen and select duplicate. A “copy” of that tab will appear, and you can double click to update the name of the new tab. Keep in mind that this will duplicate all the information of the previous tab, so I suggest duplicating clean tabs without any of your monthly data before putting in the information.

If you have any other questions about using Google Spreadsheets please contact me through the blog’s Contact page or Facebook page. No question is too small! I will answer the subsequent group of questions in the next installment of the “Google Spreadsheets 101” series. Thank you!