Wednesday, March 31, 2010


I didn't get much soaping done last week -- I was busy teaching myself just enough Microsoft Excel to get by.

Here I am, learning me some Excel.

See, I did my taxes a couple of weeks ago and when it came time to file my first-ever Schedule C for my soaping business, I discovered that I was woefully unprepared.

Sure, I had kept a running tally of all of my expenses and revenue and thought I had done a bang-up job. Then my tax preparer starting asking me questions, stuff about spending categories and deductions-this and tax credits-that:

How much did I spend on soap molds? ... Hmm, can I borrow your calculator and a large chunk of your time?
What's my inventory worth? ... Oops, didn't think about that.
How much did my raw materials cost in relation to my retail products? ... Huh? I spent this many monies.

Needless to say, I was flustered. And when I get flustered, I curse myself for not having done a better job in the first place. And I also usually get a headache.

So, my husband, Ken, suggested we set me up with an Excel spreadsheet. He's an Excel ninja, compared to me.

Now, I have dabbled in Excel before, but found it to be perfectly flabbergasting. I was trying to help my husband input data once, and my finger was forever slipping and I was constantly accidentally changing or completely deleting formula lines and columns, or pasting things in odd places. I was sure that I was going to hit "enter" at the wrong moment and blow up a missile silo somewhere.

Last year, I kept a running list of my business figures on MS Word. It was big and clunky and had two categories: Expenses and Revenue. After our visit with the tax preparer (who is a very nice and lovely man, by the way), it was agreed that I needed a better way to keep track of things.

Ken set up two worksheets for me, one for Expenses and one for Revenue, with appropriate categories for each. The most important functions to remember, he told me, were the formula =SUM and Ctrl-C and Ctrl-V to copy and paste.

Of course, I eventually decided that I needed to make some changes to the sheets he had made me. I also decided that I needed a third worksheet. I was on my own, but I forged ahead, certain I could do it. All I needed to do was a little bit of reverse engineering. Easy-peasy for a liberal arts major.

First, I needed to make column headers (columns run up and down, right?). I typed my text in that tiny box, hoping it would be apparent how to make it bigger and more vertical. Hmm ... I had seen Ken click on "Merge & Center" in the toolbar a lot; maybe I should be clicking it a lot too. I selected my column boxes, clicked "Merge & Center," and EEEKK! it worked. After much poking around, I found the button with the "ab" and the arrow and made my words vertical.

This was a piece of cake.

Next came inputting my data. Just select the first blank box, hit Ctrl-C, select the rest of the column, select Ctrl-V, and there you go!

This is fine until you get to the point in your worksheet when you decide that you need to have a running total for each column, and that you need a column that keeps a running total of everything combined.

I looked at Ken's worksheet. He said to make friends with the "=SUM( )" formula. Now, there are all kinds of formulas on Excel. You can formulate the "prorated linear depreciation" of assets, or the "inverse hyperbolic cosine of a number." No, thanks. Maybe later (but probably not). For now, I'll just stick to good ol' 1+1=2.

I found a way to use =SUM for my every need. And even that wasn't easy. See, each data box has a row and column assignment. The box at the intersection of column B and row 5 is called, predictably, B5. Fine, I get that. But when it comes time to combine Column B with Column K for a running total column, it is necessary to hark back to your high school pre-calc algebra days and suffer any flashbacks that may incur. (I don't know about you, but high school left me a giant walking scar.)

Trying to set up columns with running totals took a while. I was afraid of messing everything up. But I told myself to just explore and click away. I could fix anything I did wrong. What's the worst that could happen? Heck, this ain't WarGames.

My first running total column looked like this:
=SUM(D8+D9+D10+D11+D12+D13+D14+ ... do I really have to do this all the way down to D150?)

The answer is no. Remember the old copy-and-paste trick? Good for you, because I didn't. Not right away anyway.

The best bang-your-face-into-your-keyboard moment, though, was when I decided that I wanted a running total of all of the Total columns. That is, I wanted a separate running total column for office supplies, fees, materials costs, and a dozen other things, but I also wanted a total of all of those things put together to show a running total of all of my expenses combined.

So that column looked like this:
=SUM(Y8+B9+C9+D9+E9+F9+G9+H9+I9+J9+K9+dear god somebody please help me I am in Exhell ...)

Days later, after I semi-figured all of this out, I had to go back and fill in the columns to color-coordinate them, and I wanted borders around my header boxes, blah, blah, blah.

It is done now. And I probably could not tell you how to build a worksheet in Excel even after all of this. I would just try different things that seem vaguely familiar until something works.

Now that I have it set up just like I like it, though, I love it. It makes tracking things a cinch. I just hope it will always work for me as is, and that I'll never need to change a thing. I hope I can just delete this year's figures and use the same sheets for next year.

Is it too much to ask that some things never change?