January 14, 2006

Learning Excel:
Nice Links on the 'Net

Hello. My name is Michael. I'm 34 years old, and I'm not sure how I ever got along without Excel.

Yes, I love spreadsheets. I love the number-smashing turbopower they provide. And I regularly receive emails from readers with questions about Excel. Apparently IYM makes a pretty convincing argument for using spreadsheets to get a leash around home finances — offering free spreadsheets doesn't hurt, I imagine — because most of the questions I receive are from folks who are just beginning to build and use spreadsheets.

Now, I'm no Excel expert by any means. I've completed some Excel Level II courses through work, though, and most of the time I can hold my own when I have a project in mind. (Recently I attended a seminar through work which focused on using Excel with our dealership's computer system; the stuff I learned to do that day, I wish I'd learned years ago.)

But I Don't Have Excel ... Or the Money to Buy It!

I'll be the first to admit:   Excel is pricey software. This is especially so if your financial situation is already tenuous, since you probably don't have an extra $240 or so just laying around.

One nice thing about our world, though, is something called "open source" software. What it means is that you can go download a program called OpenOffice, pay absolutely zip for it, and do most everything Excel can do.

There's lots more to OpenOffice, so if it's new to you, head over to their website and take a look.

So You Want to Learn to Build Spreadsheets?

Thanks to the internet, it's easy. And it's really great for weirdos like me, who are constantly on the 'net learning new stuff about Excel.

But rounding up an Excel book or two isn't a bad idea, either. When I was starting out, I gained a lot of information from the Excel For Dummies series of books. They were the first books I picked up when I began learning how to spreadsheet. Then there's also my blog entry where I divulged, in my opinion, the single-best book for learning Excel.

You might also check out class offerings at your local vocational / technical school or community college. The ones I've seen around here are priced pretty reasonably — for the beginner-level courses, at least. The more in-depth and extensive Excel courses can clean out your wallet or purse in a hurry.

Anyhow, after a few years of internet learning excursions, I figured it was time to make a list of Excel-related links worth recommending:

Good just-starting-out tutorial for Excel beginners. Plenty of screenshots to help make sure you're on the right track.

Good tutorial for beginners here, too. Also has a 4.5 minute RealPlayer (.ram) video tutorial you can watch.

You'll have to be a member of the Motley Fool website to access this one, but it's a really good series of message-board posts by Fool members. The series is very educational, and would be a great step-by-step resource for spreadsheeting newbies.

Online courses and tutorials for Excel and all the other Office components. They seem to be pretty narrow in topic, but it's good info nonetheless. And who'd have thunk it: All the ones I looked at were free.

Website of John Walkenbach, who's so adept at Excel that he used to have his own column in PC World magazine.

Admittedly, the stuff here is more advanced. But oh, is it good. I've found a handful of techniques here that have been absolute gems.

Sort of an indexed page of Excel topics, similar to Chip Pearson's site above. Nice, nice, nice.

Lots of templates and lots of articles. New stuff shows up all the time.

Almost forgot about this one! Thanks to reader Rachel for pointing out Mr. Excel's nice database of articles — and his active (and very helpful) message boards.

If you readers know of good, helpful Excel-related sites like those above, just let me know. I'd love to take a look myself, and then add them here!