How to Keep a Running Total in Excel: Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners

Keeping a running total in Excel is a handy way to keep track of cumulative values, such as expenses or sales, over time. By using simple formulas, you can easily set this up in your Excel sheet. All you need is a basic understanding of Excel functions, and you’ll be able to see your totals update automatically as you add new data.

Step-by-Step Tutorial on How to Keep a Running Total in Excel

In this tutorial, we’ll show you how to create a running total in Excel using straightforward steps. By the end, you’ll have a dynamic column that updates totals as new entries are added.

Step 1: Open Excel and Enter Your Data

Open your Excel spreadsheet and enter the data you want to keep a running total for, such as expenses or sales, in a column.

This initial step is crucial because the running total formula will reference these data points. Make sure each entry is in its own cell within a single column.

Step 2: Select the Adjacent Cell for the Running Total

Click on the cell next to the first data entry where you want the running total to begin.

By selecting this cell, you’re setting up the starting point for your cumulative total. This position will house the first formula that initiates the running sum.

Step 3: Enter the Formula for the First Entry

Type the formula =A2 into the cell (assuming your data starts in cell A2). Press Enter.

This formula grabs the value from the first entry directly. It’s a simple step that ensures the first running total is identical to the first value in your dataset.

Step 4: Enter the Formula for the Next Running Total

Click on the cell below the first running total. Type the formula =B2+A3, then press Enter.

This formula adds the value from the first running total to the next data entry. It’s the key to creating a cumulative effect.

Step 5: Drag the Formula Down

Select the cell with the second running total. Click and drag the fill handle (a small square at the cell’s bottom-right corner) down to fill the formula for subsequent entries.

By dragging the formula down, you tell Excel to continue this cumulative calculation for each subsequent cell. This automates the process and saves you time.

Once you’ve completed these steps, your Excel sheet will automatically update the running total every time you add new data. This makes it super easy to monitor any accumulated values.

Tips for Keeping a Running Total in Excel

  1. Use Absolute References: If you’re working with complex formulas, consider using absolute references to lock specific cells.
  2. Format Your Cells: Properly format your cells for currency, percentages, etc., to make your data clearer.
  3. Double-Check Formulas: Make sure your formulas are correctly referencing the intended cells.
  4. Use Conditional Formatting: Highlight important running total milestones with conditional formatting to easily track progress.
  5. Keep Backup Copies: Always keep backup copies of your Excel file to prevent data loss.

Frequently Asked Questions

What if my data starts in a different row or column?

Adjust the cell references in the formulas to match your data’s location.

Can I use these steps for non-numeric data?

No, these steps are specific to numeric data since they involve arithmetic operations.

How do I handle errors in the running total column?

Check for and correct any mismatched cell references or invalid entries in your dataset.

Can this method be applied to entire rows instead of columns?

Yes, you can apply the same principles to rows by adjusting cell references accordingly.

What if I want to reset the running total at some point?

Insert a new running total formula at the desired reset point to start a new cumulative sum.

Summary of Steps

  1. Open Excel and enter your data.
  2. Select the adjacent cell for the running total.
  3. Enter the formula for the first entry.
  4. Enter the formula for the next running total.
  5. Drag the formula down.


Creating a running total in Excel is a straightforward yet powerful tool. It not only helps in monitoring and managing cumulative data but also enhances your data analysis capabilities. Whether you’re tracking daily expenses or monthly sales, a running total gives you a clear picture of trends over time.

By following the steps outlined, you can set this up in no time. Plus, the additional tips and common questions provide a deeper understanding, ensuring you make the most out of your Excel skills.

So, go ahead and try it out. The next time you need to keep tabs on a growing set of numbers, you’ll know exactly what to do. And if you found this helpful, consider exploring other Excel functions that can further streamline your workflow. Happy Excel-ing!

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