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Grow Your Business Technology

How to Calculate a Running Total in Excel

Microsoft Excel Credit: Shutterstock

Creating a running total (or cumulative sum, as it is known in Excel-speak) is easy once you get the hang of it. Lots of business owners use cumulative sums to keep track of expenses and revenue, employee hours and inventory. 

The idea behind a running total is to take a column of numbers, and next to it show the running total of those numbers. You can use both positive and negative numbers in a running total, so if you like, you can put your sales and your withdrawals together. For the sake of our example here, we use a workbook tracking basic revenue and expenses in one column. 


1. Start with =SUM. 

But instead of highlighting cells within the parentheses (by dragging the cursor over the cells you want to include in the equation), the way you would if you were adding a column of numbers, you need to create what's called an absolute reference followed by a relative reference. Don't worry, it sounds way more complicated than it is. Here's what you do: 


2. Create your running total formula. 

You must use the dollar sign in this formula, even if the numbers you're tallying are not dollar amounts. In our sample Excel workbook, let's say you want a cumulative total posted in column C. In cell C1 you would type =SUM($B$2:B2). This creates the necessary relative reference point (B2) and absolute reference point ($B$2) for your running tally. 

What are these references? Relative reference points are those that can change when you copy and paste a formula from one place to another. For instance, if you copy a formula two rows to the right, the relative reference point will also shift two rows to the right. Absolute reference points don't change when copied.  


3. Click the bottom right corner of the cell with the formula in it. Then, drag down as far as you want the running total to apply. 


That's all there is to it.

If you're interested in learning more about Excel, why not take an affordable online course? This class is ideal for small business owners and entrepreneurs who want to get a handle on the basics.

Mona Bushnell

Mona Bushnell is a New York City-based Staff Writer for Business News Daily and Business.com. She has a B.A. in Writing, Literature, and Publishing from Emerson College and has previously worked as an IT Technician, a Copywriter, a Software Administrator, a Scheduling Manager and an Editorial Writer. Mona began freelance writing full-time in 2014 and joined the Business.com team in 2017.