Calculating the difference between two values is a common task for users of Microsoft Excel. Whether you’re comparing sales figures for a business, tracking changes in stock prices, or monitoring your personal finances, knowing how to calculate the difference in Excel can provide valuable insights into the data you’re working with. In this blog post, we will explore the various methods for calculating differences in Excel, so that you can quickly and accurately perform this important task.
Introduction
Calculating the difference between two values in an Excel spreadsheet is a fundamental operation that any user should know. It allows you to determine how much a value has increased or decreased over time or compare two sets of data to reveal trends and patterns. In this blog post, we will provide stepbystep instructions on how to calculate the difference in Excel using various techniques.
Method 1: Using simple subtraction
The most straightforward method for calculating the difference in Excel is by using the subtraction formula. Suppose you want to calculate the difference between cell A2 and B2, which contain 20 and 10, respectively. To do this, subtract the value in B2 from the value in A2. Enter the following formula in cell C2: =A2B2. The result will be 10, which represents the difference between the two values.
Example
To get a clearer understanding of how this formula works, consider the following example. Suppose you want to calculate the difference in monthly sales between January and February. You have the following data:
Month  Sales 

January  1000 
February  1500 
To calculate the difference, subtract the February sales from the January sales: =15001000. The result is 500, which means that sales increased by $500 in February compared to January.
Method 2: Using the ABS function
The ABS function is another way to calculate the difference in Excel. This method is especially useful when you want to find the absolute difference between two values, disregarding whether it’s a positive or negative change.
To calculate the absolute difference between two values in Excel, use the following formula: =ABS(A2B2). This subtracts the value in B2 from the value in A2 and then returns the absolute value of the difference. The result will always be a positive number.
Example
Suppose you have data on the number of hours you worked during two weeks in a month. The data looks like this:
Week  Hours 

Week 1  40 
Week 2  35 
To calculate the absolute difference, use the formula: =ABS(4035). The result is 5, which indicates that you worked 5 hours less during Week 2 compared to Week 1.
Method 3: Using the PERCENTAGE CHANGE function
The PERCENTAGE CHANGE function is useful when you want to calculate the percentage change between two values. To use this function, subtract the old value from the new value, divide the result by the old value and then multiply the result by 100. The formula looks like this: =(new value – old value) / old value * 100.
Example
Suppose you have data on the number of subscribers your YouTube channel gained during two months of the year. The data looks like this:
Month  Subscribers 

January  1000 
February  2000 
To calculate the percentage change, use the formula: =((20001000)/1000)*100. The result is 100%, which indicates that your YouTube channel gained 100% more subscribers in February than in January.
Other considerations
When calculating differences in Excel, keep the following in mind:
 Make sure that the values you are subtracting are compatible, that is, they are both numbers or both dates. If you try to subtract a date from a number or vice versa, you will get an error.
 Check the formatting of the cells. If the cells are formatted as text, you won’t be able to perform calculations on them. To change the format, select the cells and go to the ‘Format Cells’ menu.
 If you’re working with large data sets, consider using Excel’s builtin tools to make your job easier. For example, you can use the filter function to sort through data and isolate specific information, or use pivot tables to summarize data and create easytoread reports.
Conclusion
Calculating the difference between two values is an essential task in Excel, and there are several methods you can use to do it. Simple subtraction is the most basic method, but there are also functions like ABS and PERCENTAGE CHANGE that can help you calculate differences more efficiently. By knowing how to calculate differences in Excel, you can gain valuable insights into the data you’re analyzing and make more informed decisions.
FAQ
Here are some frequently asked questions about calculating differences in Excel:
Can I calculate differences between dates in Excel?
Yes. You can calculate the difference between two dates by subtracting the earlier date from the later date. Excel stores dates as serial numbers, so you can perform calculations on them just like you would with numbers.
How do I subtract one cell from several others at once?
If you want to subtract one cell from a range of cells, you can use the ‘Fill Handle’ tool. Click on the cell with the formula you want to copy, and then click and drag the fill handle down or across the cells you want to fill. Excel will automatically adjust the cell references in the formula to match the pattern you create.
Can I calculate differences between nonadjacent columns?
Yes. You can subtract values from nonadjacent columns by manually entering the cell references in the formula. For example, if you want to subtract the value in cell A1 from the value in cell C1, you can enter the formula: =C1A1. Make sure to insert the minus sign between the two cell references so that Excel knows you want to subtract them.
Can I automatically highlight cells with negative differences?
Yes. You can use conditional formatting to highlight cells with negative values based on the results of your calculation. Select the range of cells you want to format, and then go to the ‘Conditional Formatting’ menu. Choose ‘Highlight Cell Rules’ and then ‘Less Than’. Enter a value of zero to highlight cells with negative differences.
What is the difference between percentage change and percentage difference?
Percentage change and percentage difference both express the difference between two values in percentage terms, but they are calculated differently. Percentage change is calculated by subtracting the old value from the new value, dividing the result by the old value, and then multiplying by 100. Percentage difference is calculated by subtracting the two values, dividing the result by their average, and then multiplying by 100.
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