Keeping an eye on your money isn't always as easy as you'd like it to be. Is there anything else where the need to understand your position is so frustratingly in inverse proportion to the ease of doing so? If your car is low on petrol, there's a dial on the dashboard that tells you so. If you want to keep an eye on the time, the clock can be relied on to keep ticking around in the same direction. But money tends to appear in a slew of rows and columns, and of dense figures piled up as far as the eye can see.

Of course, complexity does not make it any less important that those figures are managed accurately and efficiently. Microsoft Excel has long been the dominant application for doing so, whether it's in a business (of whatever size and description) or for home finances. Excel can give you instant control over any data you need it to manage, and can be updated automatically; for instance, if one area of your expenditure decreases, by entering in that one number Excel will automatically adjust any other related totals, subtotals, or whatever you need adjusting.

If you can discern patterns or movements from these figures, then you can gain a much greater understanding of where your business is heading, or of how your domestic finances are coping. And such an understanding is all important, more so than ever in these constrained economic times. But it is easier said than done, isn't it? And the more entries you make, the larger the sheet grows, and the denser the forest of numbers becomes; you know that what you need to know is hiding in their somewhere, but it's lost in an undergrowth of profits and losses, incomings and outgoings.

Thankfully, Excel can cut through the morass, quickly and easily. From complicated figures, the software can pull out a range of clear and detailed graphs and charts, and transform the way that you see your data.

When selecting the range of figures that you need to visualise, Excel gives a selection of different options for producing charts. Simplicity and clarity are the keywords here, and the alternative charts are presented in a straightforward choice between traditional styles:

- Column and bar charts, to show how figures compare to one another;

- Line and area charts, to show how your numbers develop and change over time;

- Pie and doughnut charts, to show everything in proportion.

And within these different styles, charts can be customised to suit your particular demands, allowing a variety of different information to be presented together, with colours and three-dimensional graphs available as and when required. The advantages of presenting the data in comprehensible and appealing charts are clear, and as substantial as the process is straightforward.

Let's take, as an example, Sid, who heads the sales team of a company selling Somerset sausages to supermarkets and smaller stores. He can use a 3-D line graph in a presentation to management to show (in an attractive and accessible manner) the fluctuations in sales of the company's various lines over a period of time. He can use a bar chart to show which stores have been the best customers and when, dividing each bar up to show different stages of the year. And when he goes home, if he's not too tired of figures, he can pull up a pie chart to show his family just how much of their spending goes on the electric bill, and just how much could be saved if Sid Jr would only turn those lights off once in a while.

We all need to keep tabs on those important numbers, whether for business or domestic purposes. But visualising them with Excel does more than just keep tabs, it allows us to understand what they mean, and foresee what they might mean for the future. It's surely worth considering a short training course to get the most from this powerful tool, so you can see what the numbers are really telling you.