Over the course of almost four decades, Excel has established itself as the leader in spreadsheet software. There’s no sign of that changing anytime soon – it’s one vital cog in Microsoft’s powerful Office suite of productivity apps.
The likes of Excel, Word and PowerPoint are often bundled together in a Microsoft 365 subscription, but you can still buy the standalone equivalent that’s released every few years.
But paying monthly or making a big one-off purchase is hard to justify, especially if you’re only using one app. Fortunately, paying full price isn’t your only option when it comes to using Excel. In fact, there are several methods which allow you to use it completely free.
Option 1 – Web version
Using Microsoft Excel and other core Office programs is free via the web, and all you’ll need is a Microsoft account.
Head over to Office.com and click ‘Sign in’ to enter your details. If you don’t yet have an account, choose ‘Sign up for the free version of Office’ and follow the instructions.
Once that’s complete, you’ll be taken to your main office homepage. From the left pane, choose ‘Create’ then ‘Workbook’ to open a new spreadsheet.
As you can see, there’s also the option to create documents in Word and PowerPoint here, alongside Outlook and a free version of Microsoft Teams. These are all ‘Web Apps’, meaning you can only use them via your browser and not a desktop app. When you work on a file here, it will be saved to OneDrive, Microsoft’s cloud storage service.
In fact, you probably have Google to thank for this software being available in web app form, as its free Docs and Sheets software and their integration with Google Drive made it difficult for Microsoft to keep asking users to pay.
Check out our guide to the
best cloud storage services to see how both compare to the rest of the competition.
The web version of Excel is a more stripped-back version of the software, so the comparison to Google Sheets is more reasonable than the full desktop program. Nonetheless, both services should provide everything a casual user is looking for.
Option 2 – Use on mobile
Perhaps again in response to Google, Microsoft’s Office mobile applications are completely free and available across most modern smartphones, tablets and folables.
You can download the Microsoft Excel app for Android and iOS. Microsoft understandably reserves some premium features for its Microsoft 365 subscription, the mobile apps are still very capable and offer integration with OneDrive.
Option 3 – Check if your school or workplace gets it free
Many employers offer Microsoft 365 apps to their employees free of charge. Even if your work email address ends with the name of the company, it may still be used to sign into a Microsoft account. Of course, you may be working in an office job where Excel and the like are already the defaults.
If your school has signed up to Microsoft 365 Education, all staff and students should be able access Office apps for free. To check, enter your education email address on the Microsoft website.
But if your school isn’t yet signed up and you’re in a position to change that, compare plans and begin the sign-up process here.
Option 4 – Pay full price
However, these free options aren’t suitable for everyone. If you need more than just basic Excel functions and the app isn’t available to you via school or work, the only alternative is to pay full price.
At the time of writing, the cheapest Microsoft 365 subscription is Personal, which $6.99/£5.99 per month or $69.99/£59.99 per year. Stepping up to the Family plan gets 2-6 people access for $9.99/£7.99 per month or $99.99/£79.99 per year. Both offer a one-month free trial.
Your other option is to pay for Office 2021, the latest standalone release. This is a one-off payment of $149.99 in the US or £119.99 in the UK. Unfortunately, there’s no way to pay for Excel on its own.
Learn more in our full Microsoft 365 buying guide.