InflationCalculator

How to Create an Inflation Calculator in Excel

Want to know how much something was worth decades ago? Or how much something costs in today’s dollars? Using inflation data, you can estimate that. And in this post, I’ll show you how you can create your own inflation calculator template in Excel. I’ll also provide you with my free template.

Getting the data

You can get inflation data going back to 1913 from the U.S. bureau of Labor Statistics. There’s an xlsx file there that I’m going use that will be the source for my calculations.

Once in Excel, you’ll see the data is neatly formatted by both year and month:

Inflation data going back to 1913.

This data will get updated so over time you may want to get the latest figures so that your calculations are as accurate as they can be. The data has 1st half and 2nd half numbers but one thing I will do is also add the 12-month average. I’ll add a new column so that it just averages the values. In most cases, you’re probably just going to want to compare data from one year to another.

Next, I’ll convert the data into a table. To do this, click anywhere on the data set and under the Insert tab, click on the Table button. Excel should auto-detect the range but if it doesn’t, you can adjust it. In my template, I’ve named this table tblInflation. It includes the average, which will auto-update as new data is included.

Setting up the calculations

The next step involves creating the inputs, doing the lookups, and then calculating the value. There are three inputs I’ll set up: the base value, base year, and the calculation year. The base year and value will act as the starting points and will convert to a calculated value based on what the calculation year is.

To determine the impact of inflation, I’ll use the base and calculation years to find their respective index values. To do that, I’m going to use a formula that includes INDEX & MATCH. Here’s what it looks like for the base year:

=INDEX(tblInflation[Average],MATCH(BaseYear,tblInflation[Year],0),1)

In the table, I’m extracting the value from the Average column and I will be matching the BaseYear (the named range for my input) against the values in the Year column. I’ll use a similar formula to extract the index value for the calculation year. I’ve put these index values next to my inputs but will hide them later:

In 1913, the index average was 9.9 and for 2022 it was around 286.8 (based on the data that’s available thus far). If I take the index value from the calculation year and divide it by the index value from the base year, that tells me the prices are approximately 29 times what they were back then. That comes out to a percentage change of 2,797%. This leads me to the next part of the equation: determining the new price, or as I’ve referred to it in my template, the ‘Calculated Value.’ The formula for this output is as follows:

=CalculationIndex/BaseIndex*BaseValue

In the case of the above inputs, it’s doing the following calculation:

=9.88/286.75*100

This gives me a value of $2,901.40. That means something that was worth $100 in 1913 would be worth $2,901.40 in 2022. I can also do the reverse calculation. I can work backward and answer the question of how much would something in today’s dollars be worth back then. To do that, I would enter the following inputs:

The calculated value is the $100 that I started with in the previous calculation.

My templates is complete and all that’s left at this point is just to add a header and modify some formatting:

Inflation calculator template.

You can download the inflation calculator template here.


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H2Edynamic

Creating Dynamic Formulas With Index & Match

When you create a formula in Excel, your goal should always be to minimize how much you hardcode of it. By doing that, you can make your formula more dynamic and easy to update, without having to change it. Below, I’m going to show you can create dynamic formulas in Excel, using a combination of INDEX & MATCH as an example.

For this, I’m going to use Las Vegas visitor statistics. The goal is going to be to pull in certain values based on the combination of field and month. Here’s how the Excel download looks like to start with:

Excel download of Las Vegas tourist data.

If I wanted to use lookup the visitor volume for a given month, I could use the following formula (assume the data above is in columns A:N):

=INDEX(B:B,MATCH(“Visitor Volume”,A:A,0),1)

Column B is where the January data is. And in column A, where the fields are, I’m searching for ‘Visitor Volume’. My formula returns a value of 1,294,100. That is the correct result. However, the way the formula is set up right now isn’t flexible; I hardcoded the field I was looking for and I also indicated which column I wanted to pull the results from. Ideally, I should be able to have the field set up to be dynamic, and the date as well.

Using a named range for the field

I’ll begin by making the field dynamic. Rather than type in ‘Visitor Volume’, I can just reference a named range, as such:

Index and Match formula referencing a named range.

In the above example, I entered the field I wanted to lookup and created a named range for it, called ‘lookupfield’. Now, I can just reference the lookupfield. And if I change its value to another field, it will return a different value, all without needing to change the formula itself:

Index and Match formula referencing a named range.

The only thing that changed here was the value I was looking up.

Using a named range for the month

Next up, I’ll adjust the formula so that the month I’ll return values from is also dynamic. This part is a bit trickier because I need to actually move the entire column. In the current formula, I’m referencing column B (which relates to the January values). But if I want to get the values for February, then it needs to change to column D, and to column F if I want March’s data, and so on.

Using the OFFSET function can be useful here. Rather than picking a specific range, I just start with the first column (A). The second argument in the OFFSET function pertains to the number of rows to move. Since I don’t want to my move my range up or down, I leave this as 0. The next argument is the number of columns I want to move. This is going to depend on where the month value is. Here again, I’ll create a named range. This time, I’ll call it ‘lookupmonth’, where I will specify the month I want to look at. In this spreadsheet, the months are just the first days of the month (e.g. Jan 2021 is 1/1/2021). I will need to use the MATCH function again, this time searching for this value within the row that contains the months (this is row 7 in my Excel sheet). Here’s what my formula will look like, fully dynamic:

=INDEX(OFFSET(A:A,0,MATCH(lookupmonth,7:7,0)-1),MATCH(lookupfield,A:A,0),1)

I add the -1 at the end of the columns argument because I’m already starting at the first column and it should be removed from the number of columns I want to move to the right. Here’s how the formula looks like with the two named ranges (highlighted in yellow):

Index and Match formula referencing two named ranges.

Now, I can change both the field and the month, and my formula will automatically update:

Index and Match formula referencing two named ranges.

The important thing to note here is that the named ranges need to be exact matches for the MATCH functions to work properly. Even an extra space will result in the formula not returning the correct value. One thing you may want to consider is creating a drop-down list for the available options to prevent the chance of someone making a typo and entering an invalid option.


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vlookup1

3 Reasons You Should Still Use VLOOKUP

Many people will tell you that you should use INDEX/MATCH instead of VLOOKUP or that you should use a new function like XLOOKUP instead. But you shouldn’t be so quick to ditch arguably the most popular function on Excel as it’s still very useful. Below are just three reasons why VLOOKUP is still incredibly valuable:

1. It’s really quick to set up

If you’re using a combination of INDEX/MATCH, you’re going to have to use two functions, correctly set them up and nest one inside the other. Especially if you’re not used to it, it can take some time to set it up. Sure, it’s not like it’s going to take hours or even minutes to do, but if you need a quick lookup and VLOOKUP can do the job, why not just use it? Here’s how quickly it takes to set it up:

In the above example, I do a VLOOKUP in about five seconds. If you’re setting up INDEX/MATCH, you might still be trying to figure out which column to use for your MATCH argument. Being able to do VLOOKUP without almost thinking is what makes it such a great function, its speed is through the roof. Since you know the first column of your range is where you’re looking up values, it simplifies the process of selecting the columns and then you’re just counting how many columns over you’re extracting data from.

A couple of ways I expedited the formula above is by not typing out the entire function name (just entering VL and then tab to autocomplete the name), using 0/1 instead of typing out True/False and by not closing the last “)” as Excel will automatically do this for you.

Sure, it won’t work in all scenarios such as if you need to go left, that’s a well-known limitation of VLOOKUP. But as long as that’s not the case, there’s really no reason you need to bother with INDEX/MATCH when VLOOKUP will do the job. I’ve been using Excel for decades and I still love to use it when I can because it’s so easy to set up.

2. VLOOKUP is very versatile and will work on old versions of Excel

VLOOKUP may not be able to go left, but it can do wildcard searches and it can work if you need to pull the closest value — this is really useful if you’re dealing with tax brackets or anywhere that you’re looking for the closest value without going over (e.g. where you set the last argument to TRUE to look for approximate matches). While many people may use it strictly for exact matches, VLOOKUP is much more powerful.

And here again, using VLOOKUP in these situations is likely going to be no more difficult than the alternatives. While the temptation may be to use an exciting new function like XLOOKUP, the one big disadvantage is that it’s not available on older versions of Excel. With VLOOKUP, even if you’re working on a version that’s 20 years old you won’t have to worry about whether the formula will work.

3. Ease of use makes it ideal for training novice users and making templates with

Not only is VLOOKUP easy to set up, but it’s easy to understand compared to other, more complicated functions. If you’re making a template or need to train users, you don’t want to worry about them knowing complex formulas, especially when it involves nesting functions. Or telling them about a formula that may not work on their version of Excel. VLOOKUP’s also a good stepping stone for beginners to get them accustomed to how Excel formulas work.

Complex formulas are easy to break and harder for inexperienced users to fix. That’s why VLOOKUP’s ease of use is a key reason it’s worth using. If you’ve ever had to fix someone else’s formulas, you can definitely appreciate that keeping formulas as simple as they need to be can go a long way in making it easy to maintain and fix a spreadsheet.


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failing grade

Why You Shouldn’t Bother With Excel’s New XMATCH Function

Last year, Excel released some updates including the unveiling of XLOOKUP as well as XMATCH. In this post, I’ll show you how to use the XMATCH function and also why you may not have a need for it.

For this example, I’m going to use a list of the stocks with the largest market caps on the U.S. exchanges as of Feb.7, 2020. Here’s what my data looks like:

Top stocks listed on the NYSE and NASDAQ as sorted by market cap.

XMATCH can achieve the same results as MATCH does when looking for data, but if you wanted the same functionality you could just use MATCH. Instead, let’s start by looking at some of the other things that Microsoft claims XMATCH can do.

XMATCH is not a suitable COUNTIF replacement

One of the things that XMATCH can supposedly do is when you’re looking up numbers, it will count the number of times that values fall above or below a threshold. For this example, we will look at the number of stocks on this list with market caps of more than $1 trillion.

To do this, you would use $1,000,000,000,000 as your lookup value and set the third argument of the function, called match mode, to 1, which looks at an exact match or the next larger item. Here’s how the formula looks like:

Using XMATCH to do a COUNTIF.

Where L6 is the cell that has the number that XMATCH will search for (1,000,000). This formula correctly gives me five matches that are more than $1 trillion that appear on the list. However, if I include the header, the results change:

Using XMATCH to do a COUNTIF.

This leads me to believe that it’s still looking for the closest match and not really counting the number of values that meet the criteria. And indeed, when I changed some of the market cap numbers so that they were more than $1 trillion, XMATCH didn’t compute them correctly since they weren’t in descending order. I’m assuming what Microsoft is implying with XMATCH is that if your data is sorted in ascending order, it would be able to tell you where the smallest value is that meets your criteria. For example, The sixth row in the data set was $1.02 trillion and that was the lowest entry that was more than $1 trillion. Technically, if the data was in descending order then everything above that will be more than $1 trillion.

However, that’s very different from actually counting the numbers over that threshold. And that’s why COUNTIF is still vastly superior to XMATCH. Here’s how the two functions worked when I added four additional entries (not in order) of more than $1 trillion, bringing my tally to nine:

XMATCH vs COUNTIF.

In the COUNTIF function, it still correctly counted nine instances where there was more than $1 trillion on the list. XMATCH, meanwhile, continued to point to the sixth row.

These issues are confirmed when we look at the number of values below $1 trillion:

XMATCH vs COUNTIF.

The -1 argument in match mode is the opposite of 1, and it looks at the exact match or next smaller item. However, the results, as you can see, were very different and not what I would have expected. It appeared to point me to the closest number to $1 trillion without going over. COUNTIF, meanwhile, continued to correctly count the number of items that were below $1 trillion. And with 1,000 items in my data set, it makes sense that 991 were below if nine were above the threshold. Unfortunately, that same logic doesn’t work with XMATCH.

As a replacement for COUNTIF, XMATCH gets a fail as it’s clear that it’s not really counting the number of instances. Only under very specific circumstances would the function do that, such as if the data was in descending order. And even then, you’d still need to do a calculation for the header or if you’re looking at the number of items below a threshold. It’s more trouble than it’s worth and COUNTIF has the benefit of also being available in older versions of Excel, even going back to Excel 2000. That’s important if you’ll ever need to work on an older version of Excel.

Using XMATCH to search for text is not any better than using MATCH

If you’re using XMATCH for matching text, it won’t be able to count the instances but you can use it to find the first instance of it. Some companies trade under multiple tickers and you’ll notice Google’s parent company Alphabet shows up twice in this list. Here’s what happens when I try to use the XMATCH function to find the first instance:

XMATCH for a text search.

I’m using a question mark after the text as that’s what Microsoft instructs users to do when looking for partial matches. However, if I ignore that advice and use an asterisk and specify I’m using a wildcard match, then it appears to fix the issue:

XMATCH for a text search.

You may be wondering how the regular MATCH function did:

XMATCH vs MATCH.

Besides changing the last argument, the functions are nearly identical in how they’re used to find partial matches.

Let’s compare how the functions work when we’re looking at exact matches. For this example, I renamed the multiple Alphabet names so that they only spell out Alphabet with no mention of share classes, e.g. so they’re exactly the same. Here’s how XMATCH does on a simple match calculation:

Comparing MATCH to XMATCH on exact matches.

Here again, there’s little distinction between the two functions.

Microsoft also advertises that XMATCH can be used in an INDEX/MATCH combination, but even that seems kind of pointless.

Using XMATCH with INDEX makes little sense

Let’s use these functions to grab the intersect between the company name and its dividend yield. The name is in column B while the dividend yield is in column G. All the headers are in the first row. Here’s how the formula looks like with the use of XMATCH:

Using XMATCH with INDEX.

In this example, XMATCH correctly pulled the right percentage for Visa’s dividend yield of 0.59%.

That would be really, really cool if the MATCH function didn’t already do the exact same thing. By getting rid of the X in the XMATCH function, thus making it just a MATCH function, and adding a 0 for the third argument, I get the same exact result:

XMATCH vs MATCH when used with INDEX.

XMATCH doesn’t improve upon anything when it involves the INDEX and MATCH combination. We’re talking a slight change to the syntax, that’s about it. And again, from a functionality point of view, there’s just no reason to swap a new function in when the existing one works just as well, especially since there’s no backwards compatibility on older versions of Excel for XMATCH.

What XMATCH can do well

Everything that the MATCH function can do, XMATCH can do as well. That’s the good news. There is, however, one thing that XMATCH can do better, and that’s look for data in the reverse order. Here’s a simple example of how both functions work when we’re looking for the first value that contains the word Alphabet:

XMATCH versus MATCH.

Both functions correctly yield the same results. Again, the change here is mainly to do with syntax. Under the new XMATCH, if I set the third argument (match mode) to 0 and look for an exact match, I’ll get an error. But if I set it to 2, which is wildcard character match, it will produce the correct result: Alphabet, which first shows up on the fifth row. However, it’s easy to see how this will confuse users who are familiar with MATCH and just use 0 for the third argument, which will also produce the correct result in this case. This is another example of where the syntax has gotten more complicated and not given the user any additional advantage.

The one exception to that, however, is if you want to do a search in the reverse order. MATCH currently will go from the first row and work its way down. Once there’s a match, it will stop there. Here’s how the XMATCH function performs when we’re doing a last-to-first search, as indicated in the fourth argument where the value is -1:

Doing a reverse search on XMATCH.

This time XMATCH does correctly pull the sixth row, which is where Alphabet would first show up if we were looking from the bottom and moving up. MATCH, unfortunately, doesn’t have the option to do that and a user would have to rearrange their data to get the same result.

The reverse-order search is the only advantage I can see from testing out XMATCH. Unfortunately, the new function doesn’t add anything significantly new and at worse, it can lead to incorrect results, especially if you’re planning to use it to replace COUNTIF.

Why learning new functions may not be worthwhile, at least not initially

It’s possible that in future updates the XMATCH function will work better but for now, there’s not a whole lot of reason to use it. One of the biggest disadvantages of new functions is that they won’t be helpful to you if you’re working on an older file. It’s not uncommon for people to be working on Excel versions that are more than 10 years old. Not everyone needs the latest-and-greatest version, and mastering a new function may not prove to be worthwhile, especially when older functions work just as well, if not better.


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excel-1771393_640

How to Use the New XLOOKUP Function

Forget using VLOOKUP or even INDEX and MATCH, Excel users can now use XLOOKUP!

Knowing how to use VLOOKUP has become almost a basic skill for Excel users. If you’re an intermediate or advanced user, you probably use INDEX & MATCH because of the limitations that are inherent with just using VLOOKUP. Since VLOOKUP can only return values to the right of what the value that you’ve found, it’s a less-than-optimal formula. You can either re-arrange your data, or you can use INDEX & MATCH. It’s a more flexible solution, but it’s also not ideal. After all, you’re now combining multiple Excel functions into one.

Enter: XLOOKUP

XLOOKUP is the solution that Excel users have been looking for…for decades. What the function does is allow you to do what was possible with INDEX & MATCH all in one simple formula.

Let’s go over it with some sample data on the world’s largest cities:

list of the largest cities in the world
Data courtesy of Wikipedia

Doing a regular lookup vs XLOOKUP

Here’s how my formulas would look like if I wanted to return the Country using a value from the City field:

vlookup and index match doing a regular lookup

In the above example, E5 refers to the capital city value. While the INDEX & MATCH combination works, it may not be the easiest for novice users who aren’t comfortable with nesting functions. Here’s how the same calculation would look using XLOOKUP:

xlookup doing a lookup

It’s a much simpler solution. The first argument takes the value you want to look for, followed by the range where you want to search for it, and then the range that you want to extract the corresponding value from. There’s no need to enter a column number the way you do with VLOOKUP, nor is there a need to add another function.

There are optional arguments you can use including how you want to match (see the next section). You can also choose the direction that the lookup goes, in case you don’t want to look in the same order as your data:

xlookup argument to search data

Using wildcards in XLOOKUP

Like with the other functions, you can also incorporate wildcards into XLOOKUP as well. Wildcards work similarly among all three formulas, but the key difference is that XLOOKUP has multiple arguments for its fourth (optional) argument which dictates how you want the data extracted. Entering ‘2’ will tell the function that you want to use a wildcard. Below are the options for the match_mode argument (optional):

  • 0: exact match
  • -1: exact match or next smaller item
  • 1: exact match or next larger item
  • 2: wildcard character match

Here’s a comparison of how you’d get the same result using all three functions using a wildcard:

using wildcards in xlookup vlookup and index match

The logic is the same in the sense that you’ll want to use a wildcard character like * around the term you’re trying to find a match of. In the above example, I used the * around the entire wildcard, and it returned the population for New Delhi in that example.

XLOOKUP here is actually a bit more complicated as with the other functions you didn’t need to specify that you were using a wildcard. Taking out the ‘2’ from the argument would result in XLOOKUP yielding an #N/A error. However, it could be that doing this will make it more efficient.

Finding the closest matches

One of the other options for the matches mentioned above were finding the next smaller or next larger matching items if an exact one wasn’t found. A good example of this is where you’re looking for something like a tax rate where you won’t find every possible income level that someone might enter and you need to ensure that it falls into the correct range.

Here are some sample categories:

sample tax categories and tiers

If I entered an amount of $17,000, it should put me in Tier 3, since that would be the threshold I would have reached under this hierarchy. Here’s an example of how this would be calculated in the three functions:

doing a lookup for tax brackets using xlookup vlookup and index match

All three formulas were able to return the same tier correctly, however, INDEX & MATCH is a bit more cumbersome again due to having multiple functions within it.

The advantage that XLOOKUP has here is that I can select the category that’s either directly below or above the amount I enter, effectively rounding up or down, simply by changing the fourth argument between a ‘1’ (exact or next largest item) to a ‘-1’ (exact or next smallest item).

This is not possible with VLOOKUP, and in order for this to be able to work with INDEX & MATCH, I’d have to change the order from ascending to descending. But what’s impressive is that XLOOKUP is able to find the correct category even if the values are not in any sort of order at all.

Have a look at what happens when I try to completely destroy any sort of hierarchy:

tax brackets sorted into tiers

This is an absolutely dreadful hierarchy that’s not consistent in any way possible. Do the formulas have any chance of getting it right? Here’s how the results looked:

xlookup index and match doing a lookup for next smallest category

Both the INDEX & MATCH as well as the XLOOKUP formulas were looking for the closest matches. INDEX & MATCH returned the lowest tier, which technically was incorrect since $17,000 came in higher than $10,000, which was Tier 2. And XLOOKUP, despite the mess of a hierarchy, was still able to pull out the correct group.

Ultimately, you never want to organize your data in such a horrible way, but this helps demonstrate just how strong XLOOKUP is, to be able to still come out with the correct calculation.

And just for fun, let’s flip the formulas around, this time looking for an exact match or the next largest category:

xlookup index and match doing a lookup for next largest category

There wasn’t a Tier 3 in my incomplete table, but XLOOKUP still found the next largest Tier which was at $25,000 – Tier 5. INDEX & Match found its way into Tier 7.

Creating a dynamic formula

One of the great things about INDEX & MATCH is that you can index an entire database and then dynamically change which column you want to extract from based on a selection and not have to update the range in the formula. For example:

creating a dynamic formula using index match

Why would you want to do this? The beauty of it is that you can change what value you extract based on your selection. Since you’re doing a match, it will look for that field and adjust the column accordingly using the OFFSET function:

You can do this in XLOOKUP as well, and here’s how that formula would compare to index and match:

xlookup index match doing dynamic formulas

The XLOOKUP formula is a bit more complicated as it needs two ranges, and thus, two OFFSET functions are needed. In the INDEX & MATCH combination, only one OFFSET function is needed as it only requires a column number for one of its arguments. Either way, you still need to be familiar with using OFFSET so it’s probably not a dealbreaker if XLOOKUP is a bit longer.

Great, so how do I get XLOOKUP?

There are two things you need to be able to get access to XLOOKUP:

  • Office 365
  • Enrollment in the Office 365 Insiders Program

It’s not an exclusive club or anything, all you have to do is to follow the steps outlined here. By selecting the ‘Insider’ option rather than Monthly, you’ll get more frequent updates and changes. Once you’ve got it set up, then it’s just a matter of waiting for the updates to roll out to you. There’s, unfortunately, no notification, I’d just suggest checking every now and then to see if XLOOKUP shows up in your functions list.

Caveat

One of the things you should remember, however, is that while it may be great to use XLOOKUP, old versions of Excel won’t have access to this flashy new function. And so it’s important to still be familiar with using VLOOKUP and INDEX and MATCH.


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Formatting and Removing Errors and Zero Values

Often times in a data set you’ll have to handle with errors that can wreck your data, especially if you need to do any analysis on it. There are several ways that you can handle errors so that they don’t show up in your data.

IFERROR

The first method is by using the IFERROR function, which allows you to easily replace the error with whatever you want in its place. If you want a numerical value, you may want to put in a 0, otherwise you can just leave it blank. 
I’ve purposely added various types of errors to my data set:
Here is one of the formulas that’s causing an error:
=VLOOKUP(D7,L:L,1,FALSE)
In the above example, I could use the formula =IFERROR(VLOOKUP(D7,L:L,1,FALSE),””) to replace the error with a blank. I could also put a 0 in its place instead of the “”. 
ISERROR

In older versions of Excel (2003 and earlier), the IFERROR function is not available. However, what you can use is a combination of the IF and ISERROR functions. To recreate the same formula as above, we can use the following:
=IF(ISERROR(VLOOKUP(D7,L:L,1,FALSE)),””,VLOOKUP(D7,L:L,1,FALSE)
The disadvantage of this method is you have to repeat your original argument. First, you are checking if the value is an error, if it isn’t, then you have to repeat the formula again to save the value. It’s not terribly efficient, and likely why we saw the IFERROR function introduced in newer versions of Excel.
Using the IFERROR or IF(ISERROR()) functions can be useful for eliminating errors, but sometimes it may not be helpful for dealing with specific ones. For example, if your cell is blank or it has an error and is made to look blank, you won’t be able to tell the difference just by looking at it. The danger is that you may assume it’s a different type of error.
ISNA

What you can also use is the ISNA() function, which can tell you if the cell returns the #N/A error. This way you can trap this error specifically, rather than everything that can be captured by the ISERROR() function.
Getting Rid of Zeros

If you’ve used a lot of error-handling functions and replace your errors with zeros, you could up with a lot of zero values on your spreadsheet:
The problem if you have a lot of zeros on your spreadsheet, is it can sometimes be a distraction away from what you really want to see – the non-zero values. There are two ways you can get rid of the eyesore:
1. Change the format to Accounting. Doing this will remove the zero values and replace them with a dash, which makes it a bit easier to skip over when doing a review:
However, you may not want to use the Accounting format, and that leads me to the other option:
2. Conditional Formatting. Refer to this post on how to setup rules for this. What I normally do in these cases is set the zero value cells to a light gray color font so that they do not attract your attention:
Common Types of Errors

Here’a list of some of the common types of errors you’ll find in Excel:
#REF: This is an error that you’ll incur if your range doesn’t go far enough and the error relates to your reference. For example, consider a VLOOKUP formula that extracts from column number five but you only specified a range that had four columns, that would result in a REF# error.
#N/A: You’ll get this error if your VLOOKUP or MATCH formula is correct, but the value you’re looking up isn’t found, and hence, not available. However, there’s other contexts it can apply to, and it just means that it wasn’t able to find the value you were looking for. 
#VALUE: This error normally shows up when there is an issue with your actual calculation. For instance, if you’re trying to multiply a number by a field that has text. 
These are just a few examples of the errors that you’ll encounter, but these are also likely the most common that you’ll come across.

VLOOKUP vs INDEX and MATCH

Lookups are popular in Excel and here I’ll look at the more popular one – VLOOKUP. However it’s not always the best option for doing lookups in Excel, and I’ll show you why.

VLOOKUP
Exact Matches
What Vlookup does is look for a value you have selected, and if it finds it, will return a value from the same table that corresponds to the matched value.
One of the key limitations of VLOOKUP is it cannot return results left of the matched item, only to the right. This is where I recommend the INDEX & MATCH formula (see later down), as that combination will allow you to go left or right and won’t require you to re-arrange your worksheet just to accommodate a formula.
Example 1

If I wanted to lookup value B in the table, I would enter the following formula:
=VLOOKUP(A7,A1:D4,2,false)
This will equal the value in cell B2, the number 2. If I changed the column number from 2 to 3:
=VLOOKUP(A7,A1:D4,3,false)
It would return the number 22, or cell C2.
If I selected column 5, it would result in an error because my table range (A1:D4) only contains four columns.
If instead of looking up letters in column A I wanted to lookup numbers in column B, I would have to change my table range from A1:D4 to B1:D4, and it would look like this:
=VLOOKUP(A7,B1:D4,3,false)
I would also have to change the value in A7 so that it is a number. But again, if I change the formula this way I cannot move to the left and find out what letter corresponds to my value. Not without re-arranging my table.
Note that before I changed the range column 3 related to column C, now it relates to D because the table has shifted. Column 3 relates to the column number in the table, not in the spreadsheet.
                                                                                   
Approximate Matches

The one strength of VLOOKUP is determining what category or range a value falls into. By changing the last argument in the formula to true, Vlookup no longer looks for an exact match. Why would this be useful? Let’s say you have the first 3 letters/numbers of a postal/zip code. Because there are so many combinations possible, you would have to list each one out to find an exact match. 

With VLOOKUP’s approximate match, it will determine the closest match (e.g. shipping rate codes won’t spell out an entire postal/zip code, but will often cite a range). Similarly, if you have tax brackets and need to know what bracket an income level falls into, this is where it would be useful as well. The one caveat is that the values in the table must be in ascending order.
Hlookup is a parallel formula to Vlookup, only that it looks horizontally rather than vertically.
Example 2
In this example, my formula looks like this:
=VLOOKUP(A7,A1:B4,2,TRUE)
The argument at the end has changed from FALSE to TRUE, meaning an exact match is no longer needed. If I had set it to TRUE, it would return an error. But in this case, it returns cell B2, or 2. The reason for this, is because the values are in ascending order, it correctly identifies that V3A falls between V2B and V3C. Since it has not yet reached V3C, it belongs to V2B. If V3A is changed to V4D, X, Y, or a value greater than V4D, it will equal 4, as it will recognize that it belongs to the highest category.

INDEX & MATCH
I mentioned using INDEX & MATCH will give you a more versatile formula. This formula is structured differently than VLOOKUP in that it will pull the coordinates from the row and column number you specify. The match function will allow you to determine the proper row number based on your search criteria, and the column number you can decide – whether it is left or right of the matched value, it doesn’t matter here.
Example 3
Going back to the Example 1, I’ll show you how using the INDEX & MATCH formula will be able to now move to the left and pull values from column A:
=INDEX(A1:D4,MATCH(A7,B1:B4,0),1)
The range is unchanged, but the second argument in the INDEX formula (relating to row number) is calculated using the MATCH formula. The MATCH formula looks for the value in A7 (1), in the range B1:B4 and returns the row number. The 0 in the MATCH formula represents an exact match. After the MATCH formula, the last argument in the INDEX formula is the column number, which has been set to 1, which will return the values in column A. The advantage of using INDEX and MATCH as you can see is you can change the column number to 1, 2, 3, or 4. Similarly, if you wanted to look up the values in column C instead of B, you would change the formula as follows:
=INDEX(A1:D4,MATCH(A7,C1:C4,0),1)
In this case you don’t need to change the column number, it doesn’t move since you don’t have to rearrange the table.
In short, when you should use either formula:
Looking up a value – INDEX & MATCH*
Finding a value based on ranges – VLOOKUP
*unless you just want a quick formula and the values you need are to the right