When you've got kids, multitasking reaches a new level. Besides your own busy life, you've got their agendas to supervise. Adding play dates, tests, homework assignments, bake sales, chores and doctor appointments into your calendar of business meetings, errands and social events is a recipe for conflict. And speaking of recipes, dinner also needs to be planned. To make the juggle less of a struggle, you need high-tech help. These free sanity-saving apps are better than a fridge door full of reminders. They'll help you organize and orchestrate everything while also solving constant daily dilemmas -- such as what to make for dinner -- all from the palm of your hand. For each of these apps, premium upgrades are available with more features and no ads.
Cozi Family Organizer App (iOS, Android, Blackberry)
Suzy has soccer practice; Johnny has karate; your spouse is working late. You have a doctor’s appointment. With this workhorse app, you manage a central calendar from your smartphone or tablet computer and easily track what everyone is doing and where they need to be. Using a designated family password, you can send reminders to family members via text or e-mail so no one misses an important event. Add or edit an appointment that everyone can see and set the app to repeat reminders as needed. Cozi works for all sorts of families. If you’ve got shared custody, for example, you can give your ex a password so (s)he can see when they get the kids.
Food on the Table (iOS, Android)
“What’s for dinner?” This universal question can cause a panic attack for busy parents, especially when it’s 5 p.m. and everyone’s starving. Enter Food on the Table. With this meal-planning app, you can quickly create menus by choosing entrees to prepare from a database of delicious-looking chef-approved recipes. You can also save money on groceries by using the recipe search function: Plan money-saving meals based on sale items at your local supermarket. (There are more than 16,000 grocery stores listed in the app’s database.) Just tap on a discounted item from a participating store and search for a recipe featuring the ingredient. Recipe items are automatically added to your virtual grocery list, which you can e-mail to whoever will be doing the grocery run. You can also add your favorite family recipes to the database. While shopping, check-off ingredients in the app as you find them.
Having kids do weekly chores, such as unloading the dishwasher and taking out the trash, isn’t just helpful, it teaches children how to contribute. Still, making charts to track who does what and when can be a chore in itself. Fortunately, this virtual, portable version makes it easy, even if you have a large brood. With iAllowance, you can assign and monitor each child’s family responsibilities and reward completed tasks with stars or real money. Kids can use the app to check off their chores as they complete them. Payouts can be divvied into virtual piggy banks to categorize your child’s expenses, such as clothing, cellphone and general spending. Kids can watch their dollars or rewards add up. You can also assign an interest rate to the virtual piggy banks, to teach the value of saving.
Quick Scan (iOS)
Families on a budget can use this price comparison app to find the best price for just about anything by scanning or typing in a product’s commercial bar code. The app will search prices and product details from more than 1,000 online shops such as Amazon, WalMart, eBay, BestBuy, and local retailers so you can quickly see if you’re getting the best deal -- and where it’s available if you’re not. Moreover, you can check reviews, add to wish lists and make purchases right from the app. The Pro version ($0.99) supports both barcodes and QR codes.
Errands To-Do List (iOS)
Making a to-do list and doing the satisfying cross-off is a good way to make sure all of your family’s errands get done. But a virtual one, like Errands To-Do List, has its advantages. For one, because it’s on your phone instead of paper, it’s not easily lost. You can also organize tasks into customizable folders, such as “Work,” “Home” and “Kids,” prioritize tasks, schedule them and set reminder alerts. The app makes it easy to see what’s top priority. Just create a virtual “Focus” folder to star items that need to be done now, such as “Pick up Sam after school.” When an errand is complete, you can make an electronic checkmark. Done!