How to Share a Family Shopping List by Keeping It in the Cloud

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If you live with other people, you know the problem: On Wednesday you notice that you’re out of milk, but you’ve forgotten about that by the time your spouse goes shopping on Friday. Or you write a note on that pad on the fridge, but your handwriting is illegible. Or what if the two of you go shopping at different stores and both buy milk?

We’re used to living with these problems, but we don’t have to any more. Cloud-based shopping list services combined with smartphone apps ease shopping chores. When you use your smartphone to mark what needs to be bought, the rest of the family will see it on their phones as well.

Grocery Gadgets: On the Web and In Your Phone

At least you can do that with the service I’m recommending, Grocery Gadgets. You can access the service on your browser for free, but that’s of limited use because the web site isn’t mobile-friendly. You probably don’t want to create this week’s shopping list on a computer, and you certainly don’t want to take one shopping.

So you’re best off using Grocery Gadgets on your smartphone. And while that’s not free, it’s not exactly expensive, either. The iPhone app costs $4; the Android one, $3. These apps are almost functionally identical, although the iPhone one is prettier to look at. Apps are also available for BlackBerry, Nokia, and Windows Phone handsets.

(LIST: 50 Best iPhone Apps of 2011)

There are free apps, as well, but they’re too severely crippled to be useful. There are also no ongoing charges for the service. Grocery Gadgets syncs the data on your phone to the data in the cloud. You and your family will have the same shopping list on all of your phones.

Grocery Gadgets has one other fault I want to bring up right now: The user interface isn’t as obvious as it should be, especially if you’re moving between the website and a phone app. For instance, the web version has a “Favorites” list which contains every item on every other list. That list exists on the iPhone or Android Apps, though the word Favorites never appears.

Lists, Stores, Categories, and Aisles

Although you’ll probably use Grocery Gadgets almost exclusively on your phone, it’s easier to initially set it up on the web. Either way, you can create any number of lists, and assign any number of items (milk, oranges, bread, and so on) to them. You can assign an item to one, any, or all of the shopping lists. Most of the information about a particular item (name, barcode, and so on) is universal to all of the lists that item is on, but the quantity setting (how much you need to buy) is shopping-list specific.

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There are at least two approaches to organizing lists. Grocery Gadgets recommends you create lists for types of stores—grocery stores, drugstores, hardware stores, and so on. This way, the stores become subcategories of the lists. You can set up the program so that, if you need milk, it will appear on shopping lists for all of your grocery stores, but a store-brand cereal will only appear for the store that carries it.

web view--picking lists

But I prefer a simpler approach. I create a separate list for each store. I lose some functionality—the quantity of an item becomes specific to a store rather than to all stores where I might buy it—but the simplicity is worth that minor loss.

Step by Step

Until you get the hang of them, the phone versions of Grocery Gadgets can be a bit confusing. So I’m going to walk you through some basics. The Help web page can give you more details.

On the phone, each shopping list has two modes: Prepare and Shop. The Prepare mode (below, left) shows all items on that list, and allows you to set the quantity. The Shop mode (below, right) displays only the items where the quantity is greater than zero.

Prepare View

You add an item to the shopping list in Prepare mode. Press the + button in the upper-right corner to go to what the web version calls Favorites—a list of all items on all other lists. Select desired items by tapping the circle to the left of each desired item’s name. Then, if you have an iPhone, press the Add button in the upper-right corner; for Android, press the Insert button in the lower-left.


If the item you want to add isn’t on the Favorites list, press the Add New button in the upper-right corner (iPhone) or the Menu button, then Add Product (Android). (In case you haven’t already guessed, the button in the upper-right corner on the iPhone version changes with the context.) Up will come a dialog box for entering a new product.

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You can also remove an item from a shopping list from the list’s Prepare mode by lowering the quantity to zero and confirming the deletion. The item remains on the Favorites list and on any other shopping lists you’ve put it on.

When you arrive at the store, press the Shop button on the top of the screen to change to Shop mode. When you buy an item, check it. The checked items will move to the bottom of the list.


When you’re finished, tap the red Reset button in the lower-right corner (iPhone), or press the Menu button, then tap Reset (Android). Select Shopping Done.

Bells and Whistles in the Grocery Bag

Grocery Gadgets has more features than I can adequately cover here. You can manually reorder the items on a shopping list, then switch back and forth between the order you created and the alphabetized version. You can assign categories to items. There are tools to help you analyze your food spending, and access to coupons that might help you keep costs down.

Your phone’s camera can come into play, as well. You can photograph an item in your kitchen and attach that photo to the listing. And if you don’t want to type in a product’s name, you can photograph its barcode. This doesn’t always work, however. I tried it with Trader Joe’s Honey Nut O’s cereal, and Grocery Gadgets identified the product as a 2005 Toyota Tundra Pickup Fog Lamp Assembly (you don’t want to eat that for breakfast).

Like virtually any tool that can help you organize your life, Grocery Gadgets takes some setup time. But once you get it going, you won’t know how you managed without it.

MORE: How to Organize Your Digital Photos

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