Home management online: my favorite tools

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by Tsh

Tsh is the founder of this blog and is currently traveling around the world with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

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Photo by David Joyce

As I mentioned before, I use both paper and plastic to manage my home – both have their beauty and place in the home.  There’s no right way to use the plethora of resources available, but as I implement the trial-and-error method to refine my productivity, I’ve learned what works best for me.

Here are the online apps, tools, and sites I use on a daily basis.

Email

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I love Gmail.  Up until a few months ago, I had been using iMail for several years, the standard email client on my Mac.  Switching to Gmail was a breath of fresh air, and I haven’t looked back.

Just a few perks:

  • You can both read and write from a ton of email addresses.  I didn’t have to switch any email addresses to use the Gmail platform.
  • It has a stellar “search” function – it will retrieve emails that contain any keyword you search for.  I have yet to misplace an email.
  • It uses labels instead of files.  You don’t file away emails, you label and archive them.  Sounds confusing, but it’s really much more streamlined than a filing system, where you cross your fingers and hope later to find an important email.
  • It uses filters.  If you want certain emails to bypass the inbox all together, you can simply set up a filter and tell Gmail what to do when you get an email with a certain subject, from a particular email address, or whatever.  For example, I have all my email notifications for my ebook sales immediately archived with the label “ebook.”
  • If you use Firefox, there are also tons of add-ons for customizing your email experience.

How this makes my job easier: There are a myriad of ways that Gmail helps – one is that I “star” any items that need more of a two-sentence reply, and I archive it.  My inbox remains empty, and when I sit down to do my correspondence, I click on “starred items” – there are the emails that need my reply.

To-Do List

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The main reason I use Remember the Milk, an online to-do list program, is because of its Gmail add-on.  I’ve set up a to-do list on the right-hand side of my inbox, so when I remember something I need to do on the computer, I can quickly jot it down in my email inbox and move on.  I can also tag items, link email addresses to tasks that involve one, and prioritize jobs in order of importance.  It’s simple and easy-to-read.  And it kindly tells you when something is overdue.

How this makes my job easier: I keep my Remember the Milk list exclusively for computer-related tasks.  I don’t put “go to the grocery store” or “laundry” on this list.  This is for things related to blogging, online home management, and email correspondence.  I still use paper for my master list, so when I have a list of tasks in Remember the Milk, I simply jot down a reminder to check my online list.

Menu Planning

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You already know how I use Google Calendar to plan out my meals a month at a time.  And when I find recipes online, I bookmark them in my Delicious Cookbook, using their handy tag system.  Lots of recipe sites have their own bookmarking system, but I like using Delicious because I can put every recipe I like from the internet in one place.

How this makes my job easier: With the handy tag system, I can quickly look up recipes by ingredient, meal, ease, or whatever I choose.  And with Google Calendar, I can request an email sent to my Gmail account to tell me what’s on the docket for that evening’s dinner.  Oh, and because Firefox is my browser of choice, I use the Delicious toolbar, making bookmarking a snap.

Banking


Click here to start saving with ING Direct!

The majority of our banking is with Capital One 360, an exclusively online bank.  They have excellent interest rates on both checking and savings, and they are extremely friendly on the phone and easy to work with.  We still have our brick-and-mortar bank, but most of our funds are transferred to Capital One 360.

How this makes my job easier: I can have an infinite amount of savings accounts with Capital One 360.  This means we have a savings account for Christmas, giving, vacation, and more.  I have funds automatically transferred from our checking to these separate accounts, making maintaining our sinking funds a breeze.

Money Management

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It’s no secret that I love Pear Budget.  There are a number of online budgeting tools, but Pear Budget is my personal favorite for its ease of use and its pleasant-looking interface.  Plus, I love supporting cottage industries, and this budgeting software system is run from home by a great couple with three little kids.

How this makes my job easier: In short, it’s not a pain to budget.  And that’s a big deal.  Pear Budget also uses a handy tagging system, so that you can enter in multiple accounts, stores, or types of purchases (cash or debit, for instance).  And you can run reports and print off master budgets.

Food Tracking

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This has been a weak point of mine lately, and I hope to get back on the ball with this.  Food tracking is an excellent way to maintain a healthy diet (and to lose baby weight).  I’ve used My Food Diary in the past, as well as Spark People.  Right now I’m testing out My Daily Plate, and it’s okay.  I wish there was a system out there that made it easier to log in food.  Know of one?

How this makes my job easier: When I use it effectively, food tracking keeps me accountable to healthy eating and exercise – two ingredients for a well-balanced mama.

Music

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I love playing the “radio” online via Last.fm (and my user name is simplemom, in case you want to friend me).  Simply enter in an artist or a genre of music, and it will play a station of music similar to your request.  Playlist is also good for making, well, playlists, and of course, iTunes is wonderful for downloading music to keep.  I also listen to some of my favorite podcasts by downloading them in iTunes.

How this makes my job easier: I can listen to all kinds of music without commercials, Last.fm usually picks music I like, and if I don’t, I can simply hit “next” and move on.  And because I live overseas, I can keep up with music trends a bit easier.  And I love playing music in my home.

Communication

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Skype is our lifesaver, mostly because we live overseas.  But it’s still a ridiculously handy tool for keeping up with anyone at a distance.  My husband and I talk with our parents at least weekly, and it’s almost as though we live in different parts of the U.S., instead of different parts of the world.  I love that I can call my mom with a quick sewing question, and it hardly costs me a dime.

How this makes my job easier: We have a US-based phone number, which comes in handy when we need to call American companies, hold transcontinental business meetings, and show the grandparents the latest art project.

This is a decent summary of the digital tools I use on a daily basis.  There are many more options – almost too many, because it’s hard to narrow it down to just a few and feel satisfied.  I’ve found contentment by selecting those few tools that truly make a difference in my productivity, and then sticking with paper and pen for the rest.  I’ll share what I use for that in my next piece.

What about you?  What online tools do you love for home management?  What about apps that work for you away from the computer – anyone use an iPhone, a Blackberry, or a simple PDA for taking care of your home? I’d love to hear all your ideas.

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Comments

  1. I, too, heart pear budget, gmail and RTM. Thanks for putting this together! You gave me some new ideas and reminded me I still need to put skype on my new computer.

    Emily’s last blog post…Little Girl’s Room Makeover

  2. I have never really gotten into gmail, because I have found that Yahoo mail meets all my needs; everything that you just described for gmail I can do in yahoo. We’re definitely going to have to check out last.fm- we’ve been trying to find one of these sorts of ‘radio’ stations for a while now.

  3. FitDay.com makes food logging and exercise tracking incredibly simple. They just updated their interface and database, so it’s even easier now. Try it out!

  4. Great list! I *heart* Gmail & PearBudget too.
    I’ve been using your Daily Docket for a couple of weeks, and using the ‘notes’ section at the bottom to track my food intake. I just haven’t come across an online version that’s simple enough, so this works great for now!

  5. Great Post! I also loove Gmail and The Daily Plate. I use Pandora.com for music but I’ll have to check out lastfm! thanks for the tips!

  6. I’m a FitDay.com’er as well–I’ve used it since my first child’s baby weight and it’s a very nicely-done interface for tracking food. Definitely worth a look!

    And thanks for this portfolio of resources. I’m a “paper and plastic” manager, too, but I’m tiptoeing more into the plastic world than I used to and I’m so pleased to find all these wonderful tools!

    Amy G.’s last blog post…So far, so good

  7. You should give Google Talk a try. My husband and I use it when ever he is overseas. As long as both parties have a gmail account, you can call or leave them voicemail messages. The quality is awesome and it is completely FREE! Love your lists!

    Nicole B’s last blog post…Garden Babies

  8. I think an online group tool could be helpful in coordinate or managing your time with family. The biggest factor here is knowing what needs to be done when interacting with a group: things like being told that kids soccer practice is on tuesday or it’s your turn for the after-game snacks. Or it’s the monthly potluck, what do you have to bring? Group coordination and planning is one of the things were just a lot of surprises come up. Sometimes you get unexpected changes in schedules or surprising announcements that change the workflow at home.

    There are many online group tools available. My company Convos offers one for free at http://www.convos.com, where you can create groups for anything.

  9. Reading this I realize I am still MUCH more of a paper girl than I thought I was! Aside from the appeal of putting pen to paper this is probably also because I (as a new mama) am just starting to really develop my own home management system. Thanks for giving me lots of places to check out as I further develop my own system! I think I am going to have to try Pear Budget and some type of food/exercise tracking system first.

    Lucie’s last blog post…Motherhood Rant: Working Mothers Are Bad And Fathers Can’t Raise Children?

  10. I do love gmail – it is great and I feel I am just beginning to uncover all of its potential. Now, I need to check out these other suggestions. Thanks.

    Debbie’s last blog post…And the Vole Award goes to…

  11. I’m a huge gmail fan too! People must think I’m a walking advertisement for them. ;) We also use skype- we don’t have a landline in our home, only cell phones, so it helps to call people using skype since I have an uncanny ability to go over my cell minutes every month. hehe

    Virginia’s last blog post…Fashion

  12. Nice list! I already use most of those tools. Something else that might be worth checking into is 43things.com. It’s for organizing and keeping track of goals and dreams. I organize my goals according to their importance and how soon I want to complete them. I like it because you can write about what you’re doing to complete the goal and you can also see what direction other people are taking to complete it. The site is also linked into 43people (people you want to meet,) 43 places (places you want to go and where you have been,” and Allconsuming.net (a place to track media consumption and rate it.) I just started tracking on allconsuming and I like it for the sake of seeing what things I let take up my time that I didn’t even enjoy.

  13. I loved these tips.! Very useful. Stumbled. ;-)

  14. avatar
    Anne Marie says:

    I am in the same boat as some other previous readers. I love Gmail, and its ability to build on one email instead of tons of replies/forwards/etc. and i love fitday.com and pandora.com for my food tracking and music. Skype was mandatory at my office because of our dual headquarters, US and Ireland. I liked it so much i had my husband use it and he turned his company on to it as well! Thanks for the great post!

  15. i SOOO love lastfm!

    ali’s last blog post…suffocation. also? they really need to rename ‘the fish taco’

  16. @Karen – I looked at FitDay ages ago, and I wasn’t impressed. But since you said they updated their interface, I’ll have to check it out! Thanks for the tip.

    @hopeathome – Glad you like the daily dockets. I haven’t found anything I like better, either, so I’m still using them. ;)

    @Nicole – I’ll look into Google Talk. Skype is free for us except for the US-based number, but it won’t hurt to check out what’s out there.

    @Jacinda – I actually have an account at 43things, but I haven’t checked it in ages. Thanks for the reminder.

    @Marc and Angel – Thanks so much!

  17. My favorites are http://www.mint.com for tracking my bank accounts, mortgage, 401k and budget all on one site and http://www.bidmycleaning.com for scheduling maid service or getting my windows or carpets cleaned.

  18. Gmail, Remember the Milk, Google Calendar, You Mail, Jott, and Dropbox are my fave online tools for organizing myself and the fam.

    Trying out FitDay from Karen’s recommendation. (I’d been using a google spreadsheet and got tired of it.)

    Also looking into YNAB for budgeting. HAve been using Money Map (an envelope budgeting system) but I think we need a change.

    Avlor’s last blog post…Tuna denied participation in tie-dye day…

  19. Great list! As others have said, I love Fitday for food-tracking, but I also love World’s Healthiest Foods (http://whfoods.org/foodstoc.php) for providing nutritional information.

    I’m a Firefox user as well– I played around with delicious for awhile, but found it just as easy to tag recipes in Firefox, so that’s my current system (I’m still a LITTLE squeamish about housing my recipes online, because occasionally links will go away as websites change, etc., but it’s working for now).

    Finally, I really like using MS Outlook for my email program. I can easily flag emails by their importance, w/ a reminder for later, it has great calendar, journal and notes features, and is very easy to organize just to my liking. As far as online email programs and rss readers– I’m a Yahoo Girl! : )

    Finally, I can’t forget about Facebook— this is a great way to keep up with family and friends!

  20. I’ve never logged on to The Daily Plate so I can’t compare. But if you are looking for a basic food journal and accountability site I recommend http://www.peertrainer.com. It’s not too fancy or complicated. Sign up with an accountability group (join an existing group or create your own) and log in your daily food and exercise. I successfully lost about ten pounds while logging in. The support I received from my accountability group was invaluable.

    Kristen M.’s last blog post…Hug, Handshake or High Five?

  21. I love Gmail and Google Reader. I’m a huge fan of Picnik and Picasa for sharing pictures with family/friends. Can’t wait to check out last.FM – thanks for the great info.

    Jen’s last blog post…we interrupt Friday Mix…sing it with me

  22. I forgot one— Mealsmatter.org !

    They have online tools for making healthy meals, shopping lists, etc.

  23. I LOVE GMail. It’s simply the best e-mail platyform, web-based or otherwise. Imagine my joy when I read that RememberTheMilk can be used as a Gmail add-on! I Knew about RememberTheMilk, but I haven’t been using it much because I had to log onto the website. No more! Thank you!!

    Elisa’s last blog post…Stella’s productive week (from the "Stella the Charming Terror" series)

  24. I really appreciate your referrals. I don’t like reinventing the wheel, and I trust your judgment. Now I just have to find the time to check out all the sites to see how they will fit into my little suburban life. In between my spring cleaning of course…LOVE your ebook!

    CarrieK’s last blog post…Demarle

  25. Great list! I will have to try this Remember the Milk business; I am forever remembering things away from home and then not being able to remember them when I am in the vincinity of my to-do list.

    For meal tracking I use calorieking.com . It is by far the largest food database on the web but it is fast. The downside is that unlike fitday it costs money.

    I think they let you try it free though.

    neimanmarxist’s last blog post…Reflections on beginning to budget

  26. @neimanmarxist
    Try Jott. You can send a message to Remember the milk or your email to remind yourself.


    After tinkering with Fitday and The Daily Plate today. The Daily Plate is definitely easier and faster.

    Avlor’s last blog post…Tuna denied participation in tie-dye day…

  27. I like Gmail for the same reasons as you, plus I think it does a much better job filtering out spam than Yahoo. We use Google calendar to coordinate our activities which has really been helpful. I can access it from my laptop and iPod Touch. For listening to music, I really enjoy pandora.com. Oh, and for avoiding time sinks, I really like Firefox’s add-on LeechBlock. Keeps me from wasting time online when I should be working. ;) iTunes fan here as well – listen to podcasts on my iPod while folding clothes, etc.

    Karen’s last blog post…Spain – On the Road Again

  28. Thank you so much for leading me to Pear Budget! I absolutely am loving it and I will be using the envelope method as well.

    I am also loving your recent book! I printed that out as soon as possible and am loving your ideas!

    I just imported my Outlook calendar into my Gmail Calendar and am excited about keeping things simpler.

    I’m a HUGE paper person, though. Mostly, it’s that I use index cards daily to make my “to do” lists, I find that simple and I just toss it once I’m through or carry any items to the next day’s card.

    Thanks for your inspiration :-)

    Beth Young’s last blog post…Busing beautifying my home. I mean, um spending money.

  29. Cozi.com is a great way to keep a shopping list as well as a calendar for the whole fam. It is free and really easy to use. I keep track of my monthly meal plan on there and it has been working great!

    Thanks for the tips about pearbudget and last.fm. I had not heard of those. I am definitely going to check them out!

    Stacey’s last blog post…The candy fest.

  30. Love your list!
    Gmail – use it and love it
    Last. fm is the coolest – thank you for the info about it!
    Remember the milk is great too – I just added it to gmail and it is so perfect for me :)

  31. Great ideas! I’m a huge gmail fan but I’m still learning how to optimize my labeling/archiving. I’m seriously in love with pear budget and I just signed up for RTM today- I’m really excited to try it out in gmail!

    Gidget’s last blog post…Green Election Issues

  32. Glad this has been helpful for you. I really appreciate all of your suggestions – I’m learning about some great new resources!

  33. So I started signing up for many of these things thank to you! I still don’t really get delicious. But I’m trying. I’m already a huge gmail and google calendar fan. Can’t do pear b/c of the fee :( Anyways… thanks for this great post! And if you can tutor me through delicious, I’d be really grateful!

    CC’s last blog post…The post in which I do not post my prepared post

  34. Oh, one more thing. It looks like Remember The Milk won’t work for me b/c I have Firefox version 3. Is that true? I’d love to try it out if I can along side my gmail, just like you were talking about. I tried it before, but never remembered to actually check the site. But if it were next to my email, then I’d be golden!

    CC’s last blog post…The post in which I do not post my prepared post

  35. @CC – I have Firefox 3, and it works fine. Hmm. And yes, sometime I’ll write up a post about how Delicious works for me. Thanks for the suggestion! :)

  36. excited to see how RTM can help me tasks and weekly todos online. plus pear budget is my new obsession. new to your site and loving it but have a (maybe) dumb Q re: Gmail. You say that you can use it to read and write from different email addresses? I currently have gmail for my @gmail.com only – what am I missing? Thx for any input.

  37. @sarahjane – In your Gmail account, if you go to “settings” (in the top right corner) and then “accounts,” you’ll be able to add more email addresses there.

  38. thanks for the links! Some are old, some are new – (to me!) I’ll be trying a few new ones this week!

    Angelfish’s last blog post…Fall Fling!

  39. Thank you so much, I had no idea you could do so many things with gmail I going to have some fun checking them out.

    Tidbits Of Tammy’s last blog post…Tidbit Tuesday!

  40. This is late, and from a new reader (who isn’t a mom, or even a parent!), but how do you organize your print recipes? Do you integrate them into a database or…? Basically, how do you avoid the mounds of tattered papers and countless stained cookbook pages, haha, or is that just me?

    Thank you!

  41. @JennK – Funny you should even bring that up. Stay tuned this week for your answer! :)

  42. I have recently opened an ING account as well and have found it very easy to use and fun to watch the interest grow quicker than my traditional bank.
    I make lot’s of lists and find them helpful to keep me focused throughout the day. I’m also a fan of all google products. Gmail and calendar are awesome tools.

  43. I just started using Pear Budget.
    Question for you if you have the time to answer:

    What if you go over budget (over spending plan in a category)? Can you move money from another category to balance it out? I am coming from Mvelopes.com where you can do that…Pear Budget seems to be a bit different and I am a bit nervous. Currently, I have spent more on clothing than I have in the category…knew that would happen but was willing to downsize another category.

    Thanks if you can help me wrap my head around this.

    Deanna’s last blog post…Saturday With Stella – Giveaway!!

  44. Deanna –

    Hey there! Thanks for the question. I’ll answer it here, so future Simple Mom readers won’t have to go anywhere. I’ll probably re-post it on the PearBudget blog as well.

    In PearBudget, it’s easy to transfer money from one category to another. There are two ways to do it … one that creates a “paper trail” (but that’s a little more complicated), and one that’s a lot quicker. I’ll just cover the quicker one here.

    Let’s say that you have $150 in your “Car Gas” category, and you realize you need to increase it to $200. And you figure it makes the most sense to pull that $50 from … say … “Clothing” (which, let’s say, had been $75). On the Plan page (pearbudget.com/plan), just change the “Clothing” category from $75 to $25, and “Car Gas” from $150 to $200. That’s it!

    In the writeup at the PearBudget Blog, I’ll go over the “paper trail” approach. It might take me a day or two to get that posted, but I’ll hopefully get it on there soon. And if you (or anyone else) have (has) any questions, please don’t hesitate to send me an e-mail (my first name, at pearbudget.com), or to use Twitter to send us an @pearbudget message (twitter.com/pearbudget).

    Thanks!

  45. As always, the Pear Budget people are amazing! :)

  46. Hi, I Stumbled your blog & (though I’m not yet a parent) I’ve found it interesting & useful enough to add to my reader. Thanks so much for the introduction to Remember the Milk – I’ve now got it set up in my Gmail and am using it for my menu planning & store-by-store shopping list, as well as general “to do” stuff.

    I’ve been in love with Gmail for a long time now, and use Google Docs for my online recipes: I cut & paste anything interesting and am now building up a good-sized searchable, editable & printable database of recipes.

    Mel

  47. Thanks PearBudget for answering my question. I thought the quick way could be done but I was hesitant. I am going to read how to do the “paper trail” way as well. Thanks!

    Thanks SimpleMom for your blog. I have loved reading all the information and putting to use several of your ideas.

    Deanna’s last blog post…Saturday With Stella – Giveaway!!

  48. Food tracking: I find Calorie King http://www.calorieking.com to be good. You can use it free online.

    There is also a paid version, which has a few more features than the web version. You can use the trial version for 30 days before you have to pay.

    Fiona’s last blog post…Solo parenting

  49. I use Skype a lot, but clarity can be spotty so sometimes I have to reestablish my connection. I also reallly enjoy using Google Calendars to keep my hectic schedule straight while trying to keep up with my girlfriends. Lastly, ING has a good product (my company competes with them at some level) but many prefer the ability to have a bricks and mortar location too.

  50. The link provided for the Remember the Milk gmail add-on wouldn’t work for me with the newer version of Firefox. However, I found a link that works just fine. Excited to make this part of my organizational strategy. Check out the link here: http://www.rememberthemilk.com/services/gmail/

  51. I’ve had an account with ING for at least 5 years now. They are great. Lately, I’ve been visiting http://www.zen-tips.com daily for a good daily read.

  52. Oh, I like the idea of the Remember the Milk tool for computer related tasks! I have many and they always clutter up my planner page !!

    Jenn @ Beautiful Calling´s last blog post…You Don’t Need All That! (Soapnut Giveaway)

  53. I know this was posted awhile ago, but have you tried http://caloriecount.about.com for the health/keeping track of what you eat? They have a phone application and it’s very easy to add in food items. It also has a place to help you keep track of how much water you’re drinking, as well as telling you key areas in your diet you’re missing (Vitamin A, Iron, etc.). It’s a very well-rounded and useful tool. :)

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