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Tech tools to make grocery shopping easier

Going to the grocery store is about as pleasant as doing laundry, yet it’s an errand that we can’t just make disappear. From writing a list to making a budget to finding time in our busy schedules to go to the store, the whole grocery-shopping process can be a major chore, especially if the prospect of preparing a meal is equally daunting.

If you think your only alternative to buying groceries is to eat every meal out, think again. Relying on quick food and eating at restaurants comes at a major cost to your wallet and your waistline. But now, technology offers several tools to make your grocery-store trips easier and more efficient.

Grocery-list apps

If you’re like me, going to the market without a solid list is dangerous—I end up with five cartons of ice cream and a random assortment of goods that make it hard to put a solid meal together. Making a grocery list that factors in every item you need for complicated recipes, snacks, on-the-go breakfasts, simple one-pot dinners, and everything in between is the first step to a successful shopping trip.

Clear offers an easy, no-frills way to make your grocery list.

Instead of using the pen-and-paper method, try a smartphone app. Clear is a very basic list-making app for the iPhone that prioritizes items by color. Once you add an item, you can drag and drop it to another slot to mark it as more or less important. Important items stay at the top of your list and are the brightest in color; moving down, the color starts to fade. Swipe to the right to cross an item off; swipe left to permanently delete an item. You can use Clear for other tasks besides groceries, too—it’s just a general list app.

Grocery iQ lets you share your list with other shoppers.

If you want an app dedicated to food, try Grocery iQ or Grocery Gadget. Grocery IQ works with iOS and Android devices, and you can add an item to your list by typing it in, speaking it (if your phone supports this feature), or scanning a bar code. (So before you throw out that empty box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, you can scan the bar code to add it to your list for the next time you go to the store.) Grocery iQ suggests items for you as you type, and it has a large database of food items that it recognizes. You can even designate quantities of an item, make note of which aisle of your regular grocery store holds that item, or add a price for easy budgeting. In addition, you can sync Grocery iQ across multiple devices and share lists with other people, so you can have a single shared list for one household; for instance, if I add an item to the list, or cross one off after I’ve already bought it, my roommate can see the updated list. And if you like coupons, Grocery iQ has a coupon section powered by Coupons.com.

Grocery Gadget is another great tool for iPhone users. You make a “staples” list that features the items you find yourself buying every time you go to the store, and then you add one-off or less-frequent items to another section of the list. You can choose how to view your list, either in the order you added foods to it, alphabetically, or by category—I really like the category option, which allows me to see my entire produce list, beverage list, snack list, dairy list, and more.

Stuck between two similar items at the store? Consult a food-rating app such as Shopper or Fooducate, which gives food items a grade based on nutritional value. You can scan a bar code to see that item’s grade, or search by item name to see which brand gives you the best nutritional value. For example, searching for “granola” gives you a list of different granola brands you can buy in the store, plus their associated ratings to help you make the best choice.

Pinching pennies

For budget-conscious shoppers, online resources are a great way to hunt for coupons and learn which grocery stores have certain items on sale. Grocery Pal for iOS (free) and Grocery Smarts Coupon Shopper for Android (free) allow you to browse the coupon circulars from your local grocery stores to see what’s on sale for the week. For nonsale items, you can compare regular prices across different stores to see which one has the best bargain, and both apps let you view and save coupons for printing out later or adding to your store loyalty card.

TheGroceryGame.com helps you find the best grocery deals in your area.

Online coupon subscriptions services—such as The Grocery Game, Coupon Divas, and Coupon Mom—offer an aggregate of coupons from various sources for subscribers to print and use. These sites offer tips, tricks, and tutorials on couponing and how to make the most of your grocery budget. Plus, they show a list of weekly in-store promotions, and can guide you through combining coupons with store promotions to buy items at the lowest possible price. With their help, you’ll have your own TLC special in no time.

Personal shoppers and delivery services

SPUD delivers fresh local produce straight to your door. Just order it online.

If you really can’t stomach another trip to the grocery store, or if you simply don’t have the time, try having your groceries delivered right to your front door. Several major grocery chains offer delivery services. Safeway and Vons, for example, offer quick same-day delivery to your home or place of work—just create an account online and add grocery items to your cart as you would normally shop at any other online retailer. The stores require a $49 minimum per order, and charge a delivery fee that ranges from $4 to $13, depending on the size of the order and the time frame in which you need to have your groceries delivered. I’m picky about produce, and Safeway has an answer to that: You can specify notes (such as “ripe avocados” or “green bananas”) in the online store’s “Request to your Personal Shopper” feature.

Other grocery stores with online shopping options include Acme Markets, Peapod, and FreshDirect, but your favorite local grocery store might offer the service as well—just ask the next time you’re in the checkout line.

For locally grown and farmed produce, meat, dairy, and other foods, check out local produce delivery services. These services bring a taste of the farmer’s market straight to your kitchen. Since the focus of these produce box services is on locally grown products, the availability of such services will vary by region, and many of them have only one delivery day throughout the week, so you'll have to plan ahead.

The convenience, however, is unparalleled. SPUD, or Sustainable Produce Urban Delivery, has a wide variety of fresh foods and other grocery items available for delivery. The company's Fresh Harvest Box program is an easy way to get fruits and veggies delivered to your door on a regular basis. You can specify the amount of produce you want to order and how often (either weekly, biweekly, or monthly), and either customize your order yourself or leave it up to the company’s produce team to pick assorted seasonal items. You can change things up whenever you wish by logging in to your account online. Other similar services in different regions include Door to Door Organics, Urban Organic, and Hollygrove Market and Farm. For junk food, cereal, and other packaged snacks, try MyDormFood.com.

Too busy to even think about shopping? Hire a TaskRabbit to do it for you.

If all else fails, you can just hire someone to do the shopping for you. TaskRabbit, a service available in a handful of major metropolitan areas in the United States, allows you to post a task and hire someone to fulfill it. All of the “rabbits” have applied through TaskRabbit, and have passed a background check. Just sign up, make a short ad describing what you’d like fulfilled, and set your price—TaskRabbit suggests $30 to $45 for a major grocery-shopping excursion and delivery that requires a car. TaskRabbits then make bids on your offer, and the person who makes the lowest bid in a given amount of time is assigned the task. You’ll then coordinate your specific list and delivery information with your TaskRabbit, and then pay securely online. Your final payment will be the price of the task plus the total cost of the groceries.

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