There’s no doubt, in many ways smartphones can be really invasive and counterproductive, as Kimberly Bacso pointed out in Smartphones: Doing Everything, Accomplishing Nothing. But if used properly, they do have a place. With their help being a smart, savvy consumer has never been easier. After three years without a smartphone overseas, I finally got one last year when we moved back to the U.S., and finding the right apps has really helped me cut costs, decrease frustrations, and make shopping much more pleasant. I’ve found these apps can help with so many aspects of life, from being my physical trainer, a smart grocery and beauty shopping sidekick, PCS helper, and home maintenance scheduler, to finding new places to shop, and getting deals in a new area. All on one device. Here are my top apps for staying healthy, beautiful, and on budget. (All apps are free unless otherwise noted.)
Harvest | iPhone only
The best way to save money on produce is to buy seasonally, and seasonal produce changes when you PCS. With Harvest at your side you can check what is in season based upon your location and even find shopping and storing tips.
Organics are supposed to be better for you, but wow they can kill your wallet. You can still minimize your exposure to pesticides and stay in your budget using this app. The non-profit Environmental Working Group has compiled a list of the produce with the most and least pesticide residues. The top 12 fruits and vegetables with the highest pesticide residues are called the Dirty Dozen, and should be bought organic. The Clean 15 are the fruits and vegetables with the lowest pesticide residue levels and buying conventional exposes you to little to no pesticides. With this app you can check the cleanest produce options on the go.
Paprika | $4.99 iPhone, iPad, Android, Kindle Fire, & Nook Color ; $19.99 Windows & Mac
This is the ultimate recipe book. Save (and sometimes auto-load) online recipes, enter family recipes, snap pictures of your kitchen creations, sort recipes by season and category, create meal plans and grocery lists, all while managing your pantry. While you do have to buy individual apps for every device, the cost is worth it. You can sync each device, allowing you to enter recipes via your phone or computer, and then use the shopping list on your phone while at the store. This app is a home chef’s dream come true.
Fast food is usually not a part of a healthy lifestyle, but Chipotle is the one fast food place with wonderful gluten, dairy, vegetarian, and soy-free options. Using this app to order in advance allows you to skip the line and pick up your order like a VIP.
EWG Food Scores | iPhone & Android
In an ideal world we’d never purchase unprocessed foods. But sometimes that’s just not possible. This app allow you to scan a packaged food’s barcode and find out a detailed description of the ingredients, plus how they may affect your health. While it hasn’t been updated to reflect the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s newest recommendations regarding saturated fat (coconut oil is still flagged as unhealthy) it otherwise has a great analysis regarding GMOs and processing practices.
Shopping / Health & Beauty
Cartwheel | iPhone & Android
I didn’t miss much of America while we were stationed overseas, but boy did I miss Target. This app allows you to scan the barcode of items to see if there are additional discounts not advertised in the stores. If no additional discounts are available, the app will suggest similar items that do have a discount. You can add up to 10 discounts to your own generated barcode that you can use at checkout. Saving even more money than usual has never been easier.
EWG Skin Deep Database | iPhone & Android
The Environmental Working Group makes its third appearance on this list with its original, awesome database. According to the Executive Director of EWG, Heather White, the average American is exposed to more than 126 unique chemicals every day through skincare and beauty products. And most of those chemicals are not beneficial to your health. Just scan a skincare product, and the results will rank the product based upon its ingredients. This is the database that informed me three years ago that my “organic, all-natural”face cleanser was ranked moderately toxic, and started me on the path to revamping my entire beauty regimen.
RetailMeNot | iPhone & Android
Find local deals and coupons from your favorite stores, both online and in brick and mortar locations. You can activate location services if you’d like to have the app remind you of discounts when you are close to a store.
Threadflip | iPhone only
If you’re anything like me, you like to purge every PCS. But while most clothes can be donated to the Salvation Army or Purple Heart, other clothes and accessories may still be worth almost what you spent on them to begin. For more designer items (think Coach, Michael Kors, Tory Burch, Kate Spade, etc.) you can sell through Threadflip. Snap a picture of your item, describe it, post it, and see if it sells. Don’t want the hassle of having to do all the work? You can put your items in a bag, and send to Threadflip. They’ll take the professional photos and list the item for a small fee. If your item doesn’t sell, then Threadflip will send you the items back or donate them to charity.
Map My Run | iPhone & Android
This app is great for finding local running routes in your area, which is really helpful when you PCS to a new location and have no idea where great road or trail running routes may be. You get live GPS tracking, pace reminders as you run, plus you can compete with other friends you’ve connected to.
I am a CrossFitter, and this app helps me track my personal records, max reps, and keeps a record of my workouts. But this app is more than just for CrossFitters. When PCSing, vacationing, or just away from your gym, you can select pre-loaded workouts, many which require no equipment at all. There are also built-in timers and videos showing demos of common movements.
MyFitnessPal | iPhone & Android
This app is great to track what I’m eating and my exercise levels, which is helpful if you’re trying to keep an eye on your diet and fitness while out of your normal routine, like PCSing or traveling. The foods are searchable by brand or type, plus everything is broken down by micronutrient, if you’re wanting to track those numbers.
My Yoga Online | iPhone & Android
While a subscription to My Yoga Online costs money, the app itself is free. I enjoy being able to pay by the month, so if I know I will be away from my normal studio for a period of time, I can pay for a short subscription and go through as many routines as I like. The routines range from basic and beginner levels, to advanced tutorials, from stress reduction and deep stretch, to inversions and energetic routines. There’s something for everyone and their challenges are fun to take part in as well.
BrightNest | iPhone & Android
No matter whether you rent or own, there’s some amount of upkeep that is needed with every home. And we all know about the deployment curse: your spouse leaves for training or a deployment, and everything in the house breaks. BrightNest gives you a home upkeep schedule depending on the specs of your house, plus wonderful D.I.Y. tips and tricks, and tutorials on basic upkeep.
Yes, yes, I know it get’s a bad rep, but Craigslist is seriously a constant mover’s saving grace. We have sold so much (couches, bikes, golf clubs, desks, bedroom furniture, etc.) and bought so much (kitchen islands, vintage furniture, etc.) at a fraction of the cost they would be if we bought them new. While I have yet to do it, I know so many people who have found their rental homes using Craigslist and they have loved where they’ve ended up living. It’s worth a shot to try and the app makes listing things a snap.
Zillow Rentals | iPhone & Android
When I find out we’re PCSing, one of the first thing I do is research the area using City-Data.com. Then, once I know the ideal places to live near that military installation, I use Zillow to research rental homes in the area. I can learn more about the houses in the neighborhood, see pictures from inside, plus filter my search based upon pet preference, rental amount, and square footage. I found the house we live in currently using Zillow and not only do I adore the house, the area where we live is fantastic.
What are your favorite apps that just make your life better?