Making grocery lists and sticking to them saves money and guards against impulse buys, except, of course, when you forget them at home, which can happen to the best of us. Okay, namely, me.
On such an occasion, one might wander the aisles trying to visualize the list, or perhaps engage in time-consuming games of word association with little success. Recently, however, like mana from the Internet, I became aware of free grocery list/recipe apps for mobile phones -- even those models that don't start with a vowel.
Self-described as "the ultimate cooking utensil" with a super cute name, Seattle, Wa.-based, Kitchen Monki and like-minded Sterling, Va.-based ZipList both offer online venues to store recipes, plan meals, and automate grocery lists -- for free.MacGourmet 3.0 offers a similar service ("It's like itunes for your recipes.") for Mac users at a cost of $29; and Martha Stewart's Everyday Food's mobile recipe and grocery list app is a more palatable 99-cents, but it too, works only on the iPhone. Digital discrimination.
Grocery List Wizard, a website devoted to helping consumers create printable grocery lists and calculate budgets says consumers spend 54% more on groceries when shopping the aisles unprepared, and resource management specialist, Sissy Osteen at Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension agrees.
Whether you're going to shop once a month or once a week, you need to be organized to pull it off," says Osteen. "No more wandering into the grocery store after work and walking up and down the aisles trying to figure out what to eat for dinner ... To save the most money, make a menu for the meals and snacks for that week or month and list the ingredients. Then stick to your list."
I like lists, and I like saving money. I thought I'd challenge my natural Luddite inclinations and take Kitchen Monki's recently upgraded, Mobile Monki app for a test drive.
First, I had to create an account and input recipes. I chose several from a favorite cookbook and selected a few from the website -- including member-generated Weight Watcher recipes complete with point values. Score!
After adding the recipes into my Queue, I generated a grocery list and sent it to my smart phone. Since I didn't need every ingredient for the recipes, I checked off the ones I already owned and they disappeared from the list. I also added a few non-recipe ingredients to my shopping list. The app automatically aggregates ingredients (i.e. two eggs for one recipe, three eggs for another becomes five eggs on the shopping list) and the items are grouped into easy-to-find categories: dairy, produce, bakery, meat and seafood, as well as the catchall "unknown aisle."
Ziplist also encourages its members to add items to a recipe ingredient list that are often used in conjunction with the dish, for instance, paper liners for cupcakes or whipped cream with pumpkin pie.
Although it's possible to assign specific store locations to each item, for instance, fresh fish from Whole Foods, or Two-Buck Chuck from Trader Joe's, I knew I wanted a quick, efficient, one-stop shopping trip.
Once at my neighborhood grocery, I got out my phone, found the text message from Mobile Monki and clicked on the link to my list. Cool. I had a surprising sense of relief knowing I was in possession of my complete shopping list, and could also access the Kitchen Monki site to add recipes and ingredients if I changed my mind, or was "inspired" by a sale.
As an added bonus, because it was so easy to list ingredients for new recipes I was looking forward to expanding the family's weekly repertoire of meals.
David Sobie, VP of monkey business for Kitchen Monki told WalletPop that is exactly the response they were hoping for. "We're all about helping people become more efficient about using their recipes."
Sobie says members have also reported saving money with the mobile app. "People say this is a really great way to save money," he says. "When you're going to the store with a list...you're saving money because you're not wandering around...adding things to your cart, you're basically being disciplined about shopping off a list."
Another plus, it's just as easy to send the very specific list to a family member (or personal assistant?) and share the chores. Isn't this sounding better all the time?
But wait, there's more. "There's a lot of recipe content out there on the Internet that isn't really useful," said Sobie, "dead content, [whereas] what Kitchen Monki has is live recipe content. A dead recipe sits on a blog somewhere, or a site like Real Simple ... and if I want to use it, I have to print it out. Then, I'd go and stick it in my recipe folder at home ... but you can't scale it up, or scale it down [like on the Kitchen Monki site], you can't send it to a list, or drag it onto a calendar. So we've been talking to publishers about integrating some of the tools we've created so that content can become live."
In fact, the Kitchen Monki blog recently encouraged foodie bloggers to embed its toolbar. "Imagine if you went to a blog and you see a great recipe," said Sobie, "you decide to bookmark it, and you can bookmark it back to your Kitchen Monki account ... because our tool bar has been integrated into the blog itself."
"I don't think we're ever going to compete with Epicurious and all of the recipes they have," admits Sobie, "but if we can make those recipes more useful and save time and money, then we've added value."
As for my shopping excursion, I can report a happy ending. After a little initial skepticism (what's wrong with using pencil and paper?), and the extra time it took to input recipes, I discovered the upfront work paid off. By continuing to use the app, building a collection of online recipes and discovering new ones, I may never forget my list at home again.
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