Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Top Apps to Keep New Year's Resolutions **UPDATED for 2015, 23 FREE apps!

2015Making New Year’s Resolutions is a popular activity for many around the world, and with that in mind, here is my Top Ten Resolutions list along with some apps that may help the resolutions be successful past January.  Some are focused on families, while others are specific for parents. Happy New Year!

**UPDATE: Well, 2014 is complete! I use four of these apps on a regular basis, and thought I'd look to see what could be added for a new year. So, I added a fresh app to the top of each resolution, but left in the previous apps, which are all still great options. Now there are 23 FREE apps, along with a handful that are worth paying for.


10.  More family time: This is a common resolution these days for those with kids: more family time, less screen time.  Which of course seems counterintuitive for our site. But think of it like this — are there apps that can actually help your family connect more? Here are a few of my favorite.
Screen Shot 2014-12-30 at 12.19.23 PMStory Bug: Read Books Together with Video Chat and a Shared Reader (iPhone/iPad, FREE with in-app purchases): I recently made this app a Top Pick, and it's definitely a great addition to any goal to have more family time with family members separated by distance. Read books with grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, traveling parents... with a great interface featuring books and video chat.
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Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 8.10.22 AMGame Room (iPad, $.99): Play eight different classic games — Checkers, Reversi, Halma, Go, Mancala, Tafl, Atari Go and Cups. There is no computer opponent, so this game is great to play together with other family members. With no ads or in-app purchases, it's a dollar well spent.
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Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 8.46.35 AMFamily Chat - Conversation Topics for Families (iPhone/x2 iPad, $1.99): This app is currently on sale through January 2nd for $.99. I checked out many free conversation topics apps, but most had ads, or were not specifically designed for use with kids (so parents would have to prescreen questions with younger kids).
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9. Keep up with the household chores: Maybe this is just me, but one of my goals for the year is to keep up with those chores I hate, but make the house a better place. Dusting is my major goal, and even filing the paperwork that gathers on my desk makes the list. Using apps as reminders can help these tasks get done. And one of my favorite apps in 2013 is for the kids’ chores. Maybe I'll just make myself a profile on Allowance & Chores Bot.

Screen Shot 2014-12-31 at 11.23.27 PM30/30 (iPhone/iPad, FREE with in-app purchases): 30/30 really won't help you organize chores, but it just may help you get them done after starting. We use 30/30 a lot in my household, to help my son plan and execute projects. It's great for longer chores, too. Make a list of the day's household chores then start the timer, setting the time needed for each. It helps keep me on track.
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Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 8.25.07 AMAllowance & Chores Bot (iPhone/iPad, $2.99): Take this $3 out of your allowance and use it on the best app for getting kids' chores and allowance organized. Check out my review, too — it's a 4 1/2 star app. Try it out with the free Lite version before committing to the full.
Free Lite version                  Full version ($2.99)
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Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 12.26.36 PMHomeRoutines (iPhone/iPad, $4.99): This one costs more, but it does just what I need an app to do, allowing scheduling of chores weekly, biweekly, monthly and manually. This is just what I need to have the reminders to do tasks I put off until I forget. Set it up with desired chores to get started, then add tasks as needed. Here's to a dust-free house in 2014!
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8. Decrease debt or save more money: This tops many people’s lists, I’m sure. As my grocery budget continues to grow with my kids even as my school-based speech-language pathologist salary stagnates, this goal is one to implement in my house, too. It's best tackled with good planning and tracking, so these apps require a bit of thought and set up to use well. Just make sure to keep the iTunes budget.

Screen Shot 2014-12-31 at 9.20.47 PMMvelopes - Personal Finance & Envelope Budgeting (iPhone/iPad, FREE): I tried out Mint.com in 2014, but it just didn't mesh with how my brain thinks about budgeting and finance. I went back to my previously-set-up Mvelopes online, and then finally thought to check for an app. The app is even better than the online platform, in my opinion, but both formats help me keep our spending on track. Set up an online account (completely free) before downloading the app, then file spending on the fly in the appropriate "envelope," make changes to the budget and view how much money is left in each category.
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Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 9.00.51 AMMint.com Personal Finance (iPhone/iPad, FREE): This might be the gold standard for budgeting and tracking spending. It's easy to use, and even completely free. The categories and budget amounts are customizable, and pretty simple to set up. The app syncs with the online version, too, making it easy to track no matter where you are.
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Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 9.20.26 AMToshl Finance (iPhone/x2 iPad, FREE with in-app purchases): For those wanting a funnier budgeting tool, Toshl is the way to go. Cute little monsters keeps it a bit more exciting to enter expenses. It also syncs with an online account for easy tracking. The app is fully functional for free, but additional functions (multiple budgets, extra graphs online, ability to export, among others) are available for $1.99 a month.
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7. Get organized: Keep the family calendar up to date easily, and never lose track of that bill to pay. This is also high on my resolution list, though I’m still looking for an app that will impart discipline to actually check it and follow through.

Screen Shot 2014-12-31 at 10.46.42 PMTimeful (iPhone, x2 iPad, FREE): I struggle with organization, that's no secret. I also have a history of organizational system failure. Still, I have high hopes for this app. It uses the iPhone calendar (which also can be linked with Gmail calendars) to help schedule tasks and habits. I input what I want to do, Timeful schedules it for me. All I need to do is keep my schedule updated on the calendar app. Maybe 2015 will be my year.
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Cozi Family Organizer (iPhone/iPad, FREE with in-app purchases): So many of my friends use Cozi I'm finally taking the plunge and trying it out. Family members with their own devices (Cozi syncs on the Android platform, too) can log into the family account. It keeps track of the calendar, to do lists, shopping, even a fun journal section. There are ads in the free version; the in-app purchase removes ads increases options, for $29.99 a year.
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Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 10.40.43 AMWunderlist — To-Do & Task List (iPhone/iPad, FREE with in-app purchases): This app comes recommended by Heather S. at Smart Apps for Special Needs. She's much more organized than I, so give it a try. It's a free app (in-app purchases for a subscription allow more options) to allow for shared lists, and to-do lists that sync across devices. The lists can be used for both work and home tasks, keeping everything streamlined.
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6. Read more: I love books, even more than I love my iPhone. And yet, it can be hard to make the time to read as much as I would like to read. There are some great apps that keep reading fresh on my mind, reminding me every once in awhile to put down the apps and read instead.

Screen Shot 2014-12-31 at 9.40.00 PMOverDrive – Library eBooks and Audiobooks (iPhone/iPad, FREE): If you have a participating local library and a library card, OverDrive is the best thing ever. Check out books like you'd check out from your library, but on your iPad or iPhone! Both audio books and e-books are included. In my library system, I can have six OverDrive items at a time, more than I could ever read at once. And did I mention free?
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Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 9.40.11 AMGoodreads (iPhone/iPad, FREE): I love Goodreads for keeping track of the books I've read, setting reading goals, seeing what my friends are reading, creating a list of books I want to read and finding reviews of books. Users can set up a bookshelf to track books kids have read, and even scan book barcodes to easily look them up or add them.
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5. Eat healthy/cut the junk food: Both of these goals are related, and both almost necessitate cooking more. It's a lot easier to stick with this resolution by planning a menu. We love cooking in my house, and are often inspired by apps for new recipes and ideas.

Screen Shot 2014-12-31 at 10.51.24 PMCSPI Chemical Cuisine (iPhone, x2 iPad, FREE): The vast majority of people will buy a packaged food at some point this year, and most people will do so every week. Though replacing more packaged foods with whole foods is a good goal, this app will help with those you do buy. Read the ingredient label and check out the unknown ingredient names, complete with safety ratings.
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Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 10.03.21 AMFood.com Every Day Is a Food Holiday (iPhone/iPad, FREE): My kids adore this free app. Each day features a food holiday for either the day or the month, and provides several recipes to go along with it. January 2nd is National Cream Puffs Day; download now and plan ahead. The app allows searching by keyword, too--September is Chicken Month, while October 15th is Chicken Cacciatore Day. Chocolate makes an appearance in 20 different holidays.
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Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 10.29.28 AMMeal Planning and Grocery List by Food on the Table (iPhone/x2 iPad, FREE): This app is new to me, and really great for planning a menu. Browse the app's recipes for ideas and easily add to a meal plan and grocery list. Recipes can be added from the web or manually, too. Track nutrition, search easily and even get updates about grocery sales in your area (US only).
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4. Learn something new: Learning is really good for everyone, not just kids in school.  Find a topic you’re interested in, and spend time learning about it. There are some great app options, too.

Screen Shot 2014-12-31 at 9.58.35 PMCodecademy: Code Hour (iPhone/iPad, FREE): There are several great apps now to learn coding, often called the universal language. I like Codeacademy because it's great for any kid who can read through adults. You may never pursue computer programming past this app, but it's still a great thing to learn, and this app offers a quick sense of accomplishment.
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Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 10.12.44 AMiTunes U (iPhone/iPad, FREE): If you've never explored the many offerings on iTunes U, make a New Year's Resolution to look at all it has to offer. There are various course offerings on this great app, to provide professional development in a current field or learn about something brand new. Most courses are broken into units, subscribing makes it easy to keep track of which "chapter" has been viewed. A great way to learn, with one course or many.
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Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 10.19.58 AMDuolingo (iPhone/iPad, FREE): Duolingo was just picked as the app of the year by Apple, and it really is a great free app for learning languages. If you've ever had a personal goal to learn a language, Duolingo is the place to start! English-speaking users can learn five new languages (Spanish, German, French, Portuguese, and Italian), while the speakers of those five languages can learn English.
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3. Help others: Helping others is an excellent way to help foster gratitude in our children, and it's good for the world around us, too. Develop kindness and generosity in kids when they are young to help make the world a better place.
Screen Shot 2014-12-31 at 10.04.56 PMCharity Miles (iPhone, FREE): For those who need a little more external motivation to move, but have a charitable heart, Charity Miles is a win-win. Put this on your phone and start the app, and as you walk, run or bike, the app keeps track of your mileage and donates money to the charity selected when first starting the app.
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Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 11.26.28 AMiKiva for Kiva.org (iPhone/x2 iPad, FREE): It costs $25 to get started on Kiva.org with lending money through microloans. But after setting up an account and lending, use the app (or the website) to track the repayment. When the $25 is repayed, loan it out again. My son is in charge of my Kiva account, and so far we've made a total of 14 loans, including some with Kiva gift cards he's asked for and received instead of presents.
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Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 12.03.20 PMClub Kindness (iPhone/iPad, $3.99): This is a newer app designed for kids from about 6-12, encouraging them to take a 22-days of kindness challenge. Each day the child can choose one idea among many to complete, earning a star. The ideas are organized into categories, too, including gratitude, generosity, leadership and friendliness. While this app is higher priced on this list, it's worth it to encourage kids to choose kindness each day, building it into a habit.
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2. Exercise more: This comes pretty close to topping the majority of people’s lists, I’m sure. The vast majority of Americans don’t even come close to exercising enough. Thankfully, there are loads of apps to help in this area.
Screen Shot 2014-12-31 at 11.00.19 PMFitnessBuilder (iPhone/iPad, FREE with in-app purchases): The in-app purchases can be steep in this app, but the key is that over 400 workouts are FREE. These workouts are divided into multiweek plans, divided by body part and equipment access. I work out at my YMCA, and I can choose a workout to do there. Those with no health center access can choose a workout plan for home using no equipment. The app has videos to show each exercise along with written instructions and pictures.
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Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 11.01.48 AMRuntastic GPS Running, Walking & Fitness Tracker (iPhone, x2 iPad but requires 3G/4G to utilize fully, FREE with in-app purchases): I'm a bit biased toward this app, because it's what I use to run. Runtastic tracks runs AND walks with GPS, and also allows users to add runs manually (for those days when the treadmill or indoor track is a better option). I like the amount of information it tracks about my runs, making me a smarter runner. The Pro version removes ads and allows more options.
Free                                    Pro
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Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 11.09.50 AM5K Runner: 0 to 5K run training Pro (iPhone/iPad, $2.99): For those who aren't yet running, this app for the Couch-to-5K program is highly rated and easy to use. It's really fun to use with kids, too — do the program together. The app takes the user through a gradual walk-run-walk program, making it easy for most people to get up and running in eight weeks (just three times a week).
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Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 11.19.05 AM7-Minute Workout (High Intensity Training) (iPhone/x2 iPad, $1.99): The seven minute workout has been in the news a lot recently. Since I already run but could use some help building overall strength, this is my fitness app for 2014. It's easy to set up, and personalizes a workout based on available equipment. I'm sure my kids will join me for some of the exercises, too. I looked at many 7-minute workout apps, and chose this one for its upfront cost (no constant in-app purchases), high ratings on iTunes, and the overall look.
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1. Lose weight: Again, the New Year always seems like a great time for people to shed a few of those extra holiday pounds. To make any resolution stick, it’s best to have a plan. Utilizing apps (on a device most have handy at all times) is a great start.
Screen Shot 2014-12-31 at 11.13.04 PM<30 Days (iPhone, x2 iPad, FREE): This app is a great way to launch a weight loss goal. Set the app up with a health inventory and chance to rank your goals/priorities. Then each day the app helps to set new habits and a healthier lifestyle, with results in 30 days or less. I'm not sure how accurate that estimate is, but I do know that the best way to reach a resolution or goal is to set achievable steps, exactly what <30 Days helps to do.
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Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 10.44.54 AMCalorie Counter & Diet Tracker by MyFitnessPal (iPhone/iPad, FREE): MyFitnessPal is also a website, and one of the best there is for tracking food. Sign up on either the app or the website is easy, and allows the user to select personal goals. A daily net calorie goal is calculated based on activity level, height/weight and desired amount of weight to lose. Enter exercise to gain more calories, and track overall nutrition, too. The app can be used as part of social networking for accountability, or simply track privately. Either way, it's easy to use and totally free.
iPhone                iPad
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Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 12.18.32 PMNutrino — Your Personal Nutritionist (iPhone/x2 iPad, FREE): For those who want a little more hand-holding with the weight loss, try Nutrino. After setting up a profile and goal weight, and some particulars about individual eating habits, Nutrino develops a personalized menu. The user can view recipes, add ingredients to the shopping list, and track calories.
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Heather H. is off to enjoy the rest of this day with the family, probably with no apps.

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