12 free apps to keep your busy family on track
From scheduling after-school activities to keeping expenses on budget, managing a family is no small feat (we know!). Fortunately, in this day in age, there’s an app to help us with just about anything.
Tech tools can help with the simplest of tasks — like throwing together a quick dinner or making sure your teens make it to their friend’s house — to more complex issues, like ensuring online safety. Indeed, a 2017 survey by Common Sense and SurveyMonkey showed that 26 percent of parents use some sort of monitoring device to track what their kids are doing online.
“Between things like shuttling kids around to different activities, dealing with meltdowns in public and creating quality family time, you could say life is a bit of a balancing act,” says Kristen Love, a mother of two who uses smartphone apps to keep her family’s spending on track. “Thankfully, there are plenty of apps that help keep life running smooth for our family, no matter how crazy life gets.”
Check out this list of 12 apps with high app store ratings that help with budgeting, scheduling, communication and safety. They’re all free and available on iOS and Google Play.
Scheduling & Tracking
Best for: Parents who want to keep track of individual family members’ schedules
Cozi works by using a color-coded calendar for each member in your family, so you can see at a glance what everyone is scheduled to do at any given time of the day. You can also designate family members to certain activities, like taking the kids to soccer practice or picking up groceries.
“The app makes common things painless so we're more likely to use it,” says Graeme Scott, a father of two boys. “Cozi’s user interface is its main competitive advantage over other organizers that I have tried.”
An upgraded version, Cozi Gold (cost: $29.99 per year) is ad-free and contains additional features, like appointment reminders and a birthday tracker.
Best for: Trying to stay on task
This to-do app is a simple task manager that works with tools like Outlook, Gmail and Twitter to help you and your family achieve your scheduling goals.
Remember the Milk (RTM) allows users to create and organize lists of tasks that need to be done today, tomorrow, this week, etc. By viewing the “This Week” list, for example, you can get a complete view of everything that needs to get done within the week.
RTM boasts a reminder integration system, which pings you via your method of choice: email, text or even Twitter. The app also allows you to set recurring tasks for each day, week or up to a whole year.
Best for: New parents who want to track their baby’s growth
MammaBaby is a motherhood app that tracks things like feeding, napping and more. It also tracks your baby’s growth by monitoring weight, height and head size, using an easy-to-read chart to compare your baby’s progress compared to national percentiles.
"It’s especially helpful for doctor visits, so you can answer all their questions, like how many hours they nurse and how many times a day they have wet diapers,” Love says.
MammaBaby syncs up multiple devices. So whether you have your baby for the day or it’s grandma’s turn, naps, feedings and milestones will never be missed.
Best for: Families trying to stick to a budget and who want to monitor credit scores
This app with a nearly five-star rating in app stores allows you to track your spending and set budgets. It allows you to set alerts about upcoming bills and provides visual representation of where your money is spent.
"Another great feature is the ability to create multiple budgets, like funds for vacations and paying off credit cards,” Love says. “It calculates exactly how much to set aside to meet our goal in any given timeline, so it does the work for us.”
Mint offers a credit score tool that allows users to track their score through the app and see why it may have risen or dropped — all for free!
Best for: Parents keeping their entire family on budget by tracking individual spending
This app provides a way to track all your family’s expenses and savings, while also taking into account everyone’s habits to help you reach your financial goals. For example, if someone in your family is spending too much on going out to eat, Wally will take note of that and offer tips on reducing spending.
The app’s Home screen shows your remaining budget for the month and breaks expenses down to show you how much you can spend every day without going over budget. It also alerts you about upcoming expenses.
Another unique feature of Wally is its ability to tag the transaction location, as well as the person you were with when the transaction took place in order to help you identify where you tend to spend the most money.
Best for: Families who want to stick to a daily budget
PocketGuard monitors your spending on a daily basis by tracking the money going in and out of your bank account. Its “In Your Pocket” feature tells you how much is left to spend for the day without going over budget.
It works by sorting your purchases, bill payments and previous spending factors on a user-friendly dashboard to determine how much money can be safely subtracted. It’s a simple way to determine whether a family dinner outing is a good idea, for example, or if your wallet would prefer a home-cooked meal.
PocketGuard was rated "Best Simplified Budgeting App" by Nerdwallet.
Best for: Parents who want to monitor their kids’ messaging
Monster Messenger mimics modern instant messaging apps but gives parents all the control: Your child can talk to other kids and even family members — as long as you approve them. This can help reduce the chance of your child encountering a stranger or predator.
Designed for children under 13, Monster Messenger has plenty of fun stickers to choose from, along with the option to draw and send photos, giving kids a creative outlet in a safe manner. There’s also a strict anti-bullying policy, promising that moderators will ban users that are disrespecting or harassing other kids.
8. Life 360
Best for: Families tracking other family members’ locations
Did you ever wonder if your college-aged kid made it home safely after leaving a family dinner or if Dad has left the office yet? Life360 is an app for communicating with your loved ones and keeping up with their locations. Checking in is as simple as pressing a button.
The app shows family members a map with the location of the family members in their private circle. You can message everyone at once for group plans, as well as send private messages.
Best for: Couples co-parenting from separate households
Our Family Wizard is designed to ease the struggles of co-parenting for divorced or separated couples. This app boasts a tamper-proof messaging system, which the company says is safer than email or standard messaging tools that may allow messages to be edited, deleted or retracted. Once a message is delivered, it cannot be edited, deleted or removed from the chain of correspondence by either the sender or the recipient. The company recommends using this tool for keeping records in case of circumstances of dispute.
Parents can also review their messages with a tool called ToneMeter, which uses an advanced algorithm tool to identify emotionally-charged sentences and provide tips and suggestions to help you adjust the overall tone of your comment to encourage respectful communication.
The app comes with a calendar to ensure everyone is on the same page with parenting schedules and appointment details, as well as an Expense Log that makes it easier to track expenses. The log allows you to attach receipt files to each entry and send documented electronic payments.
10. Find My Kids
Best for: Parents who want to keep track of their kids’ locations
For all those times when you’re wondering whether your kids made it to school safely, Find My Kids provides real-time tracking of your child’s device’s location.
Find My Kids can automatically alert you when your child returns home or arrives at school, and it can also monitor their device battery levels to show when their device is dead. There’s an SOS button your child can use if they feel they’re in danger.
Best for: Families moving to a new area or who want to be aware of nearby crime
Sex Offender Search pinpoints registered sex offenders in your area and shows recent sex crimes.
Using the National Sex Offender Registry, Sex Offender Search allows you to input important addresses, such as your home or your child’s school, populating a map with markers to show where the offenders are located. When you tap on a marker within the app, you’ll gain access to a profile of each offender, with information such as the person’s name, address, photo and the crime they were convicted of.
The information is verified through sex offender registries in every state in the U.S., so you can use it no matter where you go.
Best for: Parents who are nervous about their children getting behind the wheel
TrueMotion tracks all your teen’s driving habits and reports back to you with things like speeding, sudden breaks and phone usage. But it also provides gamification that promotes good driving behavior: You can add other family members to the app, creating a game of who can get the best score. Motivate your teen through good, old-fashioned competition — and possibly reward them for hitting certain goals.