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What is the most effective way to synchronize shopping lists in a household, so that family members can quickly help purchase items for each other?

(My guess is that there are smartphone apps for this; however, while being able to browse the Internet, not all family members may have compatible phones capable of installing the same app.)

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up vote 2 down vote accepted

I was in a similar situation and settled on using Remember The Milk here's how I have it set up.

For me the only list that is synced is my groceries list because that is the one that is most often modified between myself and my wife. It theoretically could be used for more lists but may require a bit more setup.

In my case my wife has a smartphone without a good app (webOS) and my phone has a mobile app but I have also used this method from a dumbphone.

What you'll need

  • Remember The Milk account for each user (web interface, apps, and list syncing)
  • Email account for each user (email reminders and list import)
  • Twitter account for each user (optional SMS commands)
  • Set up apps (optional)

Start with RTM

  1. Set up an account for each user and on one of the accounts make a groceries list. (make sure it's a list and not saved search)
  2. Select the groceries list and then select the share tab. Follow the required steps to add a contact and then share the list with the contact.
  3. Verify that the list shows up for each user.
  4. Inside RTM web interface go to settings -> Info and write down the "Inbox Email Address" and "Import Email Address"

Set up Email

  1. Add a contact for each RTM email (RTM Task and RTM Import is what I use). You can either use the same email address for each user or use the user specific email address. Make sure you know the email format to use for the list
  2. Test sending an email to the new contact. Here is what one of my typical emails look like.

to: RTM Import

Subject: groceries





These items will automatically be added to the groceries list for both users.

Set up Twitter

  1. Create a Twitter account (one for each user) and set up twitter access via SMS Make sure SMS notifications are turned on for direct messages
  2. Follow rtm on twitter and allow access to your RTM account. Follow this documentation for setting it up and a list of commands. If you have a twitter client you can either use that or you can use SMS to send and retrieve tasks. An example SMS message that will add bread to your groceries list

to: 40404

subject: d rtm bread #groceries

When you are at the store you can use this SMS to retrieve your groceries list. One caveat is you're whole list will not be sent. Only the first 140 characters :( You have to !complete tasks to view more

to: 40404

subject: d rtm !getlist groceries

Set up Apps

  1. This is easy but it's important to note that syncing with mobile apps requires a pro account ($25 /yr/account)
  2. They have a crap ton of apps available so you should be able to find apps for most smartphones but the above options are available for free and work from any phone.
  3. They also have a decent WAP browser interface that I'd recommend setting a bookmark if a data plans are available and an app is not.

My Experience

99% of the time my wife uses email to send tasks to the list and I used the web interface. I do most of the shopping, so I use the mobile app in the store.

I also use IFTTT to add a few more options to managing my todo lists. These could be applied to the groceries list or just general task management

Send RTM item based on gcal event

Send RTM item from SMS

There are more options available but all of that should allow you to send/receive and sync your lists like you wanted.

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There are apps - I use Grocery Gadget which has a web interface, as well as iOS, Android, Blackberry, Windows Phone, and other apps. I'm not thrilled with the web interface, but the iOS implementation is really nice.

Any of the generic list management web applications could work as a shopping list - RememberTheMilk, TeauxDeaux, Wunderlist, and so on. They have varying (but increasing) support for multiple platforms, poke at them until you find one you like.

Evernote could work, too. It syncs very well between devices (I use Windows, web, iOS, Android, additional platforms supported) and has a checkbox widget you can use to make lists that learn. You could use a single note as a shopping list, or have separate notes by store, or person. Sharing notes between multiple users works well.

For another approach using a mix of computer and paper, see Get It Done Guy on managing a shopping list

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FWIW, I use Ziplist for grocery shopping. It has Android, iOS and web interfaces and you can clip recipes from the web and generate shopping lists from them. You can also share lists with people in your family. I also liked GroceryIQ, which knows about coupons. I don't use coupons that much, so the latter is not so useful to me.

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Welcome to Personal Productivity. Your answer would be more valuable if you included a link to both programs you mention. – THelper Jun 24 '13 at 22:01
@THelper: Thanks. Done. – Bill White Jun 26 '13 at 19:13

If family members can access the Internet, use a generic notetaking website such as which simply hosts plain texts.

Those who come up with needed items add them to the list. If it becomes cluttered, create sections with headings for different types of items. Of course, whenever something is purchased, it should immediately be deleted from the list.

If somebody often is very busy and simply can't find the time to edit the list, it makes sense to install a whiteboard at home where items quickly can be noted. Then take a photo of it and send the image to the family. Somebody with more time can then add the items to the text list.

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