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7 Free Tools to Help Calm the Back-to-School Chaos

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Whether you’re working or a stay-at-home parent, back-to-school season can get rough. Between strict schedules, meal planning, homework, and maybe even extracurriculars, life just gets a bit chaotic.

Luckily, technology can make things a bit easier on parents. With all the apps available today, there are loads of great free tools that can help you handle everything from schedules to meal planning. Here are seven of the best free — and really cheap — tools to try this back-to-school season.

1. Google Calendar

While there are plenty of great calendar apps on the market, Google’s still takes the cake. Available for iOS and Android, the interface is great on just about any screen. It lets you choose different views, from one month to a daily agenda, or a custom view like two or three weeks. Plus, you can easily share Google Calendars with a spouse or your older kids, so that everyone syncs up seamlessly.

One of the best things about Google Calendars, though, is the ability to set up multiple calendars. Use one for work events, one for personal appointments and one for the kids’ school schedule. You could even keep a separate calendar for each member of the family. Each calendar will be color-coded, so you can get an at-a-glance idea of what’s coming in any given week.

Two other great Google Calendar features: reminders and repeating events. With reminders, you can set up alerts on your phone for repeating or one-off events. You can even make sure Google keeps reminding you until you check the reminder as complete, so you don’t accidentally blow off making that important appointment. And with repeating events, you can quickly add regular events to your calendar.

2. Google Keep

Again, there are multiple note-taking apps on the market, but Google Keep is definitely worth checking out. This simple app lets you take notes or create to-do lists that look like sticky notes. You can organize them by category, and you can even color-code the notes to match your calendar colors.

The best thing about Keep is that you can share notes with others. You can, for instance, keep a running grocery list in a Keep note that you share with your spouse. That way whoever has time to stop by the store on a given weeknight has the list ready to go.

3. Cozi

Cozi combines some of the functionality of Google Keep and Google Calendar. It comes in a free and paid version. The free version runs ads. The paid version comes with additional features, including a birthday calendar and contact list.

If you want to keep just a single shared family calendar, Cozi is a great option. Like Google Calendar, it lets you share your calendar with a spouse or multiple family members. The calendar app is slightly less user-friendly than Google’s — but only slightly. It does include the additional feature of a meal planner, which is great for busy parents. Plus, Cozi lets you keep categorized shopping and to-do lists, making it a good all-around organization app.

4. Pepperplate

This meal-planning app can take some time to set up because you’ll need to build or import your own recipes. But you can import recipes from a web link, making it an easy option for organizing all those Pinterest recipes you’ve been meaning to try. Once you get your recipes into your recipe box, you can tell the app which recipes you’re shopping for this week. Then, it’ll automatically generate a shopping list to use at the grocery store.

As far as meal-planning apps go, this one has great reviews. It doesn’t do the planning for you, but it’s a good option if you already have a go-to bank of recipes you use on busy weeknights.

5. Asana

This free to-do app is great for busy parents who want to track both work and home tasks. As with many of the apps featured here, you can share this one with a spouse or older kids. Asana lets you assign tasks by person and give tasks a due date. You can also organize tasks by category or project, making it easy to work on the most important projects first.

One of Asana’s biggest strengths is ease-of-use in a mobile format, though you can also access it by desktop. Plus, it allows you to sort your to-do list in a variety of ways, from tasks by due date to tasks by assignee to tasks by project.

6. Chore Monster

Want to get your kids doing more chores this school year? Try Chore Monster. This easy-to-use app lets you as the parent assign and create point values for various chores. You can have certain chores your kids must do, and certain chores they can choose to do. When the child completes the chore, you check it off, and they earn points.

What do they do with all those points? It’s up to you! Add rewards that kids can purchase with their points. Rewards could be physical or monetary, or you could just give kids extra screen time. The cool thing is that you can assign some rewards with a low-point value, so kids can pick them up often. But you can also help kids grasp the idea of saving by giving them a few high-point-value options, like a big weekend camping trip or an expensive new toy.

7. Evernote

This app has been around a while, and it’s a classic. Many moms swear by it, and it does have a bunch of functions to try. You might use it for keeping track of online articles you want to read while waiting in the school pickup line. Or you can use it to get rid of all that paper-based clutter kids bring home from school.

With Evernote, you can store scans or photos of paper items, so you can easily upload the school calendar and menu to an online format. You could also use Evernote to store scans of special projects or papers your kids bring home, so that you’ll hang on to them without having to find a place for thousands of pieces of paper every single school week.

Image: Erik Khalitov

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