How do you track your preps?

That is, how do you know exactly:

What you have on hand?
Where it is stored?
What is the quantity status?

And then, how do you determine what needs to be stocked/restocked? Where to get it?

Preppers use a variety of mechanisms to track and plan there preps. Some people have created elaborate spreadsheets for different categories (food, water, medical, defense etc). Others more computer inclined have developed their own Access database applications. And still others use old fashioned pen and paper (which does have the virtue of being “off the grid” in the event of a disaster!).

I rarely give a public review for a specific product or service. And even more rarely recommend a product or service. But this one I feel is really worthwhile to discuss.

I started out with a spreadsheet system and still use it for my long term storage preps. But for my shorter term supplies, the commercial supermarket/Costco/BJ’s/Walmart etc supplies it doesn’t work well.

So I began a search for a better system to organize and track short term storage supplies. It soon occurred to me that I don’t need a system specifically for prepping per se. There had to be software, ideally freeware or low cost shareware, for pantry and kitchen food inventory.

And there is.

First, my requirements were simple:

  • Be able to have multiple pantry/inventory locations.
  • Be able to add products to locations (ideally by scanning the UPC code for speed).
  • Be able to specify the quantity of the item and any notes about it.
  • Ideally, be able to enter the expiration date.
  • Be able to move products from one location to another without needing to re-enter it.
  • Be able to create To-Do or shopping lists.
  • Be able to see a list of products are each location and the quantities of each product.

There are quite a few PC based packages for pantry and inventory management. There are also several web-based services for this, though most require a modest fee for use.

Then it occurred to me there had to be a smart phone app too. A quick browse of the Android Market Place listed several. Most were free so I downloaded several and put them through their paces. Unfortunately none meet all my requirements. I don’t think that would be possible without custom work (if anyone is a Droid app programmer and is willing to do some pro-bono work let me know!). But with compromise in mind I tested each one.

I finally settled on one that I think covers the bulk of the significant features I want: Out Of Milk

This is both a Droid and web application (maybe available for iphone and ipad too by the time this is published). It can work stand alone as a smart phone app, as a web-based service, or work together as a smart phone and web-based app.

So here’s a rundown of what I like and don’t like about this product:

Pros

  • Can operate stand alone as a smart phone app (free) or in conjunction with the web-based app (fee).
  • If you subscribe to the web site ($4.99 lifetime access for 2 users then a small amount  for up to 9 additonal users as of writing this) it will sync lists in real-time automatically (configurable) between your smart phones and the website.
  • Create shared or private lists.
  • Select who to share your lists with (if using the multi user feature).
  • Can create lists and enter/maintain inventory on the website then upload (sync) the smart phone app. (generally much easier to enter from a PC than use a smart phone keyboard interface).
  • Can enter products manually or by scanning UPC.
  • Can select a specific quantity or a full-half-empty to indicate amount on hand.
  • Can enter the price of the item and comments/notes (optional).
  • Can transfer product from one list to another (e.g. move an item from one location to another).
  • Can schedule sync updates from every 15 minutes to every 4 hours as well as manually force a sync.
  • Pretty good customer support.

Cons

  • No entry for expiration date (unless you put it in the name of the items – ex: Canned Tuna, 5 oz, exp 12/31/10).
  • And therefore no automatic way to report on or indicate items that have expired or are about to expire.
  • No automatic way to remove products from inventory such as by scanning the UPC – must manually edit the quantity to reduce the on hand amount.
  • No reporting tools (no way to print a report) of items in stock.
  • The smart phone user interface is a bit “clumsy” for some features.
  • Possible security issues from having your data on a web service (I am not saying anything specific about the site’s security! Merely saying there is the common issue of security that stands for any website). Also security for having your data on a smart phone that can be [physically] lost or stolen.

Overall I think this software and service is a good balance of the feature I think are important for good pantry inventory management and is a good price. Definitely worth trying the free version at least.

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