by Holly Johnson
February 14, 2018
by Holly Johnson
February 14, 2018
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to order groceries through a service like Peapod, Instacart, or Amazon Fresh? Whether you saved money or not, getting food delivered to your door without making a trip to the grocery store probably sounds like a dream come true.
After all, ordering your groceries online would allow you to avoid walking through each aisle of the store, putting everything you want in your cart, waiting in line to pay, loading up the conveyor belt, then lugging everything out to your car before bringing it all home to put away. How amazing would it be to snap your fingers and have all the groceries you want and need show up within a few hours or the next day?
These are the thoughts that went through my head last year when I started researching grocery delivery services. Although I work out of my home, I work full-time and then some (often 50+ hours per week) and also take care of my kids and my house. I was becoming increasingly tired of trying to figure out how and when to get to the grocery store without cutting into my work day or exercise time, or without running so late I didn't have time to make dinner.
And, you know what? I was also just tired of going to the store. I'm not going to lie. Grocery shopping has long been on my list of dreaded chores, so the mere thought of skipping it (even occasionally) sounded pretty darn awesome.
The problem is, I didn't want to wind up paying more for groceries. While my husband and I have become more flexible with our spending than we have been in the past, I've worked very hard to get our grocery spending under $600 per month. I mostly save money by cooking all our meals from scratch and planning meals around what's on sale, so I was not thrilled about the prospect of overpaying for the staples I use to make our meals.
But then, I had a crazy day where I needed to go to the store but didn't have time. I wound up finding an online coupon to try Instacart, and I decided to give it a try. From that point forward, I was hooked.
In the Indianapolis suburb where I live, we can choose to use Instacart to get grocery delivery from Meijer or my local Kroger store. While I like both stores, I chose to shop at Kroger via Instacart because I really like some of their store brands.
My first experience with Instacart was pretty annoying because, yes, some of their prices are a lot higher than what you find in the grocery store.
For example, avocados are $2.29 each via Instacart, even though they're usually only $1 or $1.50 at the store. SO Delicious Coconut Milk yogurt alternative, which I eat all the time, costs $2.29 each through Instacart although it's only $1.79 at the store.
Almond milk that I usually buy for $2.99 is $3.49 via Instacart, and our favorite brand of potato chips is $1 more. You get the point.
Basically, many of the foods you buy through Instacart will be marked up to a certain extent. The Instacart website says they "work with retailers to bring you the same prices as found in the physical store," but adds that "some prices" you see will be higher through the Instacart app. In my experience (and in my area), prices seem to be 10% to 20% higher for some food items, and the exact same as in the store for others.
Instacart also charges a $5.99 delivery fee, although you can be charged a higher delivery fee during "busy hours" if the app is experiencing huge demand. You can also get Instacart Express service with no delivery fees if you pay an annual fee of $149 or $14.99 per month for membership. On top of that, they also charge a 10% "service fee." However, you can change this amount to zero if you want (I always do). On top of that, you are expected to tip Instacart delivery people. I typically tip 15%, but I have tipped more at times.
In short, my first order with Instacart freaked me out because I ordered around $135 in groceries but wound up paying more like $160. In addition to the grocery total (all food, so no taxes), I tipped $20 and paid a $5.99 delivery fee. Ouch.
But, you know what? When the Instacart delivery guy showed up with all my groceries neatly bagged, I no longer cared about the additional $25 I spent. He brought them to the door and I instantly knew I would be using this service (or another like it) whenever I was in a bind with time — which is almost always.
If I spend an extra $25 each time I get food delivered, and I typically go to the grocery store once per week, I should theoretically be spending an extra $100 on food every month, right? Well, for a few reasons I'm about to get into, I can honestly say that hasn't been the case.
While grocery delivery services that bring the supermarket to your door do come with added costs, there are several ways they can lower your costs, too. The potential for savings comes in the following ways:
One aspect of online grocery shopping I really like is the fact I can sit down to create a list then add everything to my cart before I submit. Since I typically create a meal plan for breakfasts, lunches, and four or five homemade dinners per week, having it all in front of me helps me stay on track.
This stands in stark contrast to my trips to the store where I'm much more prone to buy extra items we don't really need. If my kids are grocery shopping with me especially, it's hard to say "no" to every treat or snack they want. However, using an online grocery shopping service pretty much takes impulse purchases out of the equation, since you're not perusing all the aisles or seeing all the goodies you could be buying.
Sam Schulz, co-founder of the HoneyFi budgeting app for couples, told me this is one of the reasons he uses both Instacart and Amazon Fresh for his personal groceries. Not only does it make it easier to avoid buying more than you need, but it makes it easier to avoid buying too many snacks or ingredients that seem good but may not get used.
"Shopping online helps us avoid making impulse purchases since we don't get the instant gratification of buying that expensive chocolate-covered snack on the way out," he says. "That alone probably saves us $10 every trip."
Another advantage of grocery delivery and ordering online is that it gives you the chance to take stock of what you have already. I don't know about you, but I'm extremely prone to buying something I already have at home because, once at the store, I can't remember if we've run out or not.
Schulz seems to agree. "If we aren't sure whether we need something or don't know how much we need, we quickly double check the fridge and pantry to confirm," he says.
Since you're shopping from home instead of the store, it's a lot easier to use items you already have for meals and buy only the ingredients you need.
On the days I used to head to the grocery store in the past, I tried to cut my work day short. I did this so that I would have time to go to the store and still have time to make dinner, but I also did it so I could avoid afternoon rush hour traffic.
For me, cutting a work day short always means making less money that day. No big deal, right? Wrong. While taking a small pay cut once per week may not seem like a big deal, those lost work hours definitely add up over the course of a year.
Kevin Mahoney, CEO of fee-only financial advisory firm Illumint, says this is one of the biggest reasons many of his clients opt to pay more for grocery delivery. Since he works mainly with clients in the Washington, D.C., area, he sees many people – including lawyers and other professionals – who bill their clients on an hourly basis.
"For these people, removing a trip to the grocery store from their schedules can directly make them more money," says Mahoney.
However, the same logic would apply to anyone working on an hourly basis or in the gig economy. If going to the grocery store requires you to work less each week, you may be better off paying for grocery delivery and working longer instead. Of course, your hourly rate needs to be high enough to justify the added expense.
If you're worried about the added costs of having groceries delivered, you should be! It's easy to justify spending an extra $25 here and an extra $100 there until, all of a sudden, you've blown your budget completely for the month.
Then again, some conveniences are absolutely worth paying for, especially if you can use them to make more money or improve your qualify of life. If you're suffering from a lack of time or just tired out from going to the store week after week, consider giving a grocery delivery service a try. Just be prepared to become addicted… and fast. Once you get a taste of having groceries delivered to your doorstep, it's tough going back!