This year, my #1 goal has been to lower my family’s grocery expenses from almost $1000 to no more than $772 each month.
For a lot of people, that number might seem huge. How do four people eat so much? For some people, that might seem like a ridiculously small amount. “How can they possibly subsist on so little?”
For me, grocery shopping is the thankless, difficult, necessary task that I do each and every week, going back again and again to the basics: meal planning, making lists, inventorying, not wasting food.
I love shopping at Aldi, the low-cost grocery store, but it’s 25 minutes away from my house, so getting there, buying groceries, and getting back to put them away can be a pain.
Enter: Instacart. A few weeks ago I saw a sign in Aldi that advertised grocery delivery with Instacart. For Aldi groceries! I was intrigued, and decided to spend the month of December testing the service out (because, with all of the running around and craziness in December, what better month to have groceries delivered straight to your door?
I downloaded the Instacart app on my phone, and signed up during the last week of November to get two weeks of free delivery. The app allows you to choose a grocery store (in my area, I have the choice of about seven grocery stores and pharmacies), and order your groceries directly from the app. It’s pretty easy to order the groceries. There’s a Search button, or you can shop by category. And once you’ve placed an order, there’s a handy “reorder” category that you can choose from to save time. While not every single item in Aldi is on the app, a vast majority are (I’ve only not found a certain dog biscuit I like and a pair of Christmas pjs that were advertised one week).
The nice thing about the app is that you can pass it around and let everyone in your family check to make sure the items they want are in the cart. And you can also do a final check before you order and remove any items that are excessive or make you go over your budget. It’s also a really good way to make sure you’re shopping healthy (“Do we really need those cookies?”).
Once you’ve filled your grocery cart, you can check out, choose a delivery time (generally one to two hours from when you’re shopping at a minimum) and pay for your groceries.
A Day for Delivery
December 14th was cold and rainy. I was playing tennis in the morning and had to get the house cleaned in the afternoon, as well as write two blog posts, work on my online course, help Junior ThreeYear study for a test, and engage in other mom-related duties that I now forget. So, at 8:00 that morning, I made my list, set my meal plan for the week, and ordered all my groceries online to be delivered later in the day. You can pick the delivery time you want your groceries to be delivered, but higher-frequency times do carry a higher price. Because I’m home all day, I usually have my groceries delivered on Fridays around 1pm.
The groceries arrived shortly after 1pm (my window was from 1-2pm). They were delivered by a very nice lady who told me that she was working at Instacart to supplement her income (so far, all of my shoppers have been older–mid 50s or so). The one thing I was disappointed about was that Aldi had been out of a couple of things I wanted (a baguette, a tub of yoghurt), so she had refunded me the money instead of replacing those items.
She told me that in the future, I should check the app and chat with the shopper while he or she is shopping for me, to tell them exactly what I’d like the items replaced with.
Here’s what I spent:
This was the first order where I paid full price. I’d gotten two weeks of free delivery and then a $10 credit when my sister signed up (want your own $10 credit? Here’s my link). Still, I was having my groceries delivered to my door at my convenience for a little less than $130 and no driving or fighting traffic.
Here is a breakdown of the fees I paid:
Checkout Bag Fee ($.42):
Since Aldi doesn’t provide bags, shoppers have to purchase bags for you. This is the fee for that. There’s not a way to use reusable bags when you use Instacart, since your shopper might be different every time. So there’s always a small fee of a few cents here.
Delivery Fee ($3.99):
This is the fee that Instacart charges to have the groceries delivered. This fee usually stays the same, unless you’re ordering during a particularly busy time, when it can go up.
Shoppers work hard for their money, so I’m happy to tip them. I consider this part of the cost of the service, and have been tipping 10% (suggested) or more. You can change your tip after you receive your groceries if you feel the shopper warrants more or less than you gave.
This is, in my opinion, basically part of the delivery fee, but I believe that this money goes directly to Instacart to keep the platform running, versus going to the shopper. This fee is generally a little less than 10% of your order.
Hidden Fees ($??):
Another way that Instacart makes money is that they increase the price of some groceries by $.10-$.50 or more. I haven’t figured out their pricing structure here–it seems to be somewhat random. Some items (like orange juice, $1.99) are the same price as they are in the store. Others (like bags of mandarin oranges, $4.09) have a large markup. This is where you have to be careful, and keep a keen eye on how much things cost, or you can pay a lot more than at the store.
You’re also not going to get the sale price on everything when you buy online. One of the ways that shoppers are compensated is that they buy at store prices, then Instacart compensates them based on what you paid Instacart. That means, if something’s on sale, but you paid $1 more for it, they keep the difference.
Instacart also has coupons that you can use in any given week. They’re listed at the top of the app where you order and give you an array of 10 or so products that you can save on. I saved $3 on toothpaste and Febreeze.
All of my fees came to $15.93. Including the hidden fees, I estimate that I’m paying roughly $20 to have my groceries delivered. When you think about the time and gas it takes for a shopper to buy your groceries and deliver them, that seems about right to me.
While I would normally balk at paying so much money for something I can easily do myself, I also have to think about another component–spending behavior. Because I’m in control of exactly what I’m buying from the get-go, I can set my grocery spending for the week and be assured I won’t go over. I know ahead of time exactly how much I’ll be spending on my groceries.
Also, if you’re a long way from the grocery store, you may factor in the wear-and-tear you’re saving on your car, and find that it’s not as expensive (personally, I drive 14 miles in the city to my Aldi and back, so my wear-and-tear, calculated using the federal government’s rate of $.55 per mile, would be $7.70).
What if the store doesn’t have one of the items you want? If you keep a close eye on the app, your shopper will suggest replacement purchases for you and you can approve or reject them. If you don’t accept the replacement, they’ll credit your account for the purchase.
Instacart puts a temporary hold on your card for about $25-30 more than your final total, just in case your replacement products end up going over. Then they charge you the final amount once your groceries have been delivered and you’re satisfied there are no discrepancies. The details of your orders remain on the app for you to go back and check anytime you want.
The shoppers use a cool “wand” tool to make sure that they’ve bought everything on your list, and so far, I’ve been very pleased at their thoroughness.
A couple of times, they’ve been out of items I wanted, and I haven’t been watching the app, so the shoppers just don’t get anything. That’s been a bummer, because we then have to live without that item for a week. So I’ve learned to make sure I’m watching the app during the time window the shopper is at Aldi for me.
The real proof of the service to me was going to be in my total monthly spending for December. Technically, I ordered one Instacart order in November and went to the grocery store a couple of times in December, once to Aldi and twice to the beach grocery, where we were staying for Christmas. Mr. ThreeYear also went to Harris Teeter once and bought a bunch of wine.
However, our total spending for December was only $654.01, much lower than other months. Mr. ThreeYear did travel for about a week total, so that’s important (we always spend less in months where he travels more), and we did go to the beach for a week, where my parents and sister’s family also brought a lot of food.
But, we did not make as many side trips during the week to pick up random things. I credit that in part to being December, and a busy month, and in part to Mr. ThreeYear being able to pick the groceries that he wants to buy in the app.
When I’ll Use This Service
I would have killed for this service when I had small kids and had to take them with me to the store. Nothing like this is available where I lived in New Hampshire, of course. So Instacart feels a bit like a dream. I’ve gotten groceries delivered four times now, and each time, I’m so amazed that someone is bringing groceries to my house.
Of course I won’t use this service every week. I have plenty of time to go to the grocery store in general, so I’ll probably only use Instacart when we’re coming back from a trip and can’t get to the store, or when the weather’s really bad.
But for my sister, this has been a lifesaver. She works from home and is pregnant, so not only does she not feel great, her grocery shopping time is time she could be making watchbands so to her, this service is a no-brainer.
Who Will Benefit from Instacart
Young moms: You’ll easily save the $20 in the time, hassle, and “pllleeease can we buy that?” of not having to take your kids to the store!
Spenders: I fit into this category. Even though I carry a list and work hard to be a disciplined shopper, I often spend more than I thought because I haven’t priced everything out, I’m hungry and overbuy, or I get tempted by “deals” in the store. The app has been amazing for helping me modify my spending behavior by keeping me out of the store. I’ve easily saved the $20 in fees each grocery visit because I’m spending so much less. I wouldn’t have believed it, but the proof’s in the numbers (the one time I went to Aldi in person this month I spent the most $$–$152.22!).
Families with two full-time workers: Instead of spending Saturday or Sunday grocery shopping, you can have your groceries delivered one weekday evening (or one weekend). You can take back your precious 2-3 hours of grocery shopping time and now spend just 15 minutes putting your groceries away.
Who Won’t Benefit from Instacart
DIYers: If you’re someone who likes to do everything yourself, I don’t recommend this service to you. I admit that even I wanted to go visit the store after a couple of weeks to see what I was missing (this was when I couldn’t find the Christmas pjs!).
Super Frugal People: If your grocery budget is very strict (and on the smaller side), then the cost of Instacart probably won’t seem worth it to you.
People with Masses of Self-Control: If you’re someone who has a strict grocery list with each item’s price written out, and you never deviate from said list, I wouldn’t use Instacart. The price won’t be worth it for you.
People who want alcohol delivered: Unfortunately, you’re going to have to make a separate trip for your adult beverages because Instacart doesn’t deliver beer or wine.
If you are interested in trying out Instacart, here’s that link for $10 off again and two weeks of free delivery.
Have you used a grocery delivery service before? Have you tried Instacart? I’d love to hear your thoughts!!
Happiest of happy New Years to my readers! You guys have made this year fantastic. Thank you SO much for reading and being a part of this blog. It really is an honor to have so many people reading and commenting!! I am so grateful to you!