Updated December 2, 2020: If you’re a busy person — and, really, who isn’t these days — you’ve probably outsourced or at least thought about outsourcing your grocery shopping. And, thanks to the good old gig economy, you certainly have plenty of options. Among them, Instacart, a same-day grocery delivery service now available in 43 states, plus Washington. D.C.
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What is Instacart?
Instacart partners with grocery stores in different cities to spare busy shoppers a trip to the store. You can enter your zip code on its website to see if it services your area.
Here’s how it works: You create an account online through the Instacart app and place an order at a nearby participating grocer. An Instacart shopper (essentially a very specialized TaskRabbit) shops for you and delivers your food right to your door. It's a convenience, for sure. Whether or not it's a money-saver is up for debate.
Is Instacart a save or a splurge?
That depends. Ordering online can help you stick to a list, since you’re avoiding all the in-store triggers that cause impulse buys. But you’re also paying for the service.
Instacart charges a delivery fee (usually around $4 to $8, but that price can surge) and a 10% service fee — which you can, technically, waive. This service fee is separate from the tip you can leave your shopper. (And, yes, it’s good form to tip a gig worker; the money generally represents a big chunk of their wages.)
These fees might cost less than your hunger-induced splurges — or they might not … which is why we’ve rounded up five ways to save money on Instacart.
1. Free delivery on your first order
Instacart offers free delivery for your first order. It’s a one-time offer for new customers only, but saves a little bit of cash, if you want to try the service.
2. Refer friends
Instacart lets you "give" $10 in groceries to up to five friends. If they place an order through the service, you'll get $10 in groceries in return. In other words, you're eligible for $50 worth of groceries via referral codes.
3. Order during off-hours
Much like Uber has surge-pricing, Instacart has “busy pricing fees”. Orders made at or for busy times, like Sunday evenings, are subject to higher charges. Think $10 to $12 instead of $4 to $8 a delivery.
Delivery fees are determined on a sliding scale that accounts for the time of your order, the store and the city, but you can tell if an order is subject to busy pricing, because it will say so and appear orange in the app.
4. Order in advance
You can avoid surge-pricing by ordering in advance. (You also aren’t subject to the surge price if you order isn’t actually on time.)
Here’s a trick for working the advance angle: Put items in your cart before you’re ready to officially place an order. That’ll give you the chance to select the cheapest delivery time between then and when you need your food. Once you’ve found an optimal price/window, schedule your delivery.
5. Use the Insta-coupons
Instacart knows people use coupons when they go to the grocery store, so it has incorporated manufacturer coupons into the service. You can find them in the “Deals that Delight” section of the website or in the “Coupons” tab on the app.
6. Google for more coupon codes
You can also find coupons for Instacart on Retail Me Not, a coupon website. Their deals vary, but there have been offers of $10 off an order or free delivery in the past. (For more general couponing tips, go here.)
7. Go Express for $149 per year
If you can’t stop Instacart-ing, you can get an Instacart Express membership. For $149 a year, you get free two-hour deliveries on all orders over $35. That $149 breaks down into $12.50 a month, so if you’re using Instacart more than three (or even two) times a month, you’ll save on delivery fees.
Trying to save on groceries in general? We've got some solid food-shopping hacks here.
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