I’ve Used Instacart Exclusively for 2 Years Straight — Here Are 7 Ways I’ve Learned to Save Money on Groceries

published Feb 14, 2022
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Credit: Instacart

In 2018, I was diagnosed with spinal stenosis and herniated discs in my back, so trips to the grocery store quickly had to end. (My husband and I don’t have a car; I used to take a city bus up the street a few miles and lug our food home once a week.) After trying several grocery store delivery services, we were very frustrated. The price and experience of the services fell way short of our expectations: Most of the time, we didn’t receive our orders in the timeframe we requested. We’d also notice items we’d ordered were mysteriously absent, getting lost in the shuffle somehow.

Instacart has been serving the D.C. area since 2014, but didn’t really take off until 2017 or 2018. Once we began to hear more about it, we were instantly intrigued. After a few orders, we were sold and have been grocery shopping exclusively through the platform for two years straight now. Along the way, we’ve picked up a few tips on how to cut costs each week. These are our top tips.

Credit: Faith Durand

1. If you’re using the service regularly, consider an Express Membership.

Once we went through a few orders and decided we liked the service, my husband and I signed up for an Express Membership. For $99 a year, we get a $0 delivery fee on orders totaling more than $35, five percent credit back on eligible pickup orders, and lower service fees versus non-member pricing. According to Instacart, we’ve saved $632 in two years.

You can also give back for no extra cost. Express members can now sign up to fund one meal for a non-profit of their choice for every grocery order they place. As a Marylander, I could choose from the Maryland Food Bank, Feeding America, or No Kid Hungry. So far, I’ve built up enough to fund two meals and counting.

2. Update your loyalty cards as the site adds new retailers.

You know how most retailers have loyalty cards that get shoppers discounts and deals? Instacart lets you add a lot of them to its website and regularly updates the list of participating retailers in your area. Currently, I have four grocery cards uploaded and will be adding my CVS card and Sephora cards this week (now that I saw they are available to be added!). By having the loyalty numbers uploaded, more deals are posted, particularly on items we buy regularly.

Credit: Lumina Images/Getty Images

3. Read the fine print … and consider switching to the store brand.

According to Instacart, it’s the retailers who set the prices on the platform (so if you see a 50 percent markup on a banana, that was done by the retailer, not Instacart). There is usually a sentence in fine print that says, “prices higher than in store.” If you notice that on a store’s page, it’s worth looking for alternate brands, like the store’s brand to save some cash. We personally have switched to Wegmans’ brand shredded cheese, cream cheese, and yogurt, just to name a few.

4. Refer your friends and neighbors for extra credits.

Do you know someone who does the grocery shopping for their home? Great news: Instacart offers an ongoing deal of “give $10, get $10” for every friend you refer who places their first order (up to five friends). It’s an easy way to earn $10 off your next grocery order, or $50 off in total!

Credit: Instacart

5. Schedule your delivery time a few days in advance.

Sure, I’ve had a few times where I had to place an emergency order. However, if you can plan ahead (I order on Wednesday or Thursday for a Saturday or Sunday delivery), you will have less of a chance of paying extra fees. Plus, I’ve found that this waiting period gives me plenty of time to add anything I might have forgotten. If you have to place a same-day order, you can avoid an immediate delivery fee by waiting for delivery that’s four to six hours later.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: CC Buckley

6. Divvy up your heavy groceries, when possible.

To save money, it’s worth dividing up your heavy groceries (i.e., soda cans, dog food, gallons of milk, etc.) over the course of a few separate weeks. According to Instacart, “The heavy order fee helps cover operational costs and only applies when you purchase heavy items like cases of beverages and pet food, among other products. The fee is applied if the total combined estimated weight of these items is above 50 pounds.”

7. Order your groceries online, then pick them up.

If you or someone in your home has a car, it is cheaper to order your groceries online and opt for curbside pickup than it is to have them delivered. By how much? It varies: The fees depend on where you live and how far the delivery person has to travel.

How do you save money while grocery shopping online? Tell us in the comments below!