3 reasons why Instacart is cheaper than going to the supermarket

A young adult looks at a grocery store shelf with concern.

Image source: Getty Images

It often occurs in children.


Most important points

  • Instacart saves shoppers time and energy in addition to money.
  • Mix and match Instacart with traditional in-store shopping for the best experience.

I live with a mother of two teenagers. We all have food preferences and dietary restrictions (including gluten and dairy allergies). Traditional errands—dragging the kids around town during working hours—wasn’t enough.

Enter Instacart, the grocery delivery app.

Eight months after switching to Instacart, it’s clear that the service keeps me from overspending at the grocery store. Of course there are caveats. Contrary to what some people claim, Instacart doesn’t necessarily save you gas money (more on that later).

But easy delivery has made our lives easier. Less costly. Here are three reasons why Instacart is cheaper than going to the grocery store.

1. Customers save time

In-person shopping takes more time and energy than a Twitter doomscroll. According to the Time Use Institute, the average person spends 41 minutes per grocery store visit. Too long. I’d rather spend that time earning money or learning something new.

My roommate spent over an hour each trip dragging her kids to supermarkets like Sprouts. Now she spends 10 to 20 minutes buying groceries on Instacart. Features like “Buy It Again” make repeat orders easy.

Shopping is manual labor by another name. Shopping on grocery delivery platforms like Instacart can save time that could be better spent elsewhere.

2. Shoppers can compare prices faster

Savvy shoppers hunt for deals in stores. While some may prefer to remember which stores are best for what, others need extra help. Instacart makes it faster to switch stores and compare prices.

My homeware shops at both Sprouts and Ralphs. Sprouts is our favorite, but Ralphs sells Cheerios (a staple in the home). On Instacart, we can compare the price of Cheerios in different stores. If another store sells Cheerios cheaper than Ralphs, we switch stores.

Please note that with Instacart, customers can only order from one store at a time. That makes price comparison more difficult, but comparing prices on Instacart is still faster than doing it in person. Having price paralysis? Choose from the best supermarkets to save money.

Tip: Use two monitors or a combination of phone and computer to compare prices side by side on Instacart.

3. Shoppers avoid impulse purchases

Kids want things. Like brownie bites. And cute marshmallow cereal. When the whining starts, it’s all too easy to throw these things in the shopping cart (against my better judgement). Plus, you tend to forget what your pantry needs when you drive around Ralphs.

Instacart gives my household the freedom to doubt. We toss whatever anyone wants into the cart and decide what to cut at checkout. If we accidentally order too much candy, we cut some out. When we suddenly remember we need gluten-free salad dressing, we add it to the cart. Simple.

You don’t have to worry about queuing up at the last minute to return. Instacart reduces impulse buying by giving customers the opportunity to doubt. Skip the impulse buying frenzy by ordering online.

Do you have to use Instacart all the time?

Not necessary. For starters, not all stores deliver through Instacart. You’ll need to shop in person at Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and Costco (or through their websites, if available). I supplement my online deliveries with monthly trips from Costco and Trader Joe.

Plus, Instacart is rumored to be saving shoppers gas money. That is only technically true. Instacart may – perhaps – save shoppers gas money if they live far from the grocery store, but in reality, the cost of tips often outweighs the gas savings.

For example, the standard Instacart tip is 5%. On a $50 dollar order, customers tip $2.50. For example, if the cost to drive to the store is $0.58 per mile, that means only drivers who travel more than four miles to the store can save fuel by using Instacart. Larger tips will reduce savings even further.

Finally, Instacart shines when you order in bulk. The lowest fee is $3.99 per order on orders over $35. We have an Instacart+ membership, which costs $99 per year. Benefits include free delivery on orders over $35.

Mix and match

Shoppers who tend to make impulse purchases, who dislike in-person shopping, and who spend more than $35 per trip may find Instacart cheaper than in-person shopping. For my household, the savings in time and mental energy are huge. The best grocery credit cards also save customers money on their regular groceries. Consider combining delivery with in-store shopping to maximize your savings.

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