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Sarah Anne Ward
Sarah Anne Ward
Money

Are Grocery Delivery Services Really Worth The Money?

Finance expert Jean Chatzky has the answer.

Each Thursday in September, Jean Chatzky — financial editor of NBC's TODAY, AARP financial ambassador, and host of the weekly podcast HerMoney with Jean Chatzky — will answer your questions about finances. The aim is to help women make sense of money so that they feel more in control. Here's her first column.

Q: I go to three different grocery stores a week for various items, which takes up gobs of time I don’t really have. My spouse wants me to outsource it using a grocery delivery service. How do I convince myself it’s worth the extra cost? Is it really worth the extra money?

A: I smiled when I read your question because I feel like you’re describing my life — actually, all of our lives. We are busy women. We should be making conscious choices about how we use our time just as we should be making conscious choices about how we use our money. But all too often — in both cases — we don’t. And, so, let’s look at both the time and the money in to try to get us to a single answer.

First, let’s look at your time itself. Do you know how much your time is worth? You should. We all should. If you’re paid by the hour, you have a pretty good sense already. But if you’re paid an annual salary, here’s the hack to use to figure it out. (If you're a stay-at-home mom, Salary.com says your number is $143,000.) Take your yearly number (say, $80,000), lop off the last three zeroes (which gets you to $80), and divide by two (about $40 an hour). It’s not perfect, but it’s close enough. And it’s a handy rubric to have when trying to figure out what to outsource to another person whom you’d pay or a service with a cost. If having your house cleaned, your groceries delivered, your garden weeded, fill-in-the-blank, costs less than you’d earn yourself, paying to have it done makes more sense.

Unless, of course, you enjoy it. There are many people who enjoy gardening. There are some who enjoy grocery shopping, or at least certain types of grocery shopping — who want to squeeze each cantaloupe and look for the clarity in the eyes of the snapper that’s supposed to be fresh out of the water. If an activity is something you find meaningful, outsourcing no longer makes sense. Based on your question, it doesn’t sound like this is something you enjoy.

So, the answer is yes, you should order. You should use a delivery service — if not for all of your groceries than at least for some. Even if your desire to squeeze your own cantaloupes is palpable, nobody really needs to squeeze the Charmin anymore do they? It may make you feel better to know that the one thing people often don’t think about when it comes to ordering is that it staves off a good number of impulse purchases because the goodies aren’t staring you in the face. But you should do it in a cost-efficient way. Grocery services like Peapod, Instacart and Shipt either charge per-delivery fees or membership fees. Shopping expert Trae Bodge who writes at truetrae.com says it’s most efficient — if you’re going to be a frequent user — to find the platform where you can buy the bulk of your items and order from that. Generally, the fee is about $100 and it provides free delivery for orders of over $35, she notes. Then fill in (or, ahem, ask your husband to fill in) with the occasional trip to one of the other stores for specialty items.

Finally — may I suggest, and this is from my own home-cooking experience, that a little meal planning and judicious use of your freezer (where you can keep many ingredients you may not suspect like pesto) go a long way. Every weekend, my husband and I talk about what’s for dinner for the next five days and use that to guide a single order (we use Peapod) or trip to the grocery store. Yes, we make a list. It’s old-fashioned, but it works.

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Sarah Anne Ward