How to Save Money When Online Grocery Shopping

It's all about avoiding those extra fees!

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Beautiful smiling young Asian woman grocery shopping online with mobile app device on smartphone and making online payment with her credit card, with a box of colourful and fresh organic groceries on the kitchen counter at home

Photo by: AsiaVision/Getty Images

AsiaVision/Getty Images

A little less than a year ago I finally decided to hop on the grocery-delivery bandwagon. It always seemed like a useful tool since I live in a city where carrying your groceries for blocks is the only alternative, but it always seemed like an extra luxury that I didn’t need to be spending money on. Now, I swear by the convenience and flexibility it gives me to select my groceries from whichever store I want — all in the comfort of my own home.

There are some tricks to the trade, though, especially if you’re trying to make your shopping trip as cost-effective as possible. Don’t let the possibility of delivery costs or extra fees keep you from the ease of online shopping – there are ways to spend the same amount of money online grocery shopping as you would in-store. Plus, if you’re a SNAP participant, Aldi and Instacart have joined Walmart and Target in including SNAP-eligible products for same-day delivery or pickup. If you’re thinking about ordering groceries online for the first time, here are some money-saving tips you should know first.

Still make a grocery list.

I love wandering the aisles of my local grocery store in search of inspiration as much as the next person, but online shopping requires me to be slightly more prepared. Having more time to scroll through food categories online might sound ideal, but it usually ends in me spending too much money on snacks and not enough on foods that will last me. (I always tend to be more forgetful of my staple items when caught up in the fun of casual browsing.) I recommend keeping a running grocery list just like you would if you were planning on going to the store yourself. Once you’ve added all your must-have items to your grocery cart, you can see how much money you have left in your budget for the fun stuff.

Decide beforehand if you are okay with substitutions.

Just like most things in life, grocery shopping doesn’t always work out exactly as planned. If an item you purchased ends up being out of stock at the store, you’ll need to decide beforehand if you are okay with your shopper selecting a substitution or not, depending on which delivery service you’re ordering from. If you only like one specific brand, make sure to select the “no substitutions” box before placing your order or risk paying for items you don’t actually want.

Know you might not be able to change your order once placed.

Some services let you make adjustments once your shopper is at the store, but that’s not always the case. It’s not fun to remember that one essential item right after you placed your order, but it’s just another reason that keeping a grocery list is so important.

Always check for coupon codes.

Stores like Walmart and Target typically have promos running for first-time online grocery shoppers or product-specific codes and promos, and online ordering sites like Instacart will automatically apply retailers’ promos when you’re shopping. While online coupons and promo codes might differ from in-store discounts, it’s always worth it to double-check before placing your order.

Prepare to hit the minimum order for delivery.

Most delivery services require you to hit a spending minimum in order to secure free shipping, so I recommend waiting to shop until your list is full to avoid extra fees. It’s also important to remember this if you’re shopping through a service that uses multiple stores, too. Make sure you’re selecting items from the same store to avoid getting hit with extra delivery fees or buying extra food you don’t need just because you’re trying to get to the magic number.

Consider Curbside Pickup.

If you’re not able to avoid delivery fees by hitting a spending minimum, consider selecting curbside pickup if available. This way, you’ll still save time by having someone else do your shopping for you but won’t get hit with that extra delivery charge.

Don’t forget to tip — generously!

Your reasoning for ordering groceries online might vary, but no matter the reason, someone is out there doing the actual shopping for you. Whether they’re carrying heavy produce or drinks through a city or driving your large haul to your front door, it’s always important to properly thank them by leaving a generous tip.

General Grocery Delivery Tips to Remember:



Close up of young Asian woman receiving a box full of colourful and fresh organic groceries ordered online by home doorstep delivery service. Zero waste shopping and home delivery concept

Photo by: AsiaVision/Getty Images

AsiaVision/Getty Images

Yes, some items might still be out of stock.

While most stores will alert you of out-of-stock-items while you’re shopping and prevent you from adding them to your shopping cart, you still run the risk of your groceries running out by the time you shopper gets to the store. If you select "no substitutions," be prepared for your order to be potentially smaller than you anticipated. It’s unfortunately unavoidable, but worth noting that sometimes you will still need to make a trip to the store.

You might have to wait for an open delivery time.

If you thought securing coveted concert tickets was hard, just wait until you try snagging a grocery delivery timeslot. When I started regularly ordering my groceries online last year, I found myself obsessively updating the delivery options, pouncing on an open slot the moment I saw it (and sometimes still not getting it!). While it’s certainly gotten less competitive, you should still be prepared for the option of waiting for your delivery. Don’t wait until you’re already out of food to place an order — you probably should order at least a day in advance.

Plan your delivery at a convenient time.

If the only time slot available is early in the morning or late at night, make sure you’re going to be home and awake to retrieve your groceries. Depending on what you order, you most likely want to put your perishable foods into the refrigerator or freezer right away.

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