In January, I gave up my car in an experiment to see if I could do without it while saving some serious cash. My situation is different than many people’s — I work from home and travel a lot for business, which means regular trips to and from Salt Lake International Airport. A year ago, I switched to Uber for the airport runs, which meant there was always a willing driver to help with luggage and, of course, no parking fees or waiting on the sidewalk in the snow for a ride from one of my kids who always seemed to be running late. Over the past three months, Uber has worked for everything except for groceries. But last week I found a simple solution — Instacart.

Instacart is a grocery delivery service that’s easy to use, reliable because of a built-in messaging system between users and their personal shoppers, and is surprisingly affordable. It is the service used by Smith’s and also provides delivery from Costco, Sprouts, CVS, Petco, Whole Foods and a handful of other retailers. Delivery in my area within two hours cost $11.95 with a minimum of $35 worth of groceries, and your first delivery is free. Item prices seemed to be the same as what I pay in-store. Instacart also offers an annual membership for $99 that gives you free delivery at the $35 minimum mark, which means you would break even at just nine deliveries each year. And my son-in-law (the business major) made the point that your time is valuable, so take that into account when you’re weighing the benefits of grocery delivery.

Getting started is easy. If you will be using a variety of retailers, sign up on the Instacart site. You’ll just need to put in basic information such as name, email address, your address for delivery and a payment method. If you’ll be using Smith’s, you can go directly to the Smith’s Instacart site at https://delivery.smithsfoodanddrug.com/store/smiths/storefront and sign in with your Smith’s account details. You will find the ordering process to be most efficient if you’ve already made your grocery list.

Once you’ve logged in and your list is in reach, you can type in your first item in the search bar located at the top of the page. Feel free to type a specific brand that you prefer, or keep it generic to review your choices. An array of photos will appear, including the product name, price and available discount. In many cases, once you’ve made your selection by tapping the plus sign to add it to your cart, you will be presented with a substitution in case the item is not in stock. Approve it, or choose “more options” and if you still don’t see an acceptable substitute, select “do not replace.”

Now comes the fun part. When you have checked out, you’ll see an animation to track the progress of your order. Once a personal shopper has been assigned, you will also receive the alert on your phone as a text message. You can watch the items on your list getting check off as your shopper scans them and puts them in his or her cart.

What if the shopper has a question? The question will appear on your real-time shopping page, which is great if you’re on your computer, but it will also appear as a text on your phone, so do keep your phone handy while your order is underway. For instance, early into the process, I received a text, “Hello my name is Josh and I just started shopping for you. By chicken leg, do you want the drumsticks and thigh together or just drumsticks?” He also asked about an alternate milk size because Smith’s was out of the size specified in my list. Once the shopping has been completed, you’ll receive an alert with a delivery estimate to the minute.

Your shopper will arrive at your door with bright green Instacart coolers and bags. The service stops there. You will unpack the coolers at your entrance and carry your groceries into the kitchen after thanking your shopper. Tips are built into the initial order and are optional. Keep in mind that due to a recent policy change, tips go to the shopper in their entirety and are very welcome.

Even if you don’t use Instacart on a regular basis, it can come in handy when you unexpectedly run out of an item in the middle of cooking. That’s why I keep a list of groceries on hand to reach the $35 limit in case of a kitchen emergency.

Leslie Meredith has been writing about and reviewing personal technology for the past eight years. She has designed and manages several international websites and now runs the marketing for a global events company. As a mom of four, value, usefulness and online safety take priority. Have a question? Email Leslie at asklesliemeredith@gmail.com.

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