I’m debating whether or not I should start regularly getting groceries delivered. Here’s the thing: The delivery fee is $10, and sometimes the prices online seem more expensive than the prices I see in the store. I have a hard time knowing that my bill would likely have been cheaper if I’d just gone to the store on my own. But, I also hate rushing to the grocery store after work and the one I go to is always super crowded on the weekends. So, is the price of delivery worth it?
— Grocery Store Blues
Dear Grocery Store Blues,
The answer to this question is about more than just extra money it might cost to get your seltzer and granola brought straight to your door. The first thing I’d consider is: Do you like grocery shopping at all? Some people find it sort of meditative to push a cart down the aisles and love the feeling of accomplishment they get from picking out the perfect head of cauliflower. But when you’re overscheduled and struggling to find enough time in your day, it may make sense to drop the chores that are stressing you out. Eliminate grocery shopping, and you’ve suddenly got a few “free” hours a week. And that may be something you value.
Think of “buying time,” not “spending money”
Our research has found that people tend to be happy when they use their money to “buy time.” For example, house cleaning services can give people time back, and some people find the expense “worth” the hours they would have spent scrubbing the bathroom on the weekend. When you think of buying time to do something you love, you may have a different perspective than seeing the situation as simply spending more money for something you could have done yourself.
Can you afford the service?
But of course, sometimes a service fee just doesn’t fit in your budget. And that’s fine! So the question may be better reframed as: Can I afford it? If the delivery fee puts a serious dent in your budget, then it may not be the best option. But if it’s something you can afford, the extra cost may be worth it. You can use those hours for something you value, whether it’s spending time with friends, hitting the gym, or simply relaxing. That way, you can see grocery shopping as something you choose to enjoy from time to time, without the stress of having to fit it in during a crazy-busy week. Look for a grocery delivery option that doesn’t lock you into a billing cycle so you can pick and choose when it makes sense to order delivery, and when it makes sense to hit the store on your own.
Think of other ways you might save
There may be some other considerations to shift your decision: Do you stick to your grocery list when you shop in-person? Or do sales and displays draw you in, leading to impulse purchases? If extras tempt you, online shopping may save you cash in the long run. Shopping online lets you edit your cart as you go, making sure you stick to your budget and only buy what you’ll consume in a week. You also may find that you’re less likely to turn to takeout on a stressful day when you don’t have time for a grocery store run and have nothing in your fridge. In those ways, the money you spend on the delivery service may save you real money in the long run.
Consider DIY delivery on the cheap
If you find that online grocery shopping is out of your budget right now, you could also try another strategy to save both money and time. Consider finding a friend or neighbor and alternating weeks of grocery shopping for each other. That way, you save money and get a bonus happiness boost from doing something nice for someone else.
Elizabeth Dunn, Ph.D. is a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of British Columbia who researches how time, money, and technology shape human happiness. She is also the scientific advisor for Happy Money, a financial company that combines psychology and money to help people live happier lives. Have a question for Liz? Write to her at email@example.com and check back every Tuesday for her next column.