How To Make Money As An Instacart Shopper: My Undercover Experience

Are you curious to know what’s it like to work for Instacart and how much does Instacart pay their shoppers?

Then this is the post you want to read as I share the time I became an undercover Instacart worker to find out all the details you’ve been wondering about!

This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a commission at no cost to you if you decide to make a purchase through my links. Visit this page for more information. The content on this page is accurate as of the posting date; however, some of the offers mentioned may have expired.

Shop For Groceries With Instacart

My list of the best side hustle ideas instantly became one of the most popular posts on The Money Ninja.

It was shocking to see how many views the post received, but it shouldn’t have. After all, this site is tailored for ninjas who want to level up their finances.

I also got a lot of feedback from readers that wanted to know more information on some of these side hustle gigs. One question that came up quite a bit was how much can you really earn hustling with Instacart.

So what did I do? I became an undercover Instacart shopper in order to share all the details with my followers! 🕵️

How To Work For Instacart

The first step in becoming an Instacart shopper is applying through this link. It took me about 5 minutes to fill out the form and I got approved a couple of hours later. That means you could potentially start working the same day you apply.

Next, you have to decide what kind of Instacart shopper you want to be. There are two ways to earn money depending on if you’re looking for a full-time job or part-time job:

Option 1) Part-Time: Full-Service Shopper

Become your own side hustle boss!

This is a contract role that requires you to drive to a store, shop for items on a customer’s list, and delivery it to the their door.

It requires you to have your own car, but you can work whenever you want.

Instacart full-service shopper overview
(Image from Instacart)

Option 2) Full-Time: In-Store Shopper

You become a part-time Instacart employee that prepare orders at a single store. You’d still set your own schedule (up to 29 hours a week), but you actually work directly for Instacart.

Instacart in-store shopper overview
(Image from Instacart)

Since this research is about side-hustling with Instacart, I decided to apply for a part-time full-service shopper role.

My Experience As An Instacart Shopper

Over a random weekend in May, I worked three days as an Instacart shopper to find out what the process is like.

I know three days is pretty short, but it was enough to get the data I’m looking for. Although I wouldn’t have minded to do it longer because shopping for Instacart was actually kinda fun!

But then I would be too busy making money and this post wouldn’t have existed 😁

So if you’re curious and asking questions like:

  • How does Instacart work for drivers?
  • How much does Instacart pay?
  • Is working for Instacart worth it?

Then you’ve come to the right place – let’s get started!

Step 1: Launch App To Start Working

Whenever you want to shop and earn extra income, simply open up the Instacart app to begin.

The default screen you see is the ‘Home‘ screen, which will show you all the available customer orders you can choose to take on.

Instacart calls these orders “batches”. When I first opened up the app, I had 12 batches to choose from:

Instacart Home screen with batches highlighted
(Screenshot of Instacart app)

Step 2: Pick A Batch

Next, you can click on a batch to view specific details. Each batch will let you know things like:

  • which grocery store you would need to visit
  • how many items are in the order
  • what the items are
  • how far you have to drive to the customer’s home
  • how much you would get paid

I chose a batch that requested a shopper to visit Market Basket and pick up 34 grocery items. For taking this on, I would get paid $24.52 ($15.50 Instacart payment + $9.02 customer tip). Delivery to the customer’s house was only 2.5 miles away from the grocery store.

This order is a clear winner so I quickly accepted by swiping right at the bottom of the batch screen (just like Tinder!):

Instacart batch detailed view
(Screenshot of Instacart app)

Step 3: Shop & Pay For Groceries

Once you drive to the grocery store, it’s time to shop for the items on the customer’s grocery list.

As you grab each item, the app will ask you to scan its barcode (UPC label) to check what you have so far and to ensure it’s the right product.

After you have everything on the shopping list, head over to the checkout line. It’s the same process as if you were shopping for your own groceries, but when it’s time to pay, use either the Instacart digital wallet or the debit card that Instacart sent to you instead.

When I did this, the entire process felt exactly the same as if my wife sent me to the store with a list of things to buy.

The learning curve is low. If you shopped for groceries before, this line of work becomes second nature.

Instacart will ask you to take a picture of the receipt at the end of the checkout process. You don’t need to give the receipt to the customer as they have a record on their own app.

Finally, it’s time to pack the groceries into your car and deliver it to the customer!

Step 4: Deliver Groceries To Customer’s House

In this step, follow the directions shown in your app to get to the customer’s house.

The Instacart app will also let you know how the customer wants their groceries delivered; whether it’s dropping it off outside the front door, hand-delivering it to the customer, or placing it inside the house.

Regardless of the delivery method, you need to take a picture of the drop-off via the app to confirm you actually delivered the order.

Step 5: Get Paid

Ka-ching! That’s it – you’re getting paid! 💰

Instacart pays shoppers weekly on Wednesdays via direct deposit for the previous Monday through Sunday week. What this means is that your work week is Monday through Sunday. The total amount you earned in that period is what you’ll get paid the following Wednesday morning.

Instacart uses Stripe for its online payment service. The payment will show up as a line item in your bank statement as:

Stripe [Your Name] St-xxxxxxxxxxxx

How Much Does Instacart Pay?

How much you can get paid with Instacart can be confusing. Instacart uses a complex compensation structure that includes pay per item, pay per mileage, base pay, heavy order pay, etc.

It also depends on how many hours you work and the number of orders you deliver. Since you get to keep 100% of the customer tips, this also plays a factor in determining what your per hour pay rate comes out to.

As you can see, it’s a complicated question with quite a few fluctuating variables. But you obviously didn’t come here for a non-answer, and I’m your ninja guinea pig!

So here’s how much I made working 3 days as an Instacart shopper in the Boston area:

Saturday (5/2)68$187.89
Sunday (5/3)79$189.04
Monday (5/4)22$54.25

I worked 19 hours to deliver 15 orders, making a grand total of $431.18. If you divide the number of hours I worked over my total pay, I made $22.69 per hour.

Instacart earnings summary
(Screenshot of Instacart app)

Not too bad, right? It sure beats me bagging groceries for minimum wage when I started working!

One thing to keep in mind though is you’re not an employee of the company – you’re a contractor.

In other words, you’re your own boss and considered self-employed. Self-employed people have to pay self-employment taxes.

The self-employment tax is 15.3%, which is double the taxes taken compared to working for someone else. This is on top of the income taxes that everyone has to pay.

The flip side of this is you’re able to deduct your business expenses – like taking a 65.5¢ per mile deduction for every mile you drive for work.

All in all, my hourly earnings after accounting for the above is closer to $19 an hour. That’s still a decent side hustle rate!

Speaking of driving and expenses, this leads me to the next topic – how to save money as an Instacart shopper.

How To Save Money As An Instacart Shopper

The biggest expense working in gig economy jobs like an Instacart shopper, Uber driver, and DoorDash delivery person is gas.

You’re going to be driving a lot and that will empty your tank of gas quick. With the economy picking up and gas prices rising, a good strategy is to reduce this variable expense.

Besides using a credit card with great rewards for gas purchases, one of the best ways to save money on gas is using this app called Upside.

Upside is a free app that offers cash back on your gas purchases, giving you up to 25¢ per gallon of gas you buy.

All you have to do is simply take a picture of your gas receipt. There’s no catch to this rewards app.

Plus, if you sign up using my referral code NINJA30, you’ll get an additional 30¢ per gallon of gas upon your first use. That’s a total of up to 55¢ a gallon in cash back!

So if you have a 18-gallon tank, that’s a potential savings of $8.10 in cash back when filling up your car. Not a bad return for a few minutes of work!

You can read my full review of Upside and see if there are other promo codes available for you.

Make More Money With Receipt Apps

Ninja Update: I no longer recommend scanning Instacart receipts with Fetch or Ibotta. Previously, it was clear that you own the receipts since purchases were made using your Instacart debit card. That’s no longer the case.

Don’t stop there! Use mobile apps that pay you to scan your receipts.

Double up savings by using the Fetch Rewards and Ibotta apps to scan receipts and earn even more! This works because Instacart asks you to keep the receipts and not deliver them with the orders (customers receive an electronic receipt).

Fetch Rewards has a limit of 35 receipts per week, but if you have qualifying items or brands from the receipt you can get extra points. These points can be converted to gift cards at retailers like Amazon, Apple, Target, and Walmart. New users can use the Fetch promo code 9EFD5C to earn a 100 point bonus for scanning their first receipt.

Ibotta gives you cash back if the items you purchase have a special offer attached to it. New users can use the Ibotta promo code MONEYNINJA to earn a $5 bonus after redeeming their first offer.

H/T to The Money Ninja reader Carol for thinking outside the box and sharing this idea with me!

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Instacart Shoppers Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

How old do you have to be to work for Instacart?

In order to become a shopper, you must be at least 18 years of age, have legal authorization to work in the U.S., be able to lift up to 40 lbs without accommodation, have regular access to a reliable car and have regular access to a smartphone capable of running the Instacart Shopper app.

Do I need any experience to be an Instacart shopper?

Nope! You don’t need any prior work experience. Instacart welcomes interested individuals from an array of industries and backgrounds. Shopping on the Instacart platform is great for anyone looking for flexible, seasonal, home-based, entry-level, weekend, weekday, after-school, or temporary opportunities.

How do Instacart shoppers get paid?

Instacart shoppers are paid weekly via direct deposit and these payments correspond to services provided between Monday and Sunday of the previous week. If you don’t have direct deposit set up, Instacart will mail you a check. Instacart also offers an Instant Cashout option for shoppers who may need the cash right away. You can access your funds via the Instacart app.

Do Instacart shoppers get tips?

Yes! You keep 100% of customer tips as an Instacart shopper. Instacart does not take any portion of tip money.

How do Instacart shoppers for groceries?

Instacart provides shoppers with an Instacart shopper debit card to cover the cost of groceries with a pre-approved amount for each selected batch.

How do taxes work as an Instacart shopper?

For Instacart shoppers, your taxes will not be withheld from your pay. If you make more than $600 per tax year as an Instacart shopper, Instacart will send you a 1099-MISC tax form. This is a standard tax form for contract workers.

The Bottom Line

Working an as Instacart shopper can be a profitable side hustle or full-time gig. I found the whole process of applying and working as a shopper straightforward and easy.

In fact, I would seriously consider doing this long-term if I’m in a job that pays less than $19/hr.

If I really hated my job, I might even take a discount to be my own boss and make my own hours. You can’t put a price on flexibility.

I hope this helps you to decide whether or not working for Instacart is worth it.

Maybe you already worked as an Instacart shopper before and had a different experience. I’d love to hear it because my experience was only for three days in a major city – other anecdotes would help fellow ninjas.

Chime in with comments below! And if you want to use Instacart as a customer, check out the list of Instacart promo codes to save on your next order.

About John Pham

John Pham is a personal finance expert, serial entrepreneur, and founder of The Money Ninja. He has also been fortunate enough to have appeared in the New York Times, Boston Globe, and U.S. News & World Report. John has a B.S. in Entrepreneurship and a Masters in Business Administration, both from the University of New Hampshire.

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1 year ago

I am a customer and My receipt was just stolen this way! I use Fetch and had a shopping delivery and then when I went to put my receipt in to get my points they said I couldn’t use it because it was already scanned into a different account. The only other person to touch my receipt was the shopper. I called Fetch and the store and reported my experience, along with the company itself. This is STEALING -anyone who does this is cheating their customers. I paid for those groceries not the shopper! She got a tip and my points! This makes me not trust these shoppers. So now I’ll have to end my accounts and go to pick up instead.

1 year ago

This whole quarterly tax thing is a little confusing. I just want to save money and put some aside, instead of paying every couple of months. I just started on May 31st and only do it part time cause I have a regular job

2 years ago

That is called stealing… intentionally not giving the receipts to make profit for yourself. Forget about customers who use those couponing apps. That is the world we live in I guess.

Kevin Plamondon
Kevin Plamondon
2 years ago

I have been doing instacart now for 2 months and I love it….Start when I want, stop when I want… still need to have some basic customer service as and be able to maintain yourself…as you will undoubtably come across some ” challenging ” customers and situations….I’m averaging $730/week and only working about 32-35 hours….the one week I went 45 hours I took home $1089….

Arnold S
Arnold S
3 years ago

Instacart customers can link their Ibotta account to get cashback. They don’t scan the receipt. Ibotta is not going to allow both the paying customer and the Instacart shopper to get cashback on items. And, Ibotta could flag your account for fraud. I would be careful with this one. You have no way of knowing if the Instacart customer is using Ibotta on any given purchase.

3 years ago

Are you then able to scan your receipt to any of the other shopping apps to earn a few cents extra?