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The Widow’s Instacart Mites

I needed money. My mind was racing.




My husband had died two-and-a-half years before. We were well off financially, but I hadn’t been paid a dividend from a particular investment for a few months. I had lost my wiggle room money.

How could I earn extra money until things were straightened out?

The gig economy! Instacart!

A woman at church delivered for Instacart and she loved the extra cash and flexibility.

My first Instacart job was easy. In and out of Aldi.

I am a pro!

I accepted my second Instacart job knowing the app is set up with each step laid out, leaving nothing to chance.

Except human error.

When it was time to pay, Instacart instructed through their app, I use their debit card as a

credit card. The grocery store system demanded a pin number, insisting that the card was a debit card, which it was.

Round and round, the clerk cleared my transaction several times. Soon my splotchy face was the same color as the carrot on my Instacart badge. The line be

hind me grew, filled with people who knew how to use their debit cards. Finally, apologizing to the cashier, I asked him to watch my cart while I hid in the baking aisle to call customer support. A bot answered. Things did not resolve. Like a fraidy-cat, I snuck out of the store.

I wanted to cry. Before my husband died, I was a public relations executive for a Fortune 24 company. I solved problems for a living. I was an expert at it, sitting around conference tables sipping bubbly water, solving. Stubborn, silent bots are even more difficult than bank presidents.

My next jobs went well until I got out my calculator. After a few computations, including how much my last tank of gas cost, my ave

rage take home pay was $8 an hour.

One afternoon, two Instacart alerts simultaneously pinged on my phone. The first was to notify me of a $5 bonus for trips completed that afternoon. The second was for a $25 job.

Thirty dollars would almost cover my daughter’s new track shoes.

I accepted the job.

I had just an hour and a half to complete the shopping before my daughter’s track practice ended. No problem. I was averaging forty-five minutes for shopping and delivery.

The shopping list popped up on the app, like usual. Only this time, I would be shopping for two jobs at once.

Oh gosh.

In my app’s list, Liz’s items were in the A group which were indicated by an orange circle. Barbara’s were the B group indicated by the blue circle. Or was the orange for Barbara and the blue for Liz? You see the problem.

As I shopped, the item would immediately disappear from the app’s list after I scanned its barcode into the app. I didn’t know if the item was an orange item being stored in the small part of my cart or a blue item, separated from the orange items in the large part of the cart. Who was Barbara anyway and why did she demand two different kinds of chocolate Ensure?

Barbara, or maybe it was Liz, was addicted to frozen foods. Where was Michela’s Lasagna? Later, I stumbled upon the “Italian fro

zen section.” This section exclusively featured Italian items, but the frozen dinner section also had Italian dinners.

Who am I to have an opinion on which freezer should hold lasagna anyway? I always make mine from scratch.

The app sent an alert asking me why the shopping trip was taking so long. I chose, “hard to find items.”

Why isn’t Amy’s frozen macaroni and cheese next to Stouffer’s?

A kind employee pointed me to the other frozen food section. It was across the store in

“Healthy Living.” Amy’s brand was gluten, dairy or otherwise key-ingredient free. Why did

Liz needed a dairy-free mac and cheese when her other chosen frozen items contained lots of delicious dairy-filled cheese?

None of my business, I am sure.

Racing across the store, I only had fifteen more minutes until track finished.


Liz wanted me to check to see if there was a cookie sheet that had a grill built in so she could bake items that would have the fancy grill marks.

Why would she want to do this when all the foods

I had gotten for her were frozen, and came in their own cooking containers?


“I don’t want two milk chocolate Ensures. I want one Royale Dark Chocolate.” Barbara was answering my text from seven minutes ago.

Finally, having made it to the parking lot, I loaded my car. The orange dotted items for Liz signified by the tied bags were in the very back. The blue dotted items for Barbara were in the backseat in untied bags.

Wait, who is Jane? Just kidding.

With five minutes to spare, the tyrannical app gave me twenty minutes to deliver the loads.

The problem was that I had to pick

up my daughter. If I was late delivering, I could get a bad score and lose the ability to receive grocery alerts at all.

Maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad idea at this point?

My foot increased pressure on the accelerator after I dropped my daughter at home hoping Liz’s large number of frozen foods had nestled together to keep from thawing.

By the time I arrived at Liz’s I was sweating, even though I had the air conditioning on to help with the frozen food issue. Opening the back door, I noticed Liz’s bags were no longer tied. Why?

I rang the bell. Liz opened the door immediately. I apologized for the delay, explaining that I had picked up my daughter. I offered to bring in her groceries.

I couldn’t help thinking uncharitably about how she had refused, over the Instacart app, both the “apple” and the “cherry cream” Jon’s Handheld Pies that had taken me nine mi

nutes to locate after her preferred “plain cherry” was not available.

I backed down the drive, about to race away when I heard yelling. Luckily, I had my window open because I was still sweating.

“You delivered the wrong order!”

I ran and took all of Liz’s groceries out, placing them in my backseat. Opening the back of my car I realized the bags hadn’t come untied at all. Liz’s groceries had been in the back, just where I had put them.

Time to drive to Barbara’s. Or had I just been to Barbara’s? Am I on my way to Liz’s? I hoped her sushi was still fresh.

Through my voice activated text function, I messaged my friend.

“I hate Instacart and I want to quit.”

“So quit,” he texted back.

Quit? I have never quit a thing in my life!

Later, with Barbara’s sushi and Ensure delivered, Liz’s frozen foods safely in her deep freeze, I pulled into my driveway. Exhausted and stressed. I had grossed only $16.


Instead, I turned off my Instacart app and hid my badge and debit card at the bottom of my messy center console. Out of sight, out of mind.

I didn’t quit, I just haven’t remembered to try again.



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