How Much Time Do Gig Apps Really Save You?


Time… where does it all go? The 2017 Annual American Time Use Survey from the U.S. Department of Labor revealed that people with full-time jobs spend more than two hours a day on chores including cleaning, cooking, and shopping.

The gig economy claims to rescue us from this time crunch with a host of apps that relieve us of the need to shop, do laundry, care for pets, or cook. But do they really save you enough time to be worth the money? Let's look at some of the chores and errands we all have, and the apps that claim to save us time by taking over those tasks.

1. Grocery shopping

Most people shop for food once or twice a week, spending an average of 43 minutes in the store each trip, plus travel time. This means having a gig worker shop for you could save you two hours each week — more if you live far from a store, your store tends to be very crowded, or you shop more than twice a week.

While grocery delivery from just one store or warehouse, in the form of Peapod,, or Amazon Fresh, has been around for awhile, the appeal of getting your groceries through a gig app is that you get to choose what store the items come from, and deliveries can often be scheduled in as little as an hour. (See also: 6 Ways Having Your Groceries Delivered Can Save You Money)

The cost

Instacart, Postmates, and Shipt (owned by Target) all charge a per-delivery, annual, or monthly fee for groceries delivered by gig workers driving their own cars.

  • For Instacart, it's $3.99 to $7.99 per order, or $99 a year.
  • Postmates charges $9.99 a month or $95.88 a year, or a variable per-delivery fee of up to $20 per order.
  • Shipt, which delivers in 257 cities, charges $14 a month or $99 a year. If you choose to tip the delivery person, include that in your cost as well.

Also keep in mind that the per-item prices you're paying through these services might be more than the prices at the store. Instacart acknowledges markups on its site. For instance, for my main store, Safeway, it says "Item prices are higher than in-store prices in your area." Shipt comes out and tells its users that it's marking up groceries from "select retailers" as a form of service fee.

Cost per hour saved

Of course, you'll still spend some time selecting groceries on these apps and placing your order, but you'll save the time you would have spent driving to the store, parking, walking through the aisles and (worst of all) waiting in line. If you pay $150 a year in fees for one of these services to save two hours per week, that's a cost of only about $1.50 per hour saved. If you only would have spent an extra hour each week shopping, you'd be paying about $3 per hour saved.

Is it worth it?

If you make more than $20 an hour, it's probably a good deal to use a gig shopping app, especially if you don't own a car or work hours that make it difficult to get to the store outside of busy hours.

2. Dog walking

Walking the dog can be fun and good exercise, but if you have a long commute to work, getting the dog out midday can be impossible. Or maybe you're just too busy to give the dog as much exercise as he or she needs.

The cost

Wag! and Rover can send a gig worker to your door on demand or on a schedule to take out the pooch, at a cost of about $20 to $30 per 20- to 30-minute walk.

Cost per hour saved

If you're only saving the time it takes to walk the dog, you're spending about $1 per minute, or $60 an hour, which makes this service a pricey way to save time. However, more people probably use these services for workday walks. If you work 30 minutes from home, that $30 fee could be saving you 90 minutes, when you consider the walk and the round-trip travel.

Is it worth it?

If you're home, probably not. No matter how busy you are, it will likely do you good and might even make you more productive to get out for a walk with your pet. But if you're at work, it may be a good deal. (See also: How to Make $400+ a Week as a Pet Sitter)

3. Food delivery

Of all purported time-saving gig apps, food delivery apps such as Uber Eats, Caviar, and Postmates (for takeout, not groceries) make it hardest to pin down the benefits. Before these apps, you could already pick up the phone and order takeout, or hop in the car and hit the McDonald's drive thru.

So what do the gig apps add to the bargain? Each has its specialty. Caviar focuses on restaurants that didn't previously offer delivery, so you're probably saving driving time, parking, and waiting in line to pick up an order from a busy spot. If you're comparing ordering through one of these services to driving to the restaurant and having a sit-down meal, it might save hours, but for those who enjoy the restaurant ambience, that might not be a win.

The least time one of these apps can save you is the time of placing an order by phone, which by my count saves only about three minutes — but since ordering on the phone is annoying, those might be the best three minutes you ever saved.

The cost

Uber Eats charges fees of $2 to $8, depending on the distance of the customer to the restaurant, plus surge pricing if applicable. Caviar charges a variable delivery fee plus an 18 percent service fee. Postmates' $9.99 a month or $95.88 annual membership covers food delivery as well as groceries; non-members pay delivery fees of $3.99 to $9.99 per order or more during surge periods. 

Cost per hour saved

Let's assume that the true time saved by ordering food through a gig app is 30 minutes, the time you'd take to place a phone order for takeout and drive to pick it up. If you order once a week through a Postmates annual membership, and tip $5 on each delivery, the service is costing you $7 per half hour saved, or $14 per hour.

Is it worth it?

If you order food often from restaurants that don't offer delivery, yes. For those bored with their regular delivery spots, these apps can really spice things up. But if you prefer to cook at home, eat at the restaurant, or have regular favorites who deliver, these apps may not be worth trying for you.

4. Doctor visits

It might be a shock to learn that some doctors are embracing the gig economy. But a host of startups are making it possible for doctors to make house calls or practice telemedicine in their spare time, or as their main practice.

If you're having a heart attack or just lost an appendage, clearly convenience isn't going to be the deciding factor and you'll need to head straight to an emergency room, preferably in an ambulance. However, if you have a urinary tract infection, a rash, you need an order for a strep test, have a suspected case of the flu, or just need a prescription refill, a doctor's office, urgent care, or emergency room visit can eat up hours of your life. In some practices I've used, just calling to make an appointment can take 15 minutes or more waiting on hold.

Then there's getting to the doctor's office and sitting in the waiting room — average wait times range from 15 to 27 minutes, depending on the city and type of doctor.

In contrast, the app Doctor on Demand can put you on a 15-minute call with a freelance doctor within five minutes. Then there are apps that allow you to schedule a house call with freelance doctors, such as Heal. For simple complaints, the potential time savings ranges from one hour on an easy doctor visit to five or more hours for one of those nightmare ER waits.

The cost

Doctor on Demand charges $75 for a 15-minute consultation, and they work with a number of employers and insurance companies. Heal charges a $149 flat fee, and also accepts a number of insurance plans.

Cost per hour saved

For an office visit, assuming you pay the app out of pocket, and your insurance copay for your regular doctor would have been $20, it may cost $55 to $79 to save one hour. If you can use one of these services to avoid an ER visit, the cost might be about the same, and you could save at least two hours.

Is it worth it?

If you can use one of these services to avoid an emergency room visit for a non-emergency, it could be very worthwhile.

For office visits, if one of these programs is covered by your insurance, it seems like a worthwhile thing to try. If you have to pay out of pocket, the time-saving would be worthwhile for high earners or those with very busy doctors offices.

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