My Time with Two Jobs
2019-10-18 00:00:00 -0500

A couple years ago, after I started working full-time, I thought about pursuing a second job. Perhaps something in retail or serving. I eventually decided not to go through with that—I really didn’t need the additional money, since I work full-time as a software engineer. But this past January, I decided to make a change and take a second job anyway.

The reasons why a person might decide to get a second (or third) job is usually related to money. If a person is having trouble paying the bills with their first job, they may get another one to cover the difference. But for me, I didn’t necessarily need a second job, I just wanted one. Since I had decided to do my Kenya vacation in August (read more about that here), I figured that my savings account was going to take a significant hit if I didn’t make up some of that money through another job.

Working with Instacart

Full-Service Shopper

One of my friends works a second job at Instacart as a full-service shopper/deliverer. She really enjoys it, too. She gets off her 9–5 job, and then drives around to different grocery stores, shops, uses an Instacart-provided debit card to pay, and then delivers the groceries to customers. She gets paid based on each order (what Instacart calls a “batch”), and she receives tips. Some of the deliveries are at apartment buildings, and some are at houses. The idea of shopping for food without spending any of my money appealed to me. So in late January, I applied to work as a full-service shopper for Instacart.

My first day on the job was really cold. This past winter, Minnesota had three days of extreme cold (think like –40°F). So my first day of working there was during one of these days. That first day involved a fair amount of delivery. On one of my orders, the customer had inputted the wrong address to deliver to, so the app tried to get me to drive 0 miles back to the store to deliver the groceries instead of the customer’s home. I ended up having to submit a reimbursement request and call the “Shopper Happiness” line to get a refund for that. Another order had the bags packed so heavy by an in-store shopper that at least two of the seven bags broke on their way to the door to the apartment complex. I had to stop and pick up spilled yogurt, milk, and orange juice on the freezing cold sidewalk. And another order on that day involved delivering to an apartment complex that included four flights of stairs—and the stairs were outside. After that first day, I’m not really sure why I wanted to keep doing full-service delivery… but yet I signed up for the next few shifts and I kept doing it.

I worked a variety of different regions/zones, including West Metro (Chanhassen, Shakopee, Eden Prairie, etc), Maple Grove (Maple Grove, Plymouth, Robbinsdale, Brooklyn Center, etc), and Minneapolis (Minneapolis, St. Louis Park, Golden Valley, etc). What I found was that the West Metro and the Maple Grove zones have the most driving involved. I remember once when I drove down to Shakopee to pick up a few bags for delivery, and then ended up driving all the way to Mound for the delivery. Approximately one hour of driving total, for just $15. If I don’t want to drive as much, then I should take up shifts in the Minneapolis zone. The square mileage is less in the Minneapolis zone, so there’s significantly less driving. However, there’s clearly more traffic. I’ve done several deliveries that were in downtown Minneapolis. Having to drive downtown, sometimes during rush hour traffic, park in congested lots at grocery stores, and then find a place to park on the street (that doesn’t cost money) so that you can run inside to deliver the groceries… not particularly enjoyable.

Delivering in different zones also has different types of delivery locations. There’s a lot more apartment buildings in the Minneapolis zone, including at the university campus. This can be bad because sometimes the customer will want you to walk all of the groceries to their apartment door. So you need to ring the building, wait to be let up, find the elevator (or just take the stairs), and then walk through the maze of the hallway until you find the right door number. If the customer doesn’t answer to let you into the building, you need to sit there and wait for 10 minutes, and then call Shopper Happiness. One time this happened where I called about five times myself, and then had to call Shopper Happiness, who managed to contact the customer. When asked if the customer received any calls from me, they just said: “I’ve been here the whole time, but I never heard anything else.” The only thought going through my head was “I’m not paid hourly… I’m paid by batch. So by wasting 40 minutes standing here waiting for you, I lost another potential $15.”

Delivering in suburb zones has less apartment buildings which is nice. Houses are easier to find and locate. And if the customer doesn’t answer the door, you can leave the groceries on the front step, and go back to your car to keep warm. However, I had to deliver to several houses where the customer didn’t snowplow their driveway, or didn’t do it well. Although that’s not a huge deal in terms of parking the car, dragging the groceries to the front door can be difficult if the walkways are snow and ice covered. I’m just amazed that I only fell once.

I also want to mention that I banged my car up a couple times, and later paid to fix that, too. So even though we’re paid per order, and we’re paid mileage (from each grocery store to each delivery location, but NOT from a delivery location to the next grocery store), there was still a decent amount of wear-and-tear on my car. In one month of delivery driving, I drove 1,255.3 miles, and that’s just working Instacart! I still drove to my 9–5 job each day, to run errands, etc.

Now I do want to make it clear that there were a few awesome batches. One of mine, that started as a bad one (hot deli food and about 80 pounds of cat litter), turned out to be a good one. The customer that answered the door was super nice. He told me that he doesn’t leave his house at all, so he gets all of his groceries delivered to his door. Very pleasant, and it was clear he was very grateful. He also gave me a nice tip.

Another order took an unexpected turn when I kept all of the groceries. The food was decent, but when I went to deliver, the customer never came to pick up the order. I messaged the customer in my app, called the customer, stood there for 30 minutes, and nothing. When I called Shopper Happiness, they told me that the original store I bought the groceries from had closed for the night, so I couldn’t return the items. So I could “dispose of them how I choose to.” So… I kept the groceries. Since I’m vegetarian, I gave the meat items to my friend (the same one who got me started with Instacart), and I kept everything else that appealed to me. I think maybe we got about $70 of free groceries that night.

There were a couple apartment complexes that I went to multiple times, too (generally homes for the elderly). I’ve been to so many places around the western half of the Twin Cities that sometimes I’ll even vaguely recognize a neighborhood, streets, or an area of town. There have been instances where my partner is driving, and we’re going to place I’ve never been to before in Burnsville. But yet, I recognize many of the streets we’re driving on, and I know that there’s a HyVee nearby. Even though I only have been in that area once or twice before, when you’re looking for a specific turn, you get used to the neighborhoods.

But after about a month, I started to get a bit sick of it… as you can probably imagine from my description of Instacart delivery. The weather was still pretty bad, traffic was bad, especially during rush hour, and I found that I wasn’t a big fan of delivering to people. This was also made worse by the fact that only 50% of my customers would actually tip. It was also tiring. One week, I worked 29 hours. That’s in addition to the 40 hour work-week I had worked at my full-time job. Other weeks, I worked between 16–24 hours at Instacart. I’d get home at 2pm after working 6 hours of Instacart on a Saturday, and I’d have to take a nap, much to my partner’s dismay. I was putting so much time and energy into Instacart that it was affecting the rest of my life. So, in mid-March, I decided to switch from a full-service shopper to an in-store shopper.

In-Store Shopper

There are pros and cons of being an in-store shopper versus a full-service shopper. In-store shoppers are paid an hourly rate of $14. They’re technically employees, so they pay taxes straight out of their paycheck. They are scheduled on a weekly basis based on provided availability. They have bosses. They can be fired, and Instacart can give them rules and requirements they must follow. In-store shoppers also cannot deny a batch they receive. Full-service shoppers choose their own hours every week, and can pick up or drop hours without much prior notice. They are contractors, meaning they don’t pay any taxes on their paycheck, and instead get the full amount every pay week. However, that backfires when at tax season, the contractor then has to pay the same taxes, plus the self-employment tax. Full-service shoppers don’t have a dress code, and they can shop as fast or as slowly as they like. When I worked, they could also decline batches if it involved too much driving, was too heavy, involved store(s) they didn’t like, etc.

The promise of not having to drive and getting “steady” pay enticed me. My car had gotten a beating when I was working full-service, and I was sick of driving all over the west suburbs in the cold, snowy, and icey weather (yes, I know that summer would eventually come, but that’d be shortly followed by another winter). Some other benefits of working in-store would be that I’d no longer need to back and forth between different outdoor and indoor temperatures, and if there was a spare moment where I didn’t have a batch, at least I’d be sitting and relaxing inside, instead of in a running car. Also… the amount of times I had to go to the bathroom, but I had to hold it because there was no nearby bathroom 🚽😬…

When I switched to in-store shopping, I got to select which store I wanted to work at. I decided to work at a Cub Foods that was right in between my full-time job and my home. This made it easy to get there when I was coming from home, and easy to get there when I was leaving straight from my normal day job. They provided me with a t-shirt (eventually I got three t-shirts), a new lanyard, and walked me through the schedule.

The first thing I noticed was that having to wait until a computer-generated schedule came out was sometimes not fun. You don’t know when you’re planning to work the next week, and you get assigned hours based on availability, but if there’s too many shoppers, then nobody gets the amount of hours they want. Sometimes when I requested 16 hours, I’d get assigned 8. Sometimes when I set myself to be available for 20, I’d get all 20, even if I really only wanted 12.

Also, having so many rules wasn’t always fun. They had speed goals, so we’d have to strive to shop for X amount of items in a certain amount of seconds (maybe around say 65 seconds per item). So that means if you have a three item order, you have to complete it in 3 minutes 15 seconds… yeah it’s not really possible to shop for, select, and go through checkout for three items in 3 minutes. But yet, that was the goal. The speeds of all of your batches are averaged, so one slow batch doesn’t throw everything off, but if you get a lot of small or time-heavy batches (think meat/deli counter, hard-to-find items, long checkout lines, etc), then your whole average will get skewed.

But, despite these complaints, the job started out as really fun. I got to socialize, talk to other workers, and get to know more people. In spare time, I could occasionally read a magazine at the store, or finish up my own personal shopping during a break. The store had something called “Sunday Funday,” where the boss would buy the workers some snacks or cakes to eat during the shift. And, I was making the extra money I needed without doing much extra driving.

In terms of money, the biggest difference I found can be summarized like this: if you want to earn the most money as quickly as possible and don’t mind driving, then full-service is your thing; if you don’t want to drive, and you don’t mind earning money more slowly, then in-store may work best.

I worked as an in-store shopper for several months. By mid-August (my trip was happening in August), I began to realize that I was almost done working Instacart. I was beginning to get tired of shopping for people and doing their chores. Some customers would be petty with me. Instacart started rolling out more rules around complete vs. incomplete deliveries. They lowered the speed goal. They decided to require all shoppers to use single bags instead of double bags (which means more bags per order). Other coworkers of mine weren’t getting the amount of hours they needed/wanted. And most importantly, my health was starting to be affected.

I was eating out food so much more than before. I was spending money buying frozen meals for dinner instead of cooking food in my own home. I didn’t have the time that I needed to get proper sleep each night, and I wasn’t really getting any exercise. Also, I found that I wasn’t taking the time that I needed to properly practice self-care. I worked between 45–65 hours a week for eight months, so I was burning myself out. Lastly, I felt like Instacart had sort of taken over my life; I was always thinking about Instacart, worrying about my performance, stressing out over schedules, etc. Given the fact that it doesn’t give me a huge ratio of my income, it seemed like the stress it was causing me wasn’t worth it.

So one month after returning from Kenya, I worked my last shift as an Instacart in-store shopper.

What I Learned

It’s hard for me to summarize what I’ve learned during this, but I’ll do my best:

  • It’s hard to work more than 40 hours a week. I admire anybody that works more than 40 hours a week for any consistent amount of time. Oh, and nobody working that much should be struggling to pay their bills.
  • People that are paid hourly are not lazy or unintelligent (I already knew this, but it was confirmed).
  • Working physical jobs are super difficult (I sit on a computer at my full-time job).
  • People have a second job for a variety of different reasons—don’t go thinking you know everyone else’s reasons.
  • Tipping is super important! People rely on tips to help make their living and earn a decent amount of money (I already knew this, too, but it was also confirmed). Every delivery person (eg: pizza delivery workers, Bite Squad deliverers, furniture deliverers, etc) deserve to get tipped, especially if they’re using their own personal car to do the deliveries.
  • You can’t expect your deliverers to be able to read your mind. You’ve got to give them strict instructions about directions, what foods to pick out, what to substitute with, etc, otherwise you’ve just gotta understand that they don’t know exactly what you want because THEY’RE NOT YOU.
  • If you’re getting a service or item delivered to you, you should either be there to receive it, or you should tell them they can just drop it off. It’s actually pretty rude to ask for delivery between the hours of 5–6pm and then just not be there or not answer the door. Considering each driver then has to wait for you to arrive… yeah you totally just disrespected that person’s time and money (delivery people are people, too).
  • The gig economy doesn’t always pay their contractors fairly.
  • Any person that uses their car for their work should be tipped kindly and paid fairly for that mileage and gas.
  • And most importantly: people that work part-time are people, too. And they don’t deserve to be blamed, yelled at, or their pay to be docked for just doing their best.

Conclusion

By the time I finished working with Instacart, I earned approximately an extra ~$5,700. However, I ran into the conundrum where even though I intended to save that money for my trip to Kenya, I just ended up spending additional money as well as my Kenya trip. The more money I made, the more I felt entitled to spend. But at the end of the day, I’m so grateful for the opportunity to work the second job to help bolster my savings account. Because of Instacart, I was able to fund a once-in-a-lifetime vacation without really denting my savings account. I managed to meet new friends, get to socialize, and most importantly, have new experiences and new knowledge about the working economy and society in the U.S. But if I’m completely honest, I’m not sure I’ll work a second job if I can help it ever again. Burnout at work is real.


NOTE: I did keep detailed records of the miles I drove, the money I made, the hours I worked, and the batches I completed if you’re interested.