How often have you looked into your refrigerator and noticed that it was empty? That you didn’t have anything to eat and no ingredients to cook? I don’t know about you, but this happens to me way too often, forcing me to make an unproductive run to the grocery store or eat yet another overpriced and unhealthy meal out of the house. If only there were a method to make sure you had enough food, always. Fortunately, with the increase in personal outsourcing options, now you can even outsource the most basic of tasks: grocery shopping.
What can a personal grocery shopper do for you?
Depending upon your needs, a personal grocery shopper can do a lot of different things for you:
- Plan your meals/diet for you;
- Give you recipes and ideas for healthy meals;
- Research discounts and deals on recipe ingredients and grocery items;
- Buy items at the grocery store and deliver them to you;
- Sometimes, even cook for you!
Who should consider hiring one?
Those who should consider acquiring the services of a personal grocery shopper include:
- Busy professionals — If you’re working the 9 to 9, then you probably want someone to do everything for you: plan your meals, purchase ingredients, deliver them to you, and perhaps even cook for you. Wouldn’t it be nice if someone could help you reclaim some or all of the 269 plus 371 hours you spend over the course of a year, or 7% of your annual life, on grocery shopping and food preparation, respectively? 
- Health nuts — If “your body is your temple,” then you might want someone to research good diets, purchase healthy ingredients, and offer you ideas on what healthy foods to prepare.
- Disabled or elderly — If you’re disabled or elderly, then you might need someone just to purchase and deliver your groceries.
- Frozen-food connoisseurs — If you find yourself eating frozen foods every night (don’t lie, I know this is you), then you might want a grocery shopper to help you determine your nutritional needs and help you live healthier.
How to get one?
Finding a great personal grocery shopper is a lot like finding a great personal assistant: before you start searching, you need to know exactly what you want. Do you need someone to plan your meals? Cook for you? Or simply buy your groceries? How often do you need help? What days and times of the week? And so on.
After you figure out what your needs are, it’s time to start your search. Based on my experience, the best place to solicit the services of a personal grocery shopper is craigslist.org. Simply post an ad with your needs and wait for the multitude of responses to choose from.
Whose response should you select? To make this decision, you need to weigh such factors as price, qualifications, and customer references. For someone who’s only going to buy your groceries, little to no experience is required so consider any price above $15/hr unreasonable. For someone who’s going to plan your meals and cook for you as well, you need someone with experience so consider $20-$35/hr a reasonable price range. (Advice: often times “personal chefs” set price by the number of meals and the number of people served. Translate this into an hourly unit to check whether the price is actually reasonable.) Keep in mind you can always negotiate the price down or receive a considerable discount by setting up a multi-month agreement (some assistants will lower their price in exchange for “income security”). In making your selection, be sure to hold an interview and to check references; you want to be confident in and comfortable with whomever you’re hiring and bringing into your home. If you have any reservations, you can always setup a trial period or take extra precautions upfront — for example, security cameras, melee weapons, and small firearms.
After hiring your personal grocery shopper, work with him or her to develop a plan and “system” for getting you fed. Set up a diet, list of ingredients and grocery items, and meal preparation plan. Then unleash your assistant. You’ll be glad you did. You’ll find that your personal grocery shopper is not only great for freeing up extra hours in your day, but also making sure you get healthy, decent meals for an overall improved quality of life.
8 miscellaneous tips
- If you just want your groceries picked up, consider ordering them online (see Smartlife’s list of 100 places to grocery shop online) rather than paying someone to go to the store. The only significant advantage to in-store grocery shopping is the chance to handpick your produce so you only get the freshest available.
- Consider having your personal grocery shopper purchase your grocery items in bulk rather than individually, as a way to save yourself some money. Items purchased in bulk are typically discounted and, therefore, priced much cheaper on a per unit basis, especially at wholesalers such as Costco Wholesale and BJ’s Wholesale Club whose prices are considerably lower than retailers’.
- Ask your assistant to find coupons for the items on your list, probably something you wouldn’t do on your own time. To track how much he or she is saving you with coupons (and other bargain-hunting techniques), simply check your receipt and tally the results.
- If you reside in a high-rise building, consider purchasing a folding shopping cart so your assistant doesn’t waste time, time for which you must pay, lugging groceries back and forth from the car, up the elevator, and into your fridge. You should especially get one if your assistant is going to shop at a wholesaler such as Costco where paper or plastic carrying bags aren’t supplied at all as way to keep costs low.
- Make sure the person you hire owns a set of hot/cold food containers to keep your food items chilled or warm, especially if he or she shops for multiple customers. You don’t want to pay upwards of $100 or more per container out of your own pocket.
- How much you need to budget depends on a number of factors, namely where you live, what you ask your assistant to do (some tasks are cheaper than others), level of experience required, number of persons in your household, dietary habits, and final price negotiations. To approximate the amount, I recommend that you post an ad on craigslist.org and see what kind of proposals you get in terms of cost. From these, determine what the consensus cost to you is going to be. If it’s too much, you can always scale back the level of service that you’re requesting and re-post another ad.
- If your budget is tight (tough times, I know), but you really desire to free up some of your time for other pursuits, try to find a nearby friend or neighbor who would like to “timeshare” a personal grocery shopper with you as a way to spread the costs out. For example, let’s assume that you found a really great assistant for $15/hr, but can’t afford that. If you negotiate with the assistant a two-person rate of $22/hr, you now reduced your individual cost to perhaps a more affordable $11/hr.
- Since you’ll probably grow semi-dependent on the services of your personal grocery shopper, consider hiring a backup in case he or she leaves town. Or at least hang on to the names of those who made your shortlist as part of the initial hiring process.
Image credit: sjlocke / iStockphoto
Chris Cairns contributed to this post.
-  According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2007 American Time Use Survey (ATUS), Americans who engage in the activity of grocery shopping spend an average of .74 hours per day and those who engage in the activity of food preparation (and cleanup) spend an average of 1.02 hours per day.
- “How to Store Bulk Food Purchases” (eHow.com)
- “How to Buy Food in Bulk” (eHow.com)
- “How to Be a Personal Grocery Shopper” (eHow.com)
- “The Price of my Dreams – $60 a Week” (SidSavara Blog)
- “Are wholesale clubs like CostCo and Sams Club worth the money?” (Tony Spencer Blog)
- Dietary Guidelines for Americans (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)
- “How to Make a Grocery Shopping List When Someone Else is Doing Your Shopping” (Associated Content)