David Slade is a senior Post and Courier reporter. His work has been honored nationally by Society of Professional Journalists, American Society of Newspaper Editors, Scripps foundation and others. Reach him at 843-937-5552 or dslade@postandcourier.com

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A Harris Teeter worker brings pre-ordered groceries to a customer at the curbside in West Ashley. File/Andrew J. Whitaker/Staff

This past week I paid just under $14 for a home-delivered restaurant meal for two.

The food was free, thanks to a $30-off Uber Eats promotion. It was the four delivery fees listed on the bill, plus tax and a generous tip, that cost nearly $14 — an example of the cost of convenience.

My wife and I are among the millions of people working from home. Others are quarantining, or afraid to go out, or are stuck at home because of job losses, or are caring for their equally homebound distance-learning children.

Many of us quickly learned that we can have just about anything delivered, for a price. Not just consumer goods, but bags of groceries or meals — or a single apple, or one taco, or whatever.

Convenience can be habit-forming, but it can also get expensive in ways that aren't always obvious. For example, I've found it's harder to be strategic with my grocery shopping, and more difficult to use coupons, if I shop online.

Also, grocery delivery can cost more than it appears. In addition to delivery or subscription charges, and tips for the driver, there can be service fees, and on top of that there may be markups on the price of the groceries. (Tip: Instacart users can check pricing policies under retailers' logos on Instacart's home page or the main page on the app.)

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Instacart offers a fee-based delivery service for grocery shoppers. File/Provided

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As many of us constantly look for ways to save money, grocery and meal delivery is one place to look. 

Here are some tips for grocery shopping and delivery:

  • First, if you're planning to have groceries delivered regularly, check the policies and fees of different stores you might use. Some, including Harris Teeter, will accept coupons and apply them against your next order. Some chains, including Publix, have first-delivery-free policies, and Target offers 4-week free trials, so it pays to experiment, see which one you like best and compare costs.
  • Plan ahead: If home delivery is going to be a regular thing, you can save money by purchasing a monthly or annual subscription instead of getting dinged with fees on a per-delivery basis. For example, Instacart, which delivers for Aldi, Publix and others, charges at least $3.99 plus fees for each order, or $99 yearly with discounted fees.
  • Check the minimum: Grocery stores and delivery services charge less — sometimes nothing — if your order is above a certain amount. A common threshold is $35. 
  • Look for piggyback deals: Shoppers who pay for Amazon Prime memberships can get free delivery from Amazon-owned Whole Foods on orders over $35. Some credit cards include discounts on food-delivery services as a member benefit. I have a card (Chase Sapphire Reserve) that gave me complimentary membership in Lyft Pink, and Lyft Pink offers members a free Grubhub+ membership, for free delivery from restaurants.
  • Remember, lots of stores sell groceries, including Target and Walmart, with the latter promising the same grocery pricing as in its stores.

Of course, another great way to cut costs is to simply not have groceries delivered. If the reason for delivery is to avoid going into a supermarket, a less-expensive option is available, and that's to have them fill your order for curbside pickup.

Harris Teeter's ExpressLane service is just one example. For $4.95 (or $16.95 per month, or $99.95 per year) the supermarket chain will pack up groceries you order online. That's more expensive than doing the shopping yourself, but you avoid the additional $9.95 to $11.95 delivery fee.

Reach David Slade at 843-937-5552. Follow him on Twitter @DSladeNews.