Ten Things I've Learned Shopping At Aldi

About five years ago I began experimenting with shopping at Aldi.  It was a brand new store to my usual shopping area and all I knew of it was what I'd read online at other money saving blogs.  The reviews were all positive.  I'd been struggling to pull down our grocery budget but simply couldn't manage it even when shopping at multiple stores, purchasing in bulk and buying loss leaders, discounted meats, reduced price produce, etc.  I felt like I kept getting a lesser quality of food and was spending as much as ever.

So I gave Aldi a try.  I was aware from my reading that I'd need to rent a shopping cart for 25c and bring my own bags and cash to pay for my purchase.  I was fine with that.  The parking lot was neat and clean and the carts are undamaged because people want to get that 25c back!  So carts are less likely to be everywhere but in the cart bay at the front of the store.

I didn't mind providing my own shopping bags.  I'd been doing that for years at the regular supermarkets anyway.  And using cash was a good way to insure I stayed on budget.  I was okay with that idea.

The hardest thing to get used to with Aldi at first was the limited stock and their concept of what is seasonal.  For instance, milk and eggs and produce were almost always on hand but there might well not be any bananas or potatoes or cabbage.  Never a complete lack of product but something that I deemed usual and necessary was often out of stock that day.  And I couldn't just walk into the store and plan on picking up baking powder or yeast.  Those items were considered seasonal items at the time.

Five years later, our store has expanded the number of products they carry at least three times, adding in full aisles of products.  They carry a limited line of name brand products such as soda, a regional favorite mayonnaise, electrolyte replacement drinks, but those are few.  Mostly they continue to rely on the store product lines which are continually expanding.   They now have a greater variety of products in store at all times such as Chinese, Mexican and German food products.  Some items once considered seasonal are now available year round.   They carry a full line of organic fruits and vegetables and added an organic line of baby foods and baby products to their store's daily offerings. Aldi now comprises 92% of our purchases for groceries

But shopping at Aldi is not without it's challenges.  Here's a short list of what I've learned in my years as an Aldi customer.

#1 Some items are seasonal and some are cyclical.  Baking soda and yeast and other products that were once considered seasonal items by Aldi.  That has changed in the course of the past couple of years but it meant I had to purchase those items in bulk while they were available and purchase elsewhere if I ran out until the next year.

Aldi also has a line of home goods and international foods items that they sell periodically through the year but they are not consistently in stock in the store outside of those cycles.  Again, if it was something we commonly used as a daily item, I stocked up while available.

#2.  Outages are not uncommon.  Aldi generally stocks once a week in our area on general groceries and if there is a great sale on an item, like 29c a pound bananas...well you'd just better  get in store early on the first day!  Sometimes products just aren't available at the time I'm shopping.

#3. Be prepared to substitute or go without.  I've gone in with a list of items I think I'm going to purchase like say a chuck roast only to find there are NO roasts in the meat counter at all.  If I lived in town, I might check back in a day or two but I don't.  I've learned to not rely too heavily on what's on my list and to make substitutions with what is available.  No romaine?  There's leaf lettuces and iceberg usually available as well.  No 5pounds of potatoes, there might be those little mini potatoes and there are usually frozen fries and instant potatoes available as well.  Sometimes, I just opt to buy no potatoes!

#4.  I really save money at Aldi.  I've lowered our grocery budget by about 40% which is substantial.   I would never have believed Aldi could make such a huge difference but their prices are  very good.

Aldi's prices are not always the lowest available.  The occasional clearance or loss leader item may well be better at a traditional chain supermarket and I will take advantage and stock up at those stores but  Aldi's prices are consistently lower overall.

It is still a major surprise to me, even after years of shopping at Aldi, to roll a full to the top and brimming over cart to the register and have the total ring up at just over $100.  I often compare that cart with the occasional trips to other supermarkets where the floor of the shopping cart is still visible and the items within total $60 and fill one bag...and I'm not even splurging or impulse buying!

My niece asked me a couple of years ago for advice on bringing her grocery budget down, as did Bess and Katie.  I recommended Aldi to them all.  My niece was especially concerned because she liked specific foods and brands but she was desperate to trim her grocery costs.  I suggested she go into the store and buy one each of ten of the store brand items that were similar to the ones she typically purchased and try them.  I explained about the Aldi return policy so she was assured she wasn't wasting money.  By the end of her second month, she was doing all her shopping at Aldi and had not only lowered her budget but given up her 'brand' dependence!  All three girls are now loyal Aldi fans.

#5.  You can save a lot of money at Aldi but you can quickly spend the difference if you aren't careful.  Aldi has a whole line of products for home and garden they sell weekly.  These items are not permanent items in the store.  They are introduced in a weekly sales cycle and they are there only until that stock sells out.  One week it might be kitchen items, and another it might be educational toys and the following week bed and bath products, etc.   These items are attractive and durable and inexpensive and TEMPTING!  They are often unique.

I noted a woman last shopping trip at  Aldi with her buggy filled to the gills, but it wasn't all food.  No she had laden the buggy with non-food items that were on display that week.  I wondered how much of her purchases were impulse and how much of them were planned.  I'd say it was mostly unplanned given her gasp at the total...

And it's not just the non-food products offered.  There are lots of convenience items at Aldi and specialty products that are cyclical products and the seasonal items.  I know that their food items are delicious and I've seldom seen the need to return anything.  Their prices are really low on these items.  I have to constantly remind myself when I'm tempted by things not on my list to purchase that I can quickly increase our total spending if I don't keep my head as I look at those items.  I have to ask myself the same questions I do shopping at any other store:  Is it something I need?  Can I make it myself?  Is it tempting because I'm hungry?  Do I have room to store it?  Usually I manage to avoid most of those tempting items.

#6 I've changed my thinking about how I shop. 
We are so overwhelmed by variety at the usual super market that it's a shock to experience the limited variety at an Aldi.  Instant pudding?  Chocolate or vanilla, only and one of those may be out of stock when you shop.  Flavored gelatin is usually limited to strawberry and orange.  Last week there was only orange.    The variety of canned soups is limited to an end cap.  Cream of soups are mushroom, chicken and celery.   There's a very limited variety of other flavors.

If I find myself frustrated by the limitations I remind myself, "If I were shopping in a small town grocery in the 1950's I might well experience just such limitations."  Being of that mindset has helped a lot.

#7  I've changing my thinking about what I need.  At first this limit on variety felt very restrictive to me, but I've realized more and more that the basics are really all I need.  I'm a good cook.  I make most all of our foods from scratch anyway.  Items like those mentioned in the paragraph above are nice to have in multiple flavors but not really necessary.

#8  I've learned to be patient and wait.  For a long while if an item wasn't available immediately when I planned to purchase it, say soy sauce, I'd feel compelled to go right to another store and buy the item there.  Now I tend to wait until next shopping trip and pick it up when it's in stock.

If there's a non-food product I want to add to my home, I wait for the appropriate sales cycle from Aldi.  I recently purchased some high quality freezer containers for use in storing corn.  I could have picked those up just anywhere but I knew Aldi had brought them in last summer and they were so low priced I decided it was worth waiting for this year.

#9  I've learned to trust the store brands. I concentrated at first on the basics: flour, sugar, oils, spices, produce, and dairy.  Then I added into my cart 2 or 3 store brands items like coffee or steak sauce and paper products.  If we liked what I'd purchased I bought it again and then experimented with a few new items each grocery period.  Not every item was a hit but I found very few of their store products that weren't as good and often better than the brands I'd been accustomed to buying.   I'd been shopping there a few weeks when I discovered they offered a double guarantee on every item.  If it wasn't good or was actually spoiled, they not only gave you your money back but allowed you to get a replacement for free.  You can't beat that!  I think it says a great deal about how confident they are that their products stand up against the competition.

John and I had been purchasing meats at a nice butcher shop and we continued to do so for quite a long while but we've gradually switched over to Aldi's meats.  I admit I've never cared for vacuum packed meats.  The color looks off compared to the meats I'd see in the market and there's a certain smell that is different.  It's not spoiled!  Not at all, but it does have a slight smell that is just not the same as meat that has not been vacuum packed.  However, every single cut we've tried has been tender, high quality  meat. The prices per pound are consistently lower than supermarkets or butcher.  More and more of our meats come from that Aldi meat counter these days.

#10  I no longer feel I must or should visit many different stores.   In the past I might spend a grocery day working hard.  I'd visit 5 or 7 stores, including multiple groceries and a stop at one or two drug stores and a dollar store.  These days it's not unusual to tell John, "I only need to go to Aldi this week."  Shopping at Aldi has altered my thinking about shopping in such a way that it no longer feels necessary to make grocery shopping a grind.  And yes, we're spending less on food and eating a high quality of foods these days.

We still have only a few Aldi available in our state.  In the south part of Georgia there are  no stores within a two hour drive from Bess and Sam.  Bess really misses her Aldi days and now drives down once every six weeks to Jacksonville, Florida.

This summer, Aldi announced they will be opening 900 new stores.  It's likely that some of you might have an Aldi opening near you in the next year or so and I wanted to enumerate why I enjoy shopping there for your benefit.  If an Aldi does open near you, please go and give it a try.


Lana said...

I have shopped at Aldi for 15 plus years and they have really changed for the better. It used to be really bare bones and you had to go to another store every week. I love being able to shop only at Aldi most weeks. Those non food isles are just like a magnet for my husband, LOL! I love that they have eliminated the 8 pesticides worst for bees, MSG, trans fats and artificial colors from everything they sell. If you have a smart phone, the app is great to have since you can pull up the ad anywhere.

Anonymous said...

We love Aldi's pork chops. They are so good. Their can chili is real good too. We drive about 30 miles to the nearest Aldi but it is well worth it. I can get about 3 weeks worth of groceries for the price of one weeks worth at our local grocery store. Enjoy your blog, Barbara

Kathy said...

Thanks for the tips! Those are great savings! We may be getting an Aldi in the next year or so, so I need to remember what you have learned shopping there.
A Lidl store is opening here this year, and I am looking forward to checking it out. Have you ever shopped there?

Anonymous said...

We have had an Aldi for quite a long time and now they are closing for a few weeks for expansion. It will be a really good sized store when it reopens. Can't wait. I just buy groceries. I avoid the merchandise aisle. It changes all the time and if i looked i would probably be buying impulse items. Their milk and egg prices are great as are their cereal, soup, soap and a number of other items. Across the street is a Wegmans. They run very competitively on canned veggies and a lot of their own name brand stuff plus on Tuesday, it is 5% discount senior day. Funny you just did this article. Watced Living on a Dime on YouTube and their show tonight was on Aldi. Love my Aldi, although we have a veggie and fruit market that has better prices on fruit and veggies and they seem to be fresher. Gramma D

Debby in KS said...

You know, I avoided Aldi for a long time because of comments my sister made. She clearly thought it was lesser quality, for only poor people, etc. But I kept hearing from more and more church friends (that lived in homes 3 times the size of ours!) that they always shopped there, there were certain items they bought ONLY there, & my curiosity drove me in. My husband and I went with our regular market list. We managed to get out 75% of it for a lot less money than it would've been from our regular market. Fast forward to now....there are certain things I will only buy there because I much prefer the taste. We only go once a month and buy enough until our next visit because the location isn't very convenient. I never buy anything but food. And the best part is that it's FAST! Even if there's a line, we're never there for more than 30 minutes or so!

I have no idea why my sister has such an aversion to it, but if she wants to pay more, that's her choice!

Rhonda said...

You know I'm an Aldi fan. Ours is being remodeled and enlarged right now so it takes some hunting to find everything right now. But other than that, I have no complaints.
My husband is a huge fan of Aldis featured sale items. He recently bought a fold up wagon that is so handy and he found 2 cooler bags like you bought but I couldn't find.

Delorise said...

Wow, 900 new stores being opened- I sure hope one of those is in the South Ga town that my family lives in.

Anonymous said...

Wow we had no idea of the double guarantee. I wonder if the manager does? He gave me the $ back on the spoiled ribs but there was no mention of a replacement. I had not brought in the bad ribs. I didn't want to have them smelling up the car. But the manager gave me the $ back saying next time I Had to have the product too. Maybe that made the difference. Now I will know if that ever happens again. We have continued to shop there. It is good to know they might increase the products at some point. They are pretty new here. You mentioned the cranberry sauce. I saw two different kinds at ours last week. :) I bet your home canned ones are super good though.
We like Aldi a lot and it is our go to store. it is good to know our experiences with limited produce some days and such are usual. So far they have always had the meat stocked we wanted from the sale ad. Each time we are there we try to look around as there are different things in and old ones out of stock and so we take advantage of what is there. A few products we get for half what the national brand..even on a good sale... would have been. Also it is not unusual for them to reduce the price even on sale items when they have an over stock. Like 10 lbs potatoes for under 59c or black berries for 50c a container. They advertise these super sales in a notice at the front inside door. We had learned if it is a special item get it or it will be gone. Like the bird seed we forgot to get! Also we have found items in our local ad in the seasonal things may never be in the store. That is ok. We are there to shop for groceries..any extras we might like to get are not necessary items.
The stores are clean, personal good, and since a few we knew before seeing them working there they told us they like working there and conditions are good. We have two in our area which surprised me. We go to which ever one is close to where we will be that day.
Yes what does anyone know about Lidi stores? They are new to me. There are none around her yet. Sarah

Lana said...

Sarah, We just got Lidl about a month ago. I went once and the produce all looked like it had been stocked a week before. That fact alone has not enticed me to go back. My daughter said the produce at her store 30 miles away is great. Both my daughter and I found the store to be overwhelming even though my daughter went weekly for several weeks trying to figure it out and be comfortable. There are an incredible amount of products. They do have more cuts of meat and a bakery with a limited selection. One thing that really bugged me is the lighting which is likely LED. It felt kind of like a half lit store and with that and the overwhelmed feeling because there is so much crammed in the store I have not been enticed to go back. When you check out your groceries come down a conveyor belt to the bagging end and you have to be down there bagging and quick to get it done and out of the way. That freaked me out some too. My daughter is moving to Germany this fall and she has heard that you get yelled at there if you do not bag fast enough and move on. Having said all that, Aldi is seriously competing to keep their customers with crazy lower prices and coupons for $5 off your order. I found prices at Lidl to be in the area of 20 to 30 cents higher on most items which really adds up. Eggs were 25 cents this week at Aldi and milk $1.19 along with other price reductions. We will stick with Aldi.

Becky Gepford said...

We don't have Aldi around here. It will be interesting to see if they start coming to Oregon. I'm glad you all save so much money there!

Deanna said...

We finally got Aldi's here a year or two ago and I love it! My daughter and I shop in the city once a month but we are now able to fill in nicely at Aldi's in between shopping trips.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the Lidl information. Sounds like they have bigger stores than Aldi. We are v very satisfied with Aldi and Hubby loves it so that helps too since he is always with me when we shop. :) In fact we were there today. Sarah

Susan in SC said...

I love Aldi's. we have a very good Aldi's here but I have learned to stock up on certain items. I only have 2 or 3 items that I go to a regular store for. I can feed my family of 4 (with 2 teenage boys) for $100 a week. I think that is pretty good. And, some weeks we don't go since I tend to stock up. You have to be non-brand dependent! LOL! I am always amazed that some people can't, or won't, do that! Some of the Aldi's brands are better than the regular brands.

Terri Cheney said...

I am curious if we shall see a Lidl come to our area now that we have Aldi. We shall see...

Susan, our Aldi started carrying Duke's mayonnaise and I stopped buying their store brand and bought Duke's instead. I found the Bermann's mayo was quite good but a little bit salty for my taste. We don't much like the cheese flavored chips and the roasted peanuts were a big fail twice in our home, as were the honey nut ones. Other than that, I can't name much we don't buy at Aldi anymore. I wish it had been around when I had teens at home. Oh the money I might have saved...sigh.

Karla Neese said...

I've been an Aldi fan off and on but often forget about it. The stores in my area are going through or just recently finished remodeling so they are even better than before and have more products that are better organized. My husband is a picky eater so some of the Aldi brands of products he doesn't care for. Sometimes I do have to go to another store to get an item that is on the menu simply because of the menu planning phase we are in right now.

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