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.
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