How We Save: the magic of Aldi

Via The New York Times

Via The New York Times

When it comes to saving money every month, and hitting our ambitious household budget, not spending an arm and a leg at the grocery store every week is absolutely essential. Because we don’t eat out very often (or, limit ourselves to $100 a month between us in that department), we cook almost every night, and when we’re not, we’re eating leftovers…so glamorous!. That means we actually have to shop at the grocery store, for real food, used to make more real food.

For some reason, this can be a very expensive endeavor. Over the years, we’ve tried a lot of things to save money at the grocery store, and they’ve worked – to a point:

  • We rarely buy snack or junk foods, with the exception of some hardy pretzel sticks every now and then
  • We avoid processed food whenever possible
  • We buy the store brands for almost everything
  • We regulate our meat purchases, with the goal of buying only one kind of meat per week
  • We buy wholesale ingredients rather than the pre-made shortcuts (a big bucket of quick cooking oats instead of instant oatmeal, for example)
  • We limit our indulgences and guilty pleasures, and try to buy the most affordable option rather than the best (yeah, I’d love me some Starbucks brand caramel latte coffee, but I’ll stick with my Foldgers and store-brand coffee creamer)

We even avoid shopping at the better-for-you, organic, all-natural grocery stores, like Trader Joe’s or Whole  Foods. Oh, I know these places have better produce and products, and I know I’d feel better about myself shopping there. But oh no, I stick with Kroger to avoid the stupidly high prices on your fancy-schmancy avocados.

And yet, even though our fridge is stocked with fresh fruit and veggies, the only drinks we keep on hand are OJ and milk (and water, duh), and our pantry is full of simple ingredients that we use to construct our meals, the grocery bill is still a headache. Plus, it’s only the two of us – I can’t even imagine what it’s like shopping for kids (actually, don’t tell me because I’m not ready for that). It just doesn’t seem right to me that two healthy adults, who don’t snack, who cook their meals, who avoid expensive grocery stores, who have insane self-control – it doesn’t make sense why we can’t buy a week’s worth of groceries for $50 a week.

I have a feeling this is going to be a lifelong battle for me – the battle for the grocery budget. However, our most recent attempt to save money actually feels like it’s working, and I’m really excited about it. What’s the secret? One word: Aldi. Now, I’m not sure how other people feel about Aldi, their quality of food, their businesses, and whatnot. But ever since we started shopping at Aldi every week before hitting up Kroger, we’ve noticed some major savings and we’re very excited about it.

If you don’t have one in your area, Aldi is a German discount grocery chain known for its cost-saving efforts. The store stocks staple items – food and for the home – usually their own brands. The stores don’t have everything, and they may not have the same items week-to-week. Aldi doesn’t provide bags, or baggers – customers have to bring their own, or pay for extra in the check-out lane. Carts are dispensed for the price of a quarter; customers get their quarter back by returning their cart to the corral outside the store. Aldi does not accept credit cards, only cash and debit. There are usually only one or two employees working at a time, even on busy Sunday mornings (when we shop).

All this adds up to lower prices for customers, and it shows. For a few weeks, J and I compared the prices from our Aldi receipt to similar products at Kroger, and almost every time, Aldi won out. Sometimes Kroger’s sales prices were lower, but sometimes Aldi even beat the sales. But since J and I do not have the patience to coupon and stalk the sales every week, we know that going with an Aldi product is the best bet, every time.

Now, J and I hit up Aldi first during our Sunday morning grocery shopping trip, buying everything we can there. Then, we buy everything else at Kroger. What’s been most exciting are the savings: shopping at Kroger alone, our grocery bill would fluctuate between $60-$75 a week, sometimes getting as high as $80. Some of that would be spent on household items, but most of the time, it was food. Since we started going to Aldi first, the amount we spend on food at both stores is right around $50 a week, every week. That’s awesome, and it really helps us hit our $250-a-month grocery budget.

What about the quality of Aldi foods? Well, they’re not always a hit. There is some produce that I’ll always buy at Kroger – I had a very, very disappointing Aldi avocado a few weeks ago. And we like Kroger milk, and a special brand of Kroger bread. But we’ve found that most Aldi products are just as good as the Kroger brand we would have bought anyway – some are even better! Let’s face it: a cake mix is a cake mix, and a bag of dried pinto beans is the same everywhere you go.

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