Photo courtesy of Kiplinger
For a while now, I’ve heard great things about Aldi — how savings-minded moms are saving lots of money by shopping at this unconventional store.
It’s not a supermarket, and it’s not a club store. I learned that Aldi contained mostly store brand products and only four or five aisles, making it much smaller than a standard supermarket. Still, people raved about it.
I decided I needed to check it out for myself.
Okay, I wasn’t technically by myself. One Saturday, I told my toddler that we were going somewhere new called Aldi. He took in my enthusiasm somewhat suspiciously but dutifully retrieved his sneakers for me and sat happily in the car for the 10-mile drive. On the way, I even taught him the word “Aldi” — something I now regret, since he spent the next week intermittently asking to go to Aldi.
Aldi’s Unique Policies
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
I’d read up on Aldi a bit before arriving, so I knew a few of its peculiarities going in.
First, if you don’t want to pay for each grocery bag you use, bring your own. I grabbed a handful of plastic bags on the way out the door — or rather after going out the door and realizing I had forgotten my bags — but you can certainly bring eco-friendly, reusable shopping totes.
Second, Aldi requires you to pop a quarter into your shopping cart in order to free it from its brethren. (You get your quarter back once you return your cart to the front entrance area.)
Both the bag and cart policies are intended to keep Aldi’s costs low, so the store can pass along savings to its consumers.
I discovered that Aldi also has a hankering for efficiency, though their processes seemed geared more toward the store’s smooth operation than my convenience.
For instance, Aldi has its customers bag their own groceries. I’m accustomed to this practice — in fact I prefer the control it gives me over how my groceries are packaged — but Aldi’s set-up for bagging was different from my supermarket’s. Instead of bagging at the end of a conveyor belt, my cashier scanned each item and plopped it directly into the cart. Then it was up to me to go to a designated bagging area just past the registers to bag my purchases.
It was messy to sift through bagged and unbagged items in my cart. Plus, I disliked the time waste of having my products handled twice — once by the cashier during checkout and a second time by me for later bagging.
Aldi also did something interesting with the carts during checkout. To keep things moving with scanning while customers continued to place items on the conveyor belt, the cashier used a separate empty cart to house each customer’s items after scanning. Thus, the cart that you entered the store with actually wound up being the cart that the guy behind you left with.
This seems like a fine practice with a few notable exceptions.
One, if you put your favorite quarter in your cart, someone else is going to get it. Be forewarned, coin lovers.
Two, and far more importantly, if you put your favorite toddler in your cart, he’s going home with the next customer. Rather than unseat my kid and wrangle him into another cart, I wound up partially disrupting the Aldi checkout system by leaving with the cart I came with . . . and having two carts temporarily parked at the end of the register (mine and the cart of the guy ahead of me that was intended for me).
Finally — and this is a big peculiarity in the world of frugal shopping — Aldi does not accept coupons. Up until March of 2016, Aldi didn’t even accept credit cards. (I wasn’t sure about this one, so I made sure to have enough cash before hitting the store.) Still, there were definitely some savings to be had at Aldi — sometimes big ones!
Photo courtesy of Aldi
How can you tell if you’re really saving at Aldi? You need to compare Aldi’s prices to your usual store’s prices.
Of course, it’s not fair to compare name brand with store brand, so I compared only store brand to store brand and name brand to identical name brand. For me, this meant scribbling mostly legible notes to myself while standing in an Aldi asile. (Fortunately during this time, my little guy was good enough to sit in the shopping cart while excitedly pointing out apples, Cheerios, and milk.)
Here are a few of the products that I found at Aldi:
1-lb. Bag of Baby Carrots
- Supermarket: $1.50
- Aldi: $0.49
- WINNER: Aldi by a landslide
6-oz. Bag of Sliced Almonds
- Supermarket: $3.49
- Aldi: $2.99
- WINNER: Aldi
1 Bag Pepperidge Farm Goldfish
- Supermarket: $2.00
- Aldi: $1.85
- WINNER: Aldi, though the supermarket might win during a big sale
16-oz. Jar Dry-Roasted Peanuts
- Supermarket: 2.79
- Aldi: $1.99
- WINNER: Aldi
24-oz. Jar Medium Salsa
- Supermarket: 2.39
- Aldi: $1.89
- WINNER: Aldi
Gallon of 2% Milk
- Supermarket: $2.89
- Aldi: $3.19
- WINNER: supermarket
1 Dozen Large Eggs
- Supermarket: $1.33
- Aldi: $0.99
- WINNER: Aldi
1 lb. Apples
- Supermarket: $0.99
- Aldi: $0.49
- WINNER: Aldi by a factor of two
1 lb. Baby Bella Mushrooms
- Supermarket: $3.99
- Aldi: $0.69
- WINNER: Aldi . . . whoa!
In most cases, Aldi wound up being the winner. Plus, the great thing about the Aldi store-brand products I picked up is that they were actually very good! I’m pretty particular about my salsa and orange juice, but the Aldi versions were just as tasty as what I usually picked up at my supermarket.
So will I go to Aldi again? Probably. The benefit of the savings outweighs some of the inconvenient policies I encountered.
My biggest obstacle toward hitting up Aldi on a regular basis is just the distance from my house and the added time of visiting both Aldi and my supermarket. (Aldi definitely doesn’t carry all of the items I need.)
However, if I’m in the area, ready to stock up on some salsa, or looking to pick up a bunch of fruit, I’ll definitely be tossing my toddler in the car again to land some sweet deals at Aldi.