Cool Store: ALDI
As many of you know, I've been on a quest this summer to find cheaper groceries since finding cheap gas seems like a losing battle. I think I found the answer.
A reader posted a comment recently about ALDI, a German grocery store that has a few stores in the Washington area. I went to the Alexandria store this week, bought a few groceries, and determined that I cut $40 off my regular shopping trip. Here's what else I learned:
If you're someone who finds the shopping experience as important as the food selection and deals, then ALDI is not your place to shop. The store is simple. Food is neatly presented in its own large cardboard box so you're not browsing shelves of food. You have to pay a quarter to use a grocery cart but you get the quarter back when you're done shopping. The carts are nice and big though. The company says they do this so they don't have to hire people to keep track of carts that get left in the parking lot. They encourage you to bring your own bags or you can buy their 5-cent paper bags and 10-cent plastic bags. And be prepared to bag your own groceries. The brands are different, so if you're loyal to certain mainstream food manufacturers, you probably won't find them at ALDI. Their selection is lacking low-fat, low-calorie and organic foods. I couldn't find lactose-free milk, but they did have soy milk. And they don't accept credit cards.
OK, now that I have all the negatives out of the way, here's why I liked the store. The food is cheaper. Plain and simple. After my visit to ALDI, I headed to Giant, which I deemed the cheapest grocery store in the region in a recent post. Since ALDI has different brands, I compared ALDI's prices with Giant's prices on generic food. In a comparison of about 16 items at each store, Giant was $10 more expensive.
A pound of cherries at ALDI was $3.49, while a pound of cherries at Giant was $5.99. And they, along with the rest of the produce, were in great condition. My 4-year-old has practically eaten the whole pound already. Cucumbers were 59 cents at ALDI and 75 cents at Giant. The most expensive gallon of milk at ALDI was $3.49, while it was $3.99 at Giant. A half-gallon of orange juice at ALDI was $1.79, while the generic orange juice in the same size at Giant was $2.69. Giant's sale price on sandwich bread couldn't even compete at $1.79 versus ALDI's at $1.19. But one of the best deals I got was a bottle of Winking Owl shiraz for $2.99. I haven't tried it yet and it's possible the owl on the bottle is winking because you'll get the worst hangover of your life. But for $3, I thought it was worth a try. I'll let you know how it goes.
Now I couldn't get everything I wanted at ALDI. The store is relatively small, slightly bigger than a Trader Joe's, so the selection is limited. (Ironically Trader Joe's is owned by a family trust that was set up by one of the German businessmen who owns ALDI.) But after getting the rest of my groceries at Giant, I ended up spending $132 for a week's worth of food for my family. I usually spend about $175. Is $43 worth the inconvenience of having to go to two stores and dealing with the oddities at ALDI? Yes, because $43 every week is $172 a month or more than $2,000 a year.
So now I'm curious... have you ever shopped at ALDI? What are the best things to get there? And how much weight does a grocery store's atmosphere have in your fondness of the store? Would you rather pay higher prices for a nicer shopping experience or are lower prices the most important thing for you even if it means bagging your own groceries? Please post a comment below.
Another great way to save on groceries is to use coupons, which I never do but I'd like to start. I'm working on a post for next week on how to use these little pieces of paper. Do you have any good strategies for using coupons? Please send me an e-mail at email@example.com if you do.
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