Tuesday, July 10, 2012

#couponchallenge Update: My Trip to Aldi

I've been interested in shopping at Aldi ever since I read about The Frugal Girl's very cool trip to the Aldi headquarters last year (part two here, Q&A here). The other day, Peanut and I drove by an Aldi just a few miles from our house - we didn't even know it was there! (Apparently it's only been open six months or so; it doesn't even show up on Google maps yet.) So today I decided to check it out.

If you don't know, Aldi is a grocery store that aims to save customers money in some interesting ways: they don't arrange products on shelves (they leave them in the packaging they arrive in, sort of like Costco), they charge for shopping carts and bags, they don't accept credit cards or checks or coupons, and they sell mainly generic products - not big names.

Here's what I bought, and a note on how I feel about it:
  • Sweet corn, 4 ears: $1.49 Con: $0.12 MORE EXPENSIVE per ear than my grocery store. Ears came wrapped in plastic, so I couldn't pick out my own, plus, ugh, plastic. 
  • Sharp cheddar: $1.79/block Same price as my grocery store brand when it's on sale (which is frequently).
  • Saltines $0.89/box Pro: WAY cheaper than either my grocery store ($3.26/box) or Target ($2.54/box). Con: I forgot that Saltines are one of the things Peanut is brand-sensitive about. If he doesn't like these, there is no savings.
  • Gala apples: $3.99/bag. Pro: slightly cheaper than my grocery store (hard to calculate, as I don't buy them by the bag normally, and the bags at Aldi were filled by number of apples, not weight - weird.) Con: Had to buy a plastic bag of apples.
  • Beefsteak tomatoes: $1.39 for two in a plastic box. Pro: about 75% of the normal price at my grocery store, and slightly cheaper than my store's sale price. Con: Tomatoes in a plastic box.
  • Artisan lettuce: $1.99 for four small heads in a plastic box. Pro: Cheaper. Con: Not the kind of lettuce I would normally buy, plus a plastic box.
  • Skim milk: $1.99/gallon Same price as my grocery store.
  • Frozen lasagna: $1.19 for a single-serve box. Pro: Definitely cheaper than frozen dinners from either Target or my usual store! Potential Con: Will it taste good? Definite con: Only one vegetarian option available.
  • Hot dog buns: $0.39 for eight Pro: SUPER CHEAP!!!! Con: No selection - that was the only type of bun available, and I really wanted hoagie buns, not hot dog buns.
Total: $15.11 for two cloth bags full of groceries. I would have paid $20+ for the same amount of food from my grocery store.

So will I start shopping at Aldi regularly?

I'm undecided. The location is .8 miles farther from my house than my normal grocery store, but more importantly, it's in the opposite direction - a direction I very rarely travel. Combined with that, the savings doesn't really outweigh the downsides to almost every single product I purchased. (In addition to the produce all being wrapped in plastic, it was decidedly inferior to the produce available at my usual grocery store and Target - mold, for example, or just beat up or wrinkly produce.) However, this was a mid-week stock up, and probably not the best trip to take to give Aldi a shot.

I think for certain types of shopping trips - stocking up on cereal, canned goods, boxed products, desserts (including baked goods, ice cream, and cake mixes) and possibly some frozen stuff - Aldi would save me a lot of money. They also have some unexpected products, like mesh camp chairs and clothes drying racks, both for $10, which seem like good deals. If I were getting a bunch of things like chips, soda, and popsicles for a party or oatmeal, trail mix, and granola bars for a camping trip - well, now. Aldi would indeed save me a bundle of money. But will I make a special trip for my usual shopping needs, or just chalk up the higher cost of Target or my usual store as a convenience fee?

I know the best way to stretch your grocery dollar is to shop at multiple stores for different things, but I'm not going to do that as a matter of course, at least not when it involves driving out of my way. I can pop into Target and a grocery store within the same shopping complex, and that's about as much as I have time for. (And as they say, time is money!)

Have you ever shopped at Aldi? Do you shop at multiple grocery stores or stick with the most convenient one?

5 comments:

  1. I have shopped at Aldi, and I really think the quality varies from store to store. Unfortunately, the one near me just isn't ideal. Their produce is VERY hit or miss, and with two kids I just don't have time to drive to a different store if all their produce is nasty. (Not an issue in the summer with the farmers' market, but still). I find that I save more money menu planning and just watching my spending.

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  2. I shop at Aldis all the time and save so much money that I now hate to go to a chain store. You should give it another try when you need paper products, canned goods or dairy products.

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  3. I agree with both commentors. I have several Aldis near me but the selection varies. One thing I would say about every Aldi--regardless of selection--is that it isn't really meant to be your produce source. As the previous commentor said, you should try it when you need canned good, frozen goods, and dairy products. One thing to note is that Aldi is the parent company of Trader Joes so it's a similar (though not identical) model. No brand names, just store brands. And like Trader Joes, I wouldn't buy all of my produce there. I use it to stock up on certain products.

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  4. There are certain "pantry" items that I know I can get a better deal on at Aldi, including pasta, tomato sauce and paste, bread, "cream-of" soups, canned low sodium broth, chips and a few other things I can't think of at the moment. I usually only go there every 3 or 4 months and stock up on these items. Sometimes, however, I just get them at my regular grocery store or Super Target because I don't want to make a special trip (and I feel guilty because I know I could have gotten them cheaper at Aldi). I would say that, uniformly, I have hated Aldi produce. Apparently in other areas of the country this is not a problem. But every produce item I have bought here in MN has been on its way South and no good within a day or two. I do love Trader Joe's and there are certain things I always buy there. I go there a bit more often, say every month or so.

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  5. We don't have Aldi here, but I wanted to say that I struggle with the same thing when it comes to shopping sales/going to different stores for different items. I know a lot of bloggers who bounce from store to store and save a lot of money in the process. Back when there was a Food City right across the (busy four lane) street from Kroger, I would pop over there to buy meat because I felt the quality was better. That location closed down, so I make do with what they sell at Kroger. I really can't kick the convenience of getting everything in one place in one stop, even if it would save money to drive a few extra miles in the opposite direction.

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Thanks for commenting!