Monday, September 29, 2014

7 Reasons Why Shopping at Aldi Isn't So Bad

If you've never checked out Aldi before, it's a discount supermarket chain where about 90% of the products are its own store brand.  It's very no-frills -- most items are displayed in boxes, you bag your own groceries, you bring your own bags or buy some of theirs, and you pay a quarter deposit to use a shopping cart, which you get back once you've returned it to the cart corral and connected it back to the other carts.  They also don't take credit cards -- it's cash or debit only.  They do all of this to help keep their costs low.

I don't have any issue with store brands.  I love shopping at Trader Joe's, which is a similar experience. (Side note: Many people will tell you that Trader Joe's and Aldi are owned by the same parent company, but that's not quite true.  There are two "Aldi" brands run by different parts of the same family.  Trader Joe's is run by a trust of the other Aldi brand.)

But I'm going to be honest; for the longest time, I did not want to step foot in Aldi.  My mom fell in love from the moment one was built in my hometown, but I was not impressed by the things she brought home.  Overly processed junk, I thought.  Full of chemicals and additives and nasty things that, while I grew up on and came out completely fine, I just didn't like putting in my body anymore.  I wrote it off as a case of "you get what you pay for."

That is, until my family was left without any income other than my husband's unemployment checks, which didn't even cover our bills.  When my new goal became "feed our family for as few dollars as humanly possible," I evaluated all of my options, Aldi being one of them.

The result?  It's not nearly as bad as I thought.  Here's why:

  1. They have the cheapest prices in town on basic staples.  Need milk, bread, butter or eggs?  Unless your supermarket's having an awesome sale, Aldi's prices are always lower.  Sometimes, the price beats even the best sale.  I'm pretty sure these items are loss leaders for them, ways to get you in the door so you'll hopefully buy more products.  My Aldi has signs saying they have the right to impose a limit of 5 items for bread, milk and eggs, though I've seen people coming out of the store with a cart literally full of milk or bread.  Don't ask me what they do with it all, but clearly they know the best place to shop.

  2. They have a good deal of natural food options for cheap.  In addition to those basic staples, Aldi has a growing natural foods line, including some organic products, at great prices.  I love their fruit pouches for my daughter -- they have nothing but fruit in them, and are only $1.99 for a 4-pack.  They also have nitrate-free deli meat, organic milk and soymilk, 100% juices, and all-natural almond butter, among other things.  They've even had grass-fed beef on occasion as a special buy.  This is a fairly new development in the world of Aldi, but a welcome one!

  3. Their produce section is small, but can't be beat.  You're not going to find exotic fruits and vegetables here, but for your most common produce items, particularly the ones in season, you can get great deals.  They have the cheapest banana prices anywhere, which is great for my Yonanas frozen fruit habit.  I usually buy romaine hearts here too -- they're super-easy to cut up real quick to create a green salad instead of spending more on the pre-cut stuff (which they also have, if you're looking for convenience).  They've also started carrying a few organic options.

  4. Their private brand is often another brand in disguise.  This is common among private labels, but sometimes you're buying the same product you'd get somewhere else, just with a different brand slapped on top of it.  Sometimes it's hard to find this information, because the brands don't want you to know, but one cool thing I learned is that you can look up the dairy code on a gallon of milk to figure out where it was produced.  The milk at my Aldi is from a local dairy, whose milk costs significantly more as a branded name in my regular supermarket.  (And happily, it's rBST-free!)  I've also noticed that Aldi carries several products that Trader Joe's also sells, but for less.  The nitrate-free deli meat is in a nearly identical package and tastes the same.  They also have one of my major Trader Joe's addictions during the fall as a seasonal item -- maple leaf cookies -- and they're even cheaper than the completely reasonable price at Trader Joe's.
      
  5. Their selection is constantly changing, and what's leaving can often be scored at a great deal.  Food-wise, Aldi tends to have a variety of seasonal products, occasional things they get from a name brand at a good deal, or things they're just trying out.  If the store needs to get rid of an item to make room for something new, the deals get even better.  I usually walk around my store whenever I go, looking for red price labels.  Red means it's marked down as clearance.  One time I got a package of hamburger buns for $0.25 because they just had too many, and then got my $.25 back as a rebate using Checkout 51.  And it's not just food -- Aldi also has a section of seasonal home goods.  For the past couple of weeks, they've had this Fisher-Price Infant to Toddler Swing on clearance for $4.99, because summer's over and they have to go.  It's $25 on Amazon.  If I was into reselling, I could make myself a good profit!

  6. You can get in and out quickly.  The store is on the smaller side and is easy to navigate.  Once you've been there a couple of times you know where everything is.  While they usually only have one or two cashiers operating at a time, they're speedy.  The products have barcodes all over them to help facilitate quicker scanning, and because you're doing the bagging, all they have to do is set it all in a cart for you.  All in all, it's way faster than a trip to my regular supermarket.  Time is money!

  7. Aldi pays its workers well.  Personally, I love supporting businesses that pay their employees reasonable wages.  That often doesn't happen with a discount chain (ahem, Walmart), but Aldi pays its employees well above minimum wage.  They do have to work for it -- with a small crew, employees have more responsibilities -- but at least they make a reasonable income.  I've noticed fairly low turnover at my store as well, so they must be doing something right!
With my husband's commute and work schedule, and my busy day working and chasing a toddler, I don't have as much time as I once did for carefully planning out my shopping list with coupons.  I'm finding that Aldi is doing a great job of helping me continue to keep my costs fairly low without quite as much effort.  I coupon for what I can, but rely on Aldi to help me save on many of the things my family needs every day without the clipping.  Plus, I can use Aldi's stable, low prices to determine whether or not a deal elsewhere is good or not worth the effort.

Are you an avid Aldi shopper or just thinking about giving it a go?  I'd love to hear your thoughts!

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