Monday, March 19, 2012

Do you shop at ALDI?

I do. I decided to try it out after hearing friends and family talk about some of the good deals you can get there. If you are a grocery store snob, you may not like it -- it's no frills shopping and mostly store brands -- but if you want to save money easily and still eat decent food, you will like it.

First, for grocery store snobs, here's a fact: Aldi is owned by the same people who own Trader Joe's, which is clearly a popular choice among the yuppie crowd. And if you want to feel European, Aldi is based in Germany and is widely popular there.

Like anything, Aldi has its good and bad points. There are some great deals on many things, but some items are not cheaper, in my opinion, than buying them on sale at the grocery store or at Target/Walmart with a coupon (or without a coupon). I don't buy a lot of meat there, because I can get decent quality meat at a local IGA on sale. And some products I have not liked, which could happen anywhere. And that said, there are a lot of great things at Aldi, and if you give it a chance, you may just like it.

I've found that it is a great place to buy milk (hormone-free, and only $2.99 a gallon -- $1.50 cheaper than my local grocery store), snack foods, fresh fruits and vegetables, frozen veggies and dairy products, among a few other items. I don't really buy much "processed" stuff, so I stick to basic food with which I can cook from scratch.

If you've never been to Aldi, here's the deal. You need to pay a quarter to use a shopping cart (you get the quarter back when you return the cart), and you need to bag your own groceries. (Bring bags or pay for bags. I bring bags.) I don't mind this process, especially the latter since I'm fussy about how my groceries are bagged -- I like my frozen stuff together, my produce together, etc.

The store doesn't advertise, although you can pick up next week's flyer when you leave. The actual store itself is also no-frills, meaning no fancy displays. It is smaller than most grocery stores, hence the limited selection, but you have enough to choose from for simple meals, and less selection can mean less chance for impulse buys, right?

They sell mostly their own brands. And here is my philosophy regarding "generics" or "store brands" -- if you are baking from scratch, who cares what package it came out of? Most store-brand items are packaged or made in the same factories as the brand-name versions. Just take a basic baked ziti -- all the ingredients are available at Aldi, and no one will know the difference, right? I have an aunt who is probably one of the best cooks I know, and she is an Aldi shopper.

Also, if you are on a diet, Aldi's has a brand called Fit & Trim that caters to some dietary needs (although you should still read the label). My daughter's favorite rice cakes are under the Fit & Trim label.

And if you are planning to visit, plan on paying with cash or debit card -- they do not accept credit cards or checks.

All these differences -- 25 cents to rent a cart, bagging your own groceries, etc., among other tricks --are how the store is able to sell things less expensively. Many people shop exclusively at Aldi, and save a lot of money doing it. If you don't like to clip coupons but want to save on your grocery bill, then Aldi's is for you.

Famous frugal families like The Duggars (of TLC's "19 Kids and Counting") are known to shop at Aldi, as is one famous blogger who paid off a lot of debt by saving in many ways, but Aldi was her saving tool of choice on her grocery bill. (She wrote a great article about Aldi here.) She even started a blog about it and includes many, many recipes solely based on Aldi's products. Here's one of the meal planners with recipes. Aldi's web site  also has a ton of recipes on it.

I was surprised to hear how many of my friends shopped at Aldi. It's not completely convenient -- my closest one is in adjacent city and requires driving through a congested area -- but it's near Target, where I do some bargain shopping as well. If I have a chance to run errands without the kids, it's good time to go over to that area and loop around to a few stores, including a Freihoffers bakery outlet, Aldi, Dollar Tree and Target. I am able to zip in and out of stores with my list and save on gas as well by getting everything done at once.

Now I'll share a few of my favorite things to buy Aldi, starting with these frozen green beans:

They are so good -- I just cook them in a frying pan with some olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper and they are delicious. The best frozen green beans ever! $1.49 for a pretty decent sized bag... (Mommy tip: I tell the twins they are "green fries" and they gobble them down.)

Fresh produce is a big part of my regular Aldi's shopping trips. When you purchase produce at Aldi's you don't pick and choose each individual apple, banana, etc. The produce comes pre-packed -- kind of like at Costco. But it is a decent deal: bananas are 44 cents a pound, a 5-lb. bag of red potatoes is $1.99, a 3-lb. bag of Gala apples is $2.49 (that's 83 cents per pound!), a 16 oz. container of strawberries is $1.49, a four-pack of really nice Anjou pears is $1.29... You get the picture. (It's not organic, mind you, but I can't afford organic right now with three kids at home and bills to pay. Frankly, I just want to make sure we all eat a lot of fruits and veggies, and this allows that. Before my Aldi trips, I was finding that I was not eating enough fruit, because I was saving it for the kids. Now I'm eating more and I don't feel guilty.) Recent trips have also include 5 lb. bags of sweet potatoes, grape tomatoes, cantelopes, pineapples, grapes, English cucumbers and packs of red and orange bell peppers. The produce area cannot compare to a big grocery chain, but most of the time I've had very good luck there and there are enough options.

I buy a ton of snack items at Aldi as well. I pack two lunches each weekday: one for my husband and one for Big Girl, so we need to include affordable snacks in our grocery budget to save on the lunch bill. Big Girl likes those veggie chips that are like potato chips made with vegetables -- Aldi's has their own brand of them and they taste better than the brands they sell in regular grocery stores. (Hmm... I wonder if the Trader Joe's version is made in the same factory?) She also likes the small snack rice cakes, and the Aldi's brand is just as good as a name brand, and much, much cheaper. My husband doesn't mind the granola bars or several other snack items I've purchased.

Last night, I actually tested out their take-and-bake cheese pizza ($4.99 for a 16-inch pizza), which looks just like the kind you can pick up at Costco. It was actually very good! For my meatless Friday, I'm hoping to make a pasta salad with farfalle pasta, fresh spinach, grape tomatoes and shrimp -- I picked up a bag of cooked frozen shrimp (medium size) for $3.99, as well as all the aforementioned items. I've never tried the frozen shrimp from Aldi previously, so we'll see how it fares.

If you check out Aldi, let me know how it was for you... Or share your favorite Aldi products in the comments. "The Easter Bunny" recently found some really adorable Easter candy there which will be making an appearance in my children's baskets in a few weeks. It's as cute as anything you'd find in a Lindt or Godiva shop. I'll share more on that in a future post.


  1. After reading this I just had to try out Aldi. I do have a 'thing' about buying my products from the United States so I was disappointed when I took a look at the frozen broccoli to see it came from Mexico and many other products were not from the US ... sorry, but I have to pass!

    1. A lot of produce, fresh and frozen, is imported from outside the U.S. I worked with produce for many years and was suprised at how many items are not grown in the U.S. Perhaps the greater issue is why our government is not supporting a variety of types of farmers instead of relying on lobbyists for certain types of products, such as corn.

      Aldi's products are packaged at factories where brand names are packaged, so to me it's not much different than shopping at any other supermarket. I think people would be suprised if they started reading more labels on all their products, not just those sold at Aldi.