Although we had planned on adding an additional two weeks to our Aldi experiment, we opted not to. One of the main reasons was all of the snow we’ve been having. We have a grocery store 5 minutes from our house and we decided that safety was more important that saving money. The other reason was we got lazy. I have no justification for why we got lazy; we just did. We were OK with the $130 we had saved through the 6 weeks of the experiment and decided that was enough.
While we opted not to continue with the experiment, we had internalized many of the lessons that we learned. The first one was that we do not go shopping without a list or a menu plan. This method was the most effective for saving money throughout the experiment and we figured it would be the most effective way to stay on our $100 budget. So far, it’s worked. The second lesson we learned was that having a stockpile of certain foods is also a good way of saving money. During one trip to Aldi, we purchased 5 boxes of pasta. These boxes have come in handy for quick dinners and as a staple to build other recipes around. Having these ingredients on hand meant that we don’t have to buy them from week to week, enabling us to save money. The third lesson we learned was that saving money is fun. Each week, we looked forward to how much money we would save. It was fun to watch the envelope getting more and more full and the possibilities for what we could do with the money continued to grow. We are still trying to save money each week now that it’s become habit, but we don’t stress if we spend all the money in our grocery budget for the week. We’ve decided that life is too short to stress over every penny. We’re just doing the best that we can.
We’ve learned some other lessons, too. For instance, the prices at Aldi are fantastic, particularly on produce and dairy, and many of the pantry goods like beans, tomatoes and cereal. However, the prices are misleading on many items such as pasta. A box of whole wheat pasta at Aldi is $1.09 which is fantastic. But there are only 6 servings in a box. A box from the supermarket has 8 servings. So you may be spending more money at the supermarket but you’re also getting more food.
Another lesson we learned is that we do enjoy having variety in our menus. During the experiment we did eat a varied menu and even tried many new recipes (some of which we will be trying again). But since the selection at Aldi is so much smaller than that of a regular supermarket, the main ingredients in our meals often did not change–we ate a lot of chicken, black beans and hamburger. It was fine for a short amount of time but if we had to sustain a diet like this for a significant amount of time, we’d get bored. However, if we ever find ourselves in a situation like we did when our daughter was first-born and we were drowning in debt, we’d switch to shopping at Aldi full-time without even batting an eye. Boredom takes a backseat to basic sustenance.
Perhaps the biggest lesson we learned throughout this experiment is this–having a small grocery budget does not mean you need to be unhealthy. It is popular thought that a small grocery budget means one is limited to Ramen noodles, macaroni and cheese, pasta and peanut butter. This is not true at all, especially if you switch from a traditional grocery store to a discount grocery like Aldi. $30 can go a long way at a store like Aldi. You can buy cereal, fresh fruit and vegetables, milk, lunch meat, bread and enough ingredients to feed yourself, or your family, for an entire week. For instance, $3 spent at Aldi can make an entire pot of chili…this includes 2-3 cans of beans, a can of tomatoes, a packet of seasoning mix and green peppers (what’s nice about the peppers is that they come 2 in a package for $.99. You can use one for the chili and one for another recipes). This makes enough chili to feed a family of 4 a nice, healthy filling dinner or a smaller family dinner plus leftovers for lunch. A box of whole wheat pasta and a jar of sauce costs approximately $2; if you add a can of tomatoes to the sauce for some extra veggies and fiber, make it $2.50. The list can go on as the lower prices makes it easier to stretch a dollar.
I’m the first to admit that shopping at Aldi is not entirely perfect. We did have some experiences with bad produce, finding low-fat or healthier versions of products is sometimes difficult and the limited selection can be frustrating at times, especially when you’re shopping for recipes obtained from the Aldi menu planner (I believe that if the recipe is going to call for certain ingredients, the stores should carry them). Always having to remember your own bags is hard (but you can buy bags at the store if you forget), as is always making sure you have a quarter on hand, but you get used to it. The shorter store hours are hard to get used to and it takes substantially more planning to ensure that you get to the store before it closes. And finally, the checkout lines can get quite long as there are only about 1-2 cashiers working at any given time and there are no self-checkout lanes. While all of these “downfalls” (with the exception of the bad produce) are designed to lower the overhead costs which drives the prices lower, they can become an inconvenience. But if you’re in a tight budget situation, these are minor inconveniences compared with feeling like you can’t feed your family.
Overall, this was a really positive experiment for my family. We saved $130, we reconnected with some long-lost habits and we learned to shop smarter. We tried some new recipes, didn’t go out to eat (except on 2 occasions) and even managed to pay off the last of our credit card debt during the experiment! It’s also made us appreciate the fact that we have the luxury of a $100 a week grocery budget because we know what it’s like not to, and we know how many people are in the same position we were in 3 years ago. Good, healthy, reasonably priced food is a right, not a privilege. And while food stamps may offer relief to some, they don’t offer relief to all who need it. Aldi fills the void for those individuals and families. So, we tip our hats to Aldi for granting access to that good, healthy, reasonably priced food to everyone. Hopefully, more stores will follow suit.