Crunchy

Frugal Faves: The Wonders of Aldi

When I first started this blog, I wanted to include more about my life as a semi-crunchy Christian. Some who is focused on frugal, simple living. But I haven’t done that too much. Now that’s going to change. I’ll be writing more about those aspects of my life, and today is my first “Frugal Faves” post.

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When I lived in Washington, DC, I would oftenwalk from work to a Trader Joe’s about half a mile away, do some grocery shopping, and catch the bus home. It was a nice set up, and I came to love Trader Joe’s (as most people do). Of course, now that I’m living in Iowa again, it’s not that easy to get to Trader Joe’s…the closest (and I think only one in the state) being two hours away.

Then I stumbled across and article that mentioned Aldi was owned by the people who own Trader Joe’s, and was modeled in much the same way. Low and behold, there’s been an Aldi in my hometown for as long as I can remember. I’ve rarely been there in recent years, sad to say. It had the reputation of being where the poorest people shopped, and when I was little, we would occasionally need to go to this name-brand-less store to buy food. I associated it with the “hard times”, and certainly wouldn’t choose to shop there.

How silly of me!

After work on Saturday, I stopped by Aldi and hesitantly walked inside, after inserting my quarter to get the cart, of course. I immediately was reminded of my days wandering through Trader Joe’s. Yeah, the decor was still the old, eighties style budget grocery store style I remembered. But there was a wide range of foods available, from off-brand cereals and cookies to mangoes and avocados. And since Aldi doesn’t stock name brand food (typically), the prices were seriously low. I mean, almost everything was 50-75% less than I could purchase it at another store.

I walked away with a bulging bag and my wallet only a little bit lighter than before, thoroughly pleased with my adventure to Aldi. No doubt about it, I’ll be going there again.

To be fair, Aldi is a very different shopping experience. You have to pay a deposit on your cart (my favorite part of going to Aldi when I was little was inserting the quarter into the cart, freeing it from the chain of carts in the corral). The store carries almost no brand name items, though I did see a few-Honey Nut Cheerios and Lunchables are the two I remember. I suspect the selection of fruits and vegetables is hit and miss, though there was a lot of stuff available when I visited, just not many varieties of things like apples or citrus. And the cashiers only check you out, they don’t bag anything, or even provide bags-you have to pay if you want them.

Of course, this means you see some interesting sites, like people carrying boxes of canned soup through the store or wheeling an impossibly full cart to their car and unloading everything directly into the trunk. Or the ridiculously long shelf by the door, where you can pack your food into your own reusable bags. It is a different grocery shopping experience!

By cutting out some of the customer service perks of other stores, and name brands especially, the grocery bill is significantly lowered. I also like that there are far less ready made meals in my local Aldi. Part of that is due to the fact that there are only about 4 aisles in the store (did I mention it’s pretty tiny?), but in general, the shelves are stocked with things you use to MAKE food, not already made food. I love it!

I don’t know about the social justice aspect of Aldi…where their food comes from, how their employees are treated, their ecological impact, etc…but considering the only other options I have are Hy-Vee, Fareway, Big Kmart, and Walmart, I’d say Aldi is a great choice. I’ll definitely be shopping here again, and might even pretend it’s a Trader Joe’s.

-Jen

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