With food prices (and the price of just about everything else) going up and paychecks staying the same, David and I have started to get proactive about spending less on the same things we used to by…by shopping around.

Ever heard of Aldi? I have. My friend, Kacie at Sense to Save has been talking since September about how much money she’s saved by shopping at discount groceries like Aldi. I was excited for her, but I felt that since David and I watched the sale ads for Giant Eagle and clipped coupons, we were saving lots too. Boy was I wrong.

I plan meals for three weeks at a time and shop accordingly. That said, our three-week grocery bill at Giant Eagle has always been over $200, but lately with the economic situation, it kept creeping up each week. We were frustrated, but not really sure what to do. Keep in mind that our shopping totals were after an average of $40 in savings (doubled coupons + Giant Eagle Advantage Card savings).

On Sunday, we needed a couple of things (pudding mix and chocolate chips) for a new chocolate chip cookie recipe we wanted to try. David suggested that we “check out Aldi” just to see what it’s all about. I shrugged thinking sure, we’ll save a nickel or two, but what’s the point?

Ok. We normally pay $0.99 for a box of instant pudding mix. At Aldi? $0.39. We normally pay upwards of $2.25 for a bag of chocolate chips. At Aldi? $0.99. And in case you’re wondering, the cookies were delicious.

So thrilled were we with our savings that we immediately decided to do our grocery shopping at Aldi this week. Last night, we put together a list just like our usual three-week shopping list and set out to see how much we could save. At the end of our trip, we purchased 76 items for a grand total of $103.95. Come again? That’s right; we more than cut our bill in half, and it was a much more pleasant shopping experience. Man oh man, I’m so happy!

So, how does Aldi keep its prices so low? Simple.
1. They only carry 1,300 of the fastest-selling grocery and household items. And of those items, nearly all are under Aldi’s own private labels. As a result, they buy in bulk and get the lowest prices from their suppliers and pass those savings right along to you. The average grocery story carries 30,000 items–a lot of which you don’t need or buy. With the limited assortment Aldi provides, you aren’t going up and down 20+ aisles picking up things you didn’t need in the first place. Your shopping time is faster, and it’s easier to find things.
2. They only accept cash, food stamps/EBT, and ATM/Debit cards. This helps them avoid all of the fees associated with credit cards and bounced checks in addition to speeding up the checkout line (no paper slips to sign and no checks to write out).
3. You deposit $0.25 for your cart and get the quarter back when you return your cart. This saves them from having to pay someone to run around the parking lot and collect carts, and it keeps your car from getting banged up by runaway carts.
4. You bring your own bags or containers for your groceries and bag them yourself. This saves green in two ways: they don’t have to hire baggers, and they don’t contribute to the 100 billion plastic bags Americans throw away every year.

There’s more info under the Shopping Smarter section of Aldi’s website.

And for you skeptics out there (I was one of you until Sunday night) wondering about the quality of the products Aldi sells, check this quote from their site:

“We adhere to stringent quality standards. Every product we sell must match or exceed the leading national brand in taste, appearance, and/or performance. Our premium produce is shipped faster and smarter, so it comes to your table fresher and cheaper. We’re so sure of the quality of what we sell that we back it with our exclusive Double Guarantee. So you can always shop ALDI with confidence.”

What’s the double guarantee? Quality, taste and satisfaction are always DOUBLE guaranteed at ALDI. If for any reason, you are not 100% satisfied with any product, we will gladly replace the product AND refund your money.

Sound too good to be true? Well, it’s definitely good and definitely true. Aside from all the savings, I actually got to try a few new things that I previously avoided due to high costs. Specifically, I got to try some tasty fat-free, low calorie flavored rice cakes. I had never had them before and always wanted to try, but the price was too high to risk them not tasting great. But now, I’ve got some and love them! Delicious. Also, the cashier was super friendly, the shelves weren’t two feet higher than my head, products were easy to find, we were in and out in half the time of Giant Eagle, and we only had to bring in two Rubbermaid bins into the apartment instead of 30+ plastic bags. Plus, it felt so great to be good stewards of the money God’s given us.

Any negatives? Just a few.
1. Limited assortment of items also means that you may not be able to find 100% of your grocery list items in the store. We had 81 items on our list and were able to buy 76. Aldi says that you should be able to do at least 90% of your shopping with them, and that rang true for us. The items we couldn’t find were either specialty items (Beef Consomme soup, teeth whitening gum) or packaged in too large of a quantity (we needed two potatoes, but they only had a huge bag full). It’s no real inconvenience to pick up the five items we missed at Giant Eagle.
2. They don’t accept coupons. Ok, this really isn’t a negative because even without the coupons, we still cut our bill over 50%. Of course it’d be nice to use a $0.25-off coupon on a $0.39 pudding, but not the case.
3. They don’t do a fuel-savings program. At first, we were really bummed about that. Then we calculated out what we saved on fuel with our Giant Eagle “Fuel Perks.” The result? We saved approximately $12 per month on gas. We saved $100+ at Aldi. Aldi wins.

If there’s an Aldi near you, try it. Please. I’m not in freak-out mode about the economy, that’s for sure, but what’s not for sure is where the prices will climb to in the next few weeks and months. Start shopping smarter now, and I’m sure you’ll be thankful for it later.

As for me, I’ll be heading to Giant Eagle today to pick up some soup and potatoes, but I’ll be back at Aldi in three weeks to save tons again.