Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Save 40% on Your Groceries with One Change



During my last semester of college I took a personal finance class. This was the first, and only class that I took simply because it sounded like fun to me, and I am so grateful that I did. At one point in the class we were discussing the cost of food in America. My professor presented a list of ways that you can save money on your grocery bill. At some point I will discuss the other topics that were in that list but today we are discussing the venue.


The claim:

We were told that if you shop at Aldi you will save about 40% on your grocery bill. Perspective check, that's the difference between paying $100 versus paying $140 for the same things.

Did I believe him? I had to, it might be on the final exam.

The problem was that most of us in the class had never even heard of Aldi. He had to explain to us what it was. I come from the west and Aldi is a predominantly eastern chain. For those in the mountain west, it is somewhat similar to Winco, but cheaper and smaller.

It wasn't until I moved out of the west and into the Midwest that we were able to experience the lure of Aldi. Now that Aldi is only a few minutes away we immediately started shopping there, assuming that we were saving a ton, but never actually doing the math to validate that assumption. (By-the-way, we quickly observed that food prices in general were quite a bit more here than they were in Utah).

Let me quickly describe Aldi for those of you who haven't been yet. You have to make sure to take a quarter with you or you won't be able to use one of their carts. You have to put a quarter into the cart for it to detach from the other carts but you get your quarter back when you reattach it after you are done. The store is small and items are stored in their boxes instead of neatly placed on shelves. You have to pay with either cash, check, or debit; they don't accept credit cards. If you want to carry your groceries out in bags, you will have to bring your own or buy some there. If we notice any empty boxes, or nearly empty boxes, we collect them and put our groceries in them so they are easier to take from the car to the house. Checkout goes faster than normal because cashiers don't have to worry about bagging, they just put them straight into a cart.

The experiment:

Yesterday we did our weekly grocery run. We spent our typical amount for the coming week. But I decided that I wanted to know how much we saved but shopping at Aldi. Therefore, when we got home I wrote out a list of exactly what we bought and how much it cost at Aldi. Then we spent the rest of the afternoon going to Kroger, Whole Foods, and Walmart to see how much the same set of groceries would have cost if we had done our shopping there.

At each store I wrote down the cheapest price for each item. Aldi usually only has one brand option, so we can only get the cheapest option there. But at the other stores I knew that if I were shopping there for real, I would choose the in-store brand to minimize the expense. I made sure to do each of the stores on the same day so that the timing of sales wouldn't contaminate the results. For products that didn't come in the correct quantity, I found the price per ounce and multiplied by the correct ounces. The only time this was a problem was the cold cereal at Whole Foods, cheerios (knock off brand of course) only came in a 12.25 oz box but everywhere else the boxes were 14 oz.

The Results?

I expected that Aldi was cheaper, but I was surprised to find out how much cheaper it was. I only found one product that could be found for less somewhere else. At Walmart, bananas were 6 cents cheaper per pound. Other than that, Aldi items were unanimously cheaper.

When it was all said and done here are the standings:
Walmart - 40.2% more expensive
Kroger - 52% more expensive
Whole Foods - 150% more expensive (Disclaimer: Several items at Whole Foods only came in the "Organic, therefore you will be charge you an arm and a leg for this" option.)

I have to admit, I thought that my professor's 40% claim was a lofty one that might be a bit of an exaggeration. But now that I have collected my own data to back it up, I have become an Aldi activist.

Additional thoughts on the subject:

Aldi does have a limited choice of products. If you are a picky eater who has to have a specific brand of mustard, things might not work out too well for you. Or if you have a detailed list of items that you have to have, be prepared to go to another store afterwards to pick up a few of the items. I can imagine that these things would be a turnoff for many people but for us it works out great. We approach our weekly shopping with the understanding that we are going to go to Aldi and get the staples and other than that, we'll buy the things that they have (especially the sale items) and make due with those items for that week. We let Aldi determine our menu, instead of allowing our desired menu to determine our spending. We believe that this mentality that Aldi has helped us to develop has also added to the savings value that Aldi holds. We have found that the more products available, the more products will end up finding their way into your cart.

If you have any other thoughts on how to save money on your grocery bill, please let us know about it.



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