5 Frugal Lessons I Learned From Aldi

by Kentin Waits on 9 May 2011 35 comments

When I was kid, the prospect of shopping at Aldi with my mom filled me with a conflicting sense of excitement and dread. I liked the feeling that I could indulge more of my wants since the prices were so low. But I also had the requisite preteen and teenage angst of being seen in a store that so starkly catered to the budget-conscious. Suffice it to say, I am no longer conflicted.

For those of you who don’t live near an Aldi store or who’ve never had the pleasure of shopping from a loading pallet, let me give you a bit of background on the company. Aldi is short for Albrecht Discount, a grocery chain founded in 1950s in Germany by brothers Karl and Theo Albrecht. Aldi stores are all about no-frills grocery shopping, featuring a focused selection of food basics with limited brand offerings and serious cost efficiencies. Today, the Aldi Group owns 8,210 stores worldwide and is growing steadily.

As I’ve matured into an unabashed Aldi fan, let me share with you the five lessons Aldi has taught me about frugality. Other stores take note; there’s something to be learned here. (See also: 5 Things Other Grocery Stores Should Steal From Trader Joe's)

1. Simplicity Wins

Aldi doesn’t try to create a shopping "experience." Rather, it tries — quite successfully — to give shoppers a reasonable selection of food staples at amazingly low prices. You’re quite literally shopping in a small warehouse — off of loading pallets with the products’ shipping boxes cut open for display. No shelves, no top-40 music, no deli, no coffee shop, no florist, no free samples, no kidding. It’s wonderful. Aldi’s bare-bones business approach is an island of sanity in a world filled with commercial noise and every conceivable distraction. The smaller selection of house brands mixed with some brand names allows the stores to have a smaller footprint, reduce labor costs, and minimize elaborate pricing and inventory systems. The goal is clean, clear, and simple — control costs.

2. DIY Saves Money

Shopping without much floor help and bagging your own groceries is just part of the simplicity ethos that defines the Aldi shopping experience. With few exceptions, you’re on your own in an Aldi store (just the way I like it), and this DIY approach to shopping saves you money.

3. Less Is More

To shoppers accustomed to having 75 selections of soup, offering just four might sound heretical. But haven’t we all been faced with “analysis paralysis” in the soup or cereal aisle? It’s perversely liberating to have one brand of corn flakes to “choose” from. The choice is either to buy or not to buy.

4. Make Do

Since Aldi stores don’t have 15 types of cheese or 12 different kinds of tomatoes, shoppers learn to be creative and flexible. I imagine many shoppers’ meal plans and recipes are amended based upon what’s available in the stores. It harkens back to that old mantra of “make do, or do without.” Though this may not your preferred way prepare for a formal dinner party, it’s a cost-effective and smart way to manage the day-to-day family food budget.

5. It’s All About The Benjamins

Many discount stores are ashamed of their discount status and attempt to hide it in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. There’s some implication that shopping in a decidedly down-scale environment is something to apologize for or re-label, dress up, or rebrand. Aldi makes no such apologies. It attempts to be nothing more than it is — unapologetically discount. Saving money is the goal, and the goal is golden.

I wonder how many defunct stores might have survived if they employed a few of Aldi’s tactics. What’s more, I wonder how many might thrive in our new economy if they scaled back a bit and we all became more reasonable in what we expect from our shopping excursions. Aldi may be humble, but in that humility, there’s a lesson or two in how to navigate the future.

What’s your favorite thing about shopping at Aldi? What’s the best deal you’ve scored there?

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Guest's picture

I love a lot about Aldi - the philosophy in particular - but unfortunately there is very little in the store I can feed my family because it is all loaded with HFCS, BHT and other preservatives and additives. The produce is terrible and there is very little of any health value. Even Wal-Mart offers more healthful options. I love the frugality of Aldi and appreciate your article, but do a little label reading, it's not a good place for your overall health.

Guest's picture
Lee

The same could be said of any grocery that doesn't have a health food/natural food section. Most mainstream grocery items are loaded with additives, unfortunately.

Guest's picture
heather

They have the Light and Fit brand at Aldi's which if you read the labels most of the stuff is pretty darn good for you. Guess you need to look a little harder!

Guest's picture
Darlene

I don't shop there for the same reason. We used to shop there, and I noticed that I gained weight every time we did, even though we were eating similar things. Most of the foods are loaded with fillers and HFCS. I'd rather shop at Trader Joe's where I know my food has natural ingredients.

Guest's picture
Guest

AND? You say all of this to say what? With the way the economy is today, who's willing to spend more ridiculous prices on groceries? I know i'm not. I am a 1st college student that is working at school this summer, and having to pay for all my own living expenses for the first time is difficult (it's full of checks and balances). I can chose to go to strawberry fields and chose to pay $200-$300 a month on groceries or Aldi and spend $100 at most. Health isn't much of an option at this time in my life. Honestly if the foods are "that bad" then why don't we all eat it and sue the FDA for the cancer we'll get, cancer that we are more than likely genetically predisposed to in the first place?

Guest's picture
Charlotte

Just buy proper unprocessed food and read food labels and you'll be fine. I've just started uni and can hardly cook, but I've managed to eat healthy.

Guest's picture
Diane

They have the best selection of chocolates, at the best prices. I love that you can buy brand-name products (although not the most common brands) at very low prices: Grandessa pasta sauces for less than $2 a jar, for example. The produce has been surprisingly good too. When my husband was unemployed, we seriously cut our grocery bill by 30% by shopping there.

Guest's picture
Darlene

Grandessa is an in-house Aldi brand. It's a generic.

Guest's picture
Guest

Aldi is hands down the best on prices, food wise, if they don't have it, I don't need it. We have two here in my town and they are not only clean, but the managers and staff are so friendly. Even the customers are very considerate. Since there is less staff, there are no express lines. Aldi is the only grocery store I have ever been in where customers allow people buying less items than they are to move ahead of them in line. I have even seen other customers give people quarters for the carts.

I can't tell you how many of my friends are grocery store snobs. They go for the "experience" I saw one friend of mine at Wegmans when it first open. At she remarked how she was in heaven and don't I just love a store like that. Well, I do get my kids Webkinz there after a major holiday. Then they are marked down to as low as $2.00. I'll pay $2.00 a year to keep playing Webkinz.

Guest's picture
Guest

I am big fan of Aldi. Love their simplicity. You bring your own grocery bag, load your grocery, small shop, saves you time. Their produce section is good. Of late, milk prices have increased a lot though.

Guest's picture
Mary H.

I LOVE the produce at Aldi. I can make a very healthy salad at a fraction of the price at any other grocery store. I don't do the box mixes because I have to eat low-sodium, but you just cannot beat their produce, meats, and dairy.

Guest's picture
Euphoropia

Aldi has all kinds of great deals for easy on the pocket foods. Organic blue corn chips, great quality dark chocolate, crispy oat rings ( instead of cheerios), hummus, small portions of good cheese, small packages of wild caught frozen fish, imported olive oil, bst free milk to name a few things I often buy there.

Guest's picture
Guest

I love it how Aldi has been labeling more and more of their product gluten free (GF)....it'd be great if they adopted a Wegman's style system and labeled EVERYTHING as gluten free or not.

Guest's picture
Amy

I love Aldi. Shopping there forces me to make more whole foods and not rely on processed foods. The prices on produce are amazing. I used to pay nearly 200 a week on groceries. Now I pay about 40 at Aldi. It's crazy how many impulse buys I made when I shopped at a large grocery store. I also love the fact that I can get in and of Aldi within 30 minutes and do my whole weeks worth of grocery shopping.

Guest's picture
Omar M.

I have been going to Aldi every since I can remember. Back to when my mom used to take me there. She still goes there, as do I, for the main things. For other items we usually go to Jewel-Osco. About 75% of everything we buy food related comes from Aldi, 15% from Wal-Mart, and 10% from Jewel. You just cant beat the price. Although its just a matter of time before Wal-Mart spear heads the grocery market and takes that over too. Wal-Mart practically has a product for every grocery line, I am sure you are familiar with it "Great Value" is the brand name they use. But all in all Aldi's bare bone methods keep costs and prices low enough to keep consumers coming.

Guest's picture
Janet Ma'ly

When we bought our first home, we were suddenly "house poor" and I decided to try shopping at Aldi. Back then the checkout lines were horrendous (not so much these days). What kept me from visiting Aldi for many years, though, was the jarring noise of cans being tossed at machine gun speed back into my cart after being scanned at the register. Now that I am retired on disability I've once again found the need to economize big time so I've given Aldi a second chance. There are a few things I still can't get there for which I make a stop at the large supermarket, but in general, especially for staples, Aldi does it for me. And not all of their food is still filled with bad ingredients. Their BBQ sauce, for one, is one of the few that do not have high fructose corn syrup.

Guest's picture

I love the simplicity of Aldi's. You can get in and out of the store with a cart full of groceries in much less time than other "mainstream" stores. I think they've gotten better over the years too, and you can sure save money. I tend to buy my meat in other stores though because Aldi does not carry a real large selection of meats.

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Guest

I do not know where I would be without Aldi's. It is the best store, and allows me to get groceries for a family of 5 for about $70 a week. I don't usually get a lot of meats there other than chicken, but just about everything else is fair game. Plus they have terrific deals on other things too, sometimes!

Guest's picture
J. A. Keith

Where, oh where, is Aldi located? In the USA? I looked up their website and see only locations in England. How can I find out where they are located? Never heard of them before this article.

Guest's picture
Guest

http://aldi.us/us/html/service/store_locator_ENU_HTML.htm?WT.z_src=main

Here's the link to the US store locator. They've FINALLY come to NYC. BTW, Aldi owns Trader Joe's.

Guest's picture
gt0163c

We got Aldi stores a little over a year ago in my area (DFW). I've been shopping them for some of my food purchases ever since. They have the best prices on milk and eggs (and have helped to drive down milk prices at the other grocery stores in my area). Their produce seems to be hit or miss overall but I've never had a problem with their carrots or bagged spinach. Their hummus, plain yogurt, cottage cheese and butter are also good and almost always cheaper than I can get at other stores, even when I can find coupons on those items. And, while not great for you, I think they have the best animal crackers/cookies I've ever tasted. They're a nice treat.

But, best of all, they carry real, European chocolate at a reasonable price. It's not the high end stuff, but it's equivalent to what you'd get a grocery store over there and miles better than the standard US stuff. I've started including a bar or two into all of my gifts to family members who live out of state and they love it.

Guest's picture
Guest

Thanks for your reply. I live in New Mexico, and evidently they are not anywhere near here yet. Hope Aldi spreads to Waco, Austin, Temple, etc. so I can visit them.

Guest's picture
Linda

Aldi's has always been my favorite store to shop, but lately when I went there to shop, I noticed a big increase in prices, the prices are almost the same as going o Krogers and Riesbecks, I may just start going to More For Less which is now cheaper.

Guest's picture
Guest

I went into aldi's recently, and the prices were equivalent to other stores in the area. the store is also rather out of the way, so it is easier to shop elsewhere.

Guest's picture
Chris

Aldis is a great way to save money and I have noticed more and more people shopping their recently. They have some items I will go their for, however they are mainly snack items such as beef jerky or snack cakes. Like Michell said, their produce isn't great and typically goes bad a lot faster than normal. However, if you do your research, their are plenty of good quality items you can get their, many the exact same as name brands, that will save you a lot of money.

Guest's picture
Guest

Yep -- canned and processed foods do contain a lot of junk... whether you are shopping at Aldi or another store -- that's a reality. However, most of the Aldi products are no worse than their mainstream counterparts. I would agree that if you want the very best foods for your health, then shop fresh only -- or from the health food section. But, many of the people reading this post, (myself included), do not have that luxury.

So, we buy the best we can afford, right? And when the same ingredients cost 50% less at Aldi -- by all means -- buy they there!

Their canned goods are the best value anywhere. And while the produce can be spotty, they are the cheapest around on fresh produce. Ask the manager what day of the week the produce truck come in to ensure fresher product.

I AM A HUGE ALDI FAN!

Guest's picture
Guest

This article is almost a year old now, but I would encourage any hesitant readers to give ALDI a go! I do probably 90% of my shopping there and you can DEFINITELY shop healthily while saving a TON money. Aldi now carries greek yogurt, hummus, and organic milk - three items I was having to shop at a different chain for. Their produce (in the two locations I frequent) is TWICE as fresh as Kroger or Publix at HALF the price! You have to buy it in pre-packaged quantities, but honestly, that just means we eat a LOT more produce than we used to. As for artificial ingredients - EVERY major grocery store carries items filled with additives - you just have to read the labels and make a smarter choice. I'd rather spend five seconds reading labels to avoid high fructose corn syrup than five hundred dollars every month at Whole Foods or Trader Joes (which is just NOT always an option on a shoestring budget!).

Guest's picture
Guest

To DARLENE who said she will stick with Trader Joes---GUESS WHAT____ALDI and TRADER JOES ARE BOTH OWNED BY THE SAME COMPANY! I realized this when i only shop at TJoes and Aldi and see the same products but with slightly different designs on the I am an experienced cook. I cook high end main courses as well as desserts. Nearly everything i need is available at ALDI and i have been shopping there for years. I am not going to have my money taken from me so the owners of our typical grocery stores can drive around in corvettes and be gazillionaires. Aldi offers great food at quality prices. Aldi didn't make the previous commenter gain weight. The same garbage that is at the high end grocery stores is at aldi too. They have no trans fats now too! The trick to staying HEALTHY (often people forget this) is BASICS. FRUIT, VEGETABLES, WHOLE WHEAT, PROTEIN. NOT QUICK MEALS, or meals in a box, processed garbage and NO SUGAR!!!!. That is what is wrong with the people in the US. Too much obesity due to gluttony. Eat what your BODY PROCESSES NATURALLY. If it grew in the ground, clean it free of pesticides and Eat it. I use nuts in place of meat and aldi has the best prices on their nuts also. I was eating light & Active products but turned against the ones that contain Artificial sweeteners. Yes people, ALL YELLOW, BLUE AND PINK PACKETS are ABSOLUTELY NO GOOD FOR YOU! Just saying. I wish more people would do what i do and this country wouldn't be so fat and lazy.

Guest's picture
Guest

I really enjoy shopping at Aldi's. They have execellent frozen fish and their frozen shrimp taste like it was just brought in from the gulf!!! The prices on their produce can't be beat.

Guest's picture
Jen2

I just typed in my location to find a local Aldi and they are all in really bad neighborhoods (I live in Baltimore). I'm not sure it's worth risking my life!

Guest's picture
Kg

I started doing some shopping at Aldi a year ago. Thrilled to find a bag of salad for 99 cents! Never went back again when my daughter found a dead fly in that 99 cent bag of salad! Yuck!

Guest's picture
Guest

I found a fly in a salad at a very fancy restaurant once. It can happen any place!

Guest's picture

I love Aldi. I was there the other day, and a German elderly lady approached me. She told me that Aldi's a regular grocery store in Germany. "People think it's a junk store: it is NOT!" :) I agree. Quality products in exchanged for hard earned money: what a bargain. I love the Fit products.

Guest's picture
Heather

Tonight I did a side by side comparison of Banquet Chicken Nuggets and the Aldi's brand (Kirkwood?) Without knowing which were which, my husband wrongly assumed that the grayish spongy looking flat nuggets were the Aldi brand. When cut in half, the banquet nuggets were clearly brownish and unidentifiable on the inside. The Aldi nuggets were white, the color of white meat chicken. Taste test comparison, the Banquet nugget tasted like processed meat with a "canned" taste. The Aldi nugget tasted like chicken. We have found this to be the case with all of the Aldi (Kirkwood) processed chicken: patties, tenderloins, breaded, fried and the individually quick frozen varieties as well. I haven't compared the ingredients to be honest but if I had to guess, I would guess that the processed chicken at Aldi's has fewer fillers and preservatives than the Banquet and other brand varieties you can purchase at your chain stores--just based on the fact that the Aldi's brand tastes like what it is supposed to be. So if you want to compare apples, to apples (processed food to processed food), I would place my bet that the Aldi brands are better for you. If you are talking foods without additives and preservatives and trying to compare those to processed foods, well that's just common sense that the "natural" foods will be better for you. Let's stick to apples to apples and oranges to oranges. Speaking of which, the produce at our Aldi's is actually very good for the most part. Maybe it depends on the day of week you shop. Chain stores rotate their produce so frequently that there is a ton of waste. I'll stick to the farmer's markets in the summer.

Guest's picture
elise

i shopped at aldi when they were nothing but a store for ur staples, i.e. baking, breads, milk, cereals, etc. now they have a frozen section that is awesome, i think their produce is just fine, dairy is great (coffee creamers for 1/2 of walmart/grocery stores), good selection of munchies.. everything u need. i too am way too overwhelmed in giant stores and end up more frustrated and leave without stuff i needed. aldi is small and laid out to let u get what u need without choosing over 50 types of cereals. our kids ate aldi cereal their entire lives and now as adults they will tell u that they cannot tell the diff between honey nut cheerios and aldi brand. at the holidays they have all kinds of specials of food - great specialty cheeses, breads, desserts.
we are now in tx and have not had a aldi, they are opening them up all around the houston area this week, i have literally counted the days till this thurs. also, those that said it will cut ur grocery bill by at least a 1/3rd are correct. u wont believe it!