5 Frugal Lessons I Learned From Aldi
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?