Grocery Savings or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Discount

Grocery shopping shouldn’t be a status symbol, but for a while there it certainly became one for me. I regularly visited a store I shall refer to as Glitzy Grocer (because I really like alliteration) where I enjoyed swanking around. I enjoyed knowing the name of the farmer who produced my Italian Olive Oil, and got a certain kick from rummaging through aisles of overpriced organic produce. I especially enjoyed bumping into friends and co-workers at the Store. Especially post-baby, it ensured that I would get out of my pajamas on a weekend, and dress up simply to run to the Store and see other adult humans.

All that probably explains why I fought so hard when Mr. Grasshopper insisted that we try Aldi, a discount grocery store. The drab utilitarian grocery store doesn’t offer much glitz, and is definitely not part of “the scene.” My friends didn’t shop there and I feared that a discount store would offer sub-par produce. I reasoned that I worked very hard to make a very good salary and I could afford the luxuries. But eventually I could not ignore Mr. Grasshopper’s insistent – read annoying – and plaintive requests that we try the discount grocer. I agreed to do it once. If it made me feel yucky, I told him, that would be the end. We would return to Glitzy Grocer and speak no more of this effort to pry me away from the shiny wholesomeness of my celebrity grocer.

It wasn’t love at first sight. Our Aldi is a humble establishment where you pay a quarter to rent the cart (you get it back when you return the cart), and the options are limited. Plus, my first experience at the Store was being tainted by a very toddler moment. Baby G, who must have sensed my apprehension, was a wailing maniac. And then everything changed. The Store’s manager noticed that we were struggling with Baby G. I saw him pull himself away from a pallet stacked high with inventory and rip a bag of flavored yogurt tubes open from the dairy section. He asked me if he could offer Baby G a tube, which she greedily accepted.

The rest of the trip was a dream. The magical silence as Baby G sucked away at the yogurt tube allowed us to wrap up our trip, load our groceries in the car, and rush away with our sanity intact. Baby G has had her meltdowns in Glitzy Grocer and the polite but distant associates have always studiously ignored the frazzled mommy. No one helped. I was willing to give Aldi another try.

As we returned week after week, I quickly learned that there was a method to their drab madness. Here it is in Aldi’s words:

The no-frills grocery shopping experience focuses on customers first – delivering high quality food they’re proud to serve their family, responsive customer service, everyday low prices and a quick-and-easy shopping experience with only four to five aisles and all the essentials. We carry the weekly must-haves and display them in their designed shipping boxes to help save time and resources to restock shelves.

Additionally, about 90 percent of the products in Aldi’s store are exclusive brand product. That means you don’t have to worry about which ketchup brand or Greek yogurt brand is best. That might not be such a bad thing. In his book The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz suggests that contrary to the assumption that more choice means better options and greater satisfaction, the truth is that too much choice is baffling and distressing. I think I agree. The limited choices in Aldi make for quick and easy shopping.

And I was pleasantly surprised a couple of days ago when George Takei posted a price comparison between Aldi, Walmart, and Target created by the good people at Passionate Penny Pincher My anecdotal experience is reinforced by the data. Here’s another more recent article that states “Aldi’s prices are roughly 35 percent to 40 percent below what a typical supermarket charges, while Walmart’s prices are about 13 percent to 15 percent below the traditional chains, according to Jim Hertel of WillardBishop, a consultancy to the food retailing business.”

As you can probably tell, we have not returned to Glitzy Grocer. Mr. Grasshopper and I have actually loudly evangelized about Aldi, and now it’s not unusual for us to see a few familiar faces when we shop there.

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