Friday, September 21, 2007

Can't Say I Didn't Try

With Andy's job future uncertain, I've been revisiting trimming my grocery budget. This is something I tackled heartily a year ago and I have to say I ended up doing very well. I managed to get my grocery shopping under control by being careful what I shopped for, shopping sales, and choosing carefully where to shop. The last few weeks I've really been feeling the urge to start the trimming again. We're unsure how much longer Andy's employer will have work for him, and while he is exploring his options, it's best to be prepared. Basically I've been trying to stock up a little here and there. If I find beef roasts on sale I pick up two, while I'm standing in the veggie aisle I'll add an extra can of tomatoes to the cart for the pantry. Nothing hard core, but preparative all the same.

Then while reading a few things online, and while searching for healthful recipes that are also budget stretchers, I stumbled on a conversation on a bulletin board about this very thing. One of the suggestions was to change grocery stores. In particular, many people seemed to recommend the chain Aldi as a place to really save a few bucks while shopping. I've never been to Aldi's, but have always avoided it because I heard it was literally a generic grocery store- off brands and black and white packaging. That kind of creeped me out. But I checked them out online, and they seemed genuine-they're trying to save people money at the grocery store, and I decided to suck it in and go for it. What did I have to lose?

I made my grocery list for the week. I knew I would still have to go to my regular haunt (Woodman's for you Wisconsinites) for a few things like Andy's Silk for his coffee, but I was actually getting excited. Just thinking about the prospect of doing my grocery shopping for far less $$ was thrilling to me, and I was looking forward to the adventure. I was looking forward to embracing that which I'd eschewed before.

Turns out I had good reasons to eschew before.

I'm sorry. I tried, I truly did. I walked in with an open mind, I plunked in my quarter for a shopping cart and made my way into the store. My first shock was the size of the building. It was small- I mean truly small, and you could see the whole thing with a glance around the room. I headed down the first aisle and was carefully looking at the items offered and the prices clearly posted above. My second shock- there was no shelving, everything was just in cardboard cases and stacked up tall. But the prices... where I expected bargains, they just weren't there. A five pound sack of flour was $1.09- I regularly buy a five pound sack of flour from an excellent flour mill in the Dakotas for .89 at Woodmans. I got to the dairy case and first off, they didn't even offer 1% milk- which is what we drink, but the 2% and whole milk were no cheaper than anyplace else.

Then around the bend I spied produce...if you can call it that. I shudder just thinking about it, celery, grapes, a few anemic apples, just sitting on a shelf (yes- there was a real shelving unit here) with no refrigeration in sight. They had yogurt in vibrant neon colors that you know had to be full of chemicals and sugar. Everything at Aldi is off-brand except for a few "bargains" but the off brand deals didn't even match up with what I can get up the road at Woodman's. I ended up buying a box of their generic Frosted Flakes, a box of Iodized salt, and a jar of applesauce. I saved 2 cents on the salt. The checkout was quick- I give them that. With no checks or credit allowed, everyone hands over their cash and it's very quick. The groceries go from your cart to the conveyor belt and then back into your cart. Then it's up to you to move to the "bagging area" and bag your own purchases in bags that you've brought from home- or you can buy theirs at a nickle apiece. Finally, you return your cart to the corral, where if you've hooked up your cart correctly, your quarter is returned to you.

Frankly, I just don't get it. At least here, in Green Bay where I shop regularly. I can see Aldi and places like it working where maybe there aren't so many other options. But literally, just a mile away from this Aldi is a grocery store with much better prices and an amazing selection. It struck me that the people who were shopping at Aldi today were people who needed to shop there. And I don't mean that in a bad way. I mean people who, like me, were trying to stretch their grocery dollars in the best way possible. I just wanted to shake these people and say "what are you doing! Woodman's has apples from a local orchard that were just picked this week! And they're half the price of these horrid looking red delicious apples!" I just don't know. Judging by my experience today, and by the glowing praise Aldi's gets from other people in other parts of the country, it just has to be better in other places. Or maybe I've just got it good where I do the bulk of my shopping.

The only thing that I can see working is that because the selection is so limited, and there aren't several brands to rummage through, that people wouldn't be swayed by the fancy new brand of ketchup, or the new promotion tied in with that cereal. If you are an impulse shopper, maybe this would be a place to shop for awhile to tame that impulse beast. Oh! And I liked the self bagging. I wish more places did that, as it would ensure that my bread did not get squished for the 8,000th time, and it would prevent those soft luscious peaches from ending up underneath the sack of onions.

Anyway, a lesson was learned today. And I'm proud of myself. In my effort to pinch every penny that goes through our household, I swallowed my pride and tried something new. I am sad with how it turned out. I really thought I was going to discover a whole new way to shop. And I did... it just doesn't make any sense to me. I would love to know if anyone reading this does their shopping at Aldi, and I also would love to know if it's different in your part of the country.


The Mom said...

I shopped Aldi's once... I think I bought as much as you did. I hated the whole experience! ICKY is the word that comes to mind. Yet I, too, know people who swear by it. Thinking about it, tho - they don't really cook. Convenience food junkies. I think it would work for them.

Andy said...

I never could bring myself to go to Aldi's when we lived in GB.

Right now I find that Woodman's and Cub Foods are giving me the best bang for my buck.

Erika W. said...

Hmm, yes, convenience junkies. But that still doesn't make sense. Where were the budget stretchers? Where were the beans (dried or canned)? I only saw cans of a Beenie Weenies type produce. One can of generic beenie weenies was 59 cents- say that would be one meal for one person. Cheap yes. But go up the street and buy one bag of dried beans for 49 cents, one package of turkey dogs for 99 cents, and one jumbo can of stewed tomatoes for 69 cents, and you have beenie weenies for an entire week for 2.17.

Icky. Yes, icky was a good descriptor. But not in a dirty way- it was clean at least.

Erika W. said...

Andy I've been meaning to try my weekly shopping at Cub once or twice too. They have really good in-store coupon deals every once in a while, so I've been peering at their flyers lately wondering if it would be worth shopping there too.

Vanessa said...

Hi Erika, I went to the Aldi once here in Madison and I had the exact same reaction. I love Woodman's...and I've shopped tons of places (every vacation includes trips to grocery stores) and still Woodman's has the biggest selection, the most ethnic food, and the absolute best prices, plus a lot of local products. I'm a huge fan of Woodman's.

Erika W. said...

Vanessa, I'm thinking we're probably spoiled with Woodman's. I love their ethnic foods and their organic and natural selections too.

Joe said...

Erika - hee hee... I know what you mean. Can you believe these guys own Trader Joe's too??

Erika W. said...

Seriously?! How can that be possible?