Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Frugal Mama Adventure #1

I am starting a new adventure as a mom, and that is...being more frugal! It's extremely important for me to be a good steward of what God has provided and creatively use my resources to care for my family. Yesterday was a busy day. After dropping Josh off at work, Zeke and I headed to a doctor appointment for me, then we rocked the vote, then came home so he could eat. By the time we got home for his "lunch" it was 11:30 and I realized that he missed most of his first nap because of the doctor appointment. I needed to find a way to keep him awake JUST long enough to give him a decent afternoon nap. So I decided to step out of my "comfort zone" and go to our newest grocery store, Aldi, which advertises reasonable prices and green-living. I was nervous about this adventure for a few reasons, including the fact that the store does not regularly stock name brands. I have nothing against store brands because I grew up on them (hooray for Janet Lee brand Magic Twinkles Cereal!), but have grown to recognize and love my brand names. They're comfortable and I trust them! But prices on things like produce and meat are ridiculous at most grocery stores. I have found amazing ways to save at Albertsons especially, but I feel like I could be doing so much more to help out our grocery bill. Hence, my trip to Aldi.

The first thing I noticed as I pulled into the parking lot was an employee standing outside by the shopping carts. "That's strange," I thought, because you usually see most of the employees inside rather than outside a grocery store. I get nervous going to new places with the baby, because I never know if his carrier will fit in the cart, or if it's a kid-friendly place. You moms know what I'm talking about. So I hauled my mammoth child out of the car in his carrier and got up to the cart lady. She greeted me warmly and explained how to get a shopping cart out of Fort Knox, I mean the shopping cart area. You deposit a quarter into the little slot on the cart, and the lock releases, allowing you to take your cart. When you return and lock up your cart, your quarter pops back out. Awesome! The cart lady also helped me figure out how to best get Zeke's carrier to fit in the cart. We ended up just putting it in the big part of the cart rather than propping it on the handle bars. This arrangement was not a problem because I knew that I didn't need to fit too much into the cart. On future trips he's going to have to sit in the front of the cart like a big boy.

So, thanks to the cart lady's help, we were all set to shop. My first impression of the store is that it is extremely small! By reading information on the website, I knew a little bit of what to expect, but's tiny! As I walked around the aisles, I noticed that the store is extremely simple. There aren't 16 choices of brand for a single item, there are MAYBE two. And yes, they are mostly private label brands, but they do stock some big brand names. I think their brand name choices just depend on what they get each week. While the small size was shocking at first, the simple nature of the store is a welcomed change for me. I have ADHD. I get extremely distracted by too many choices. And the prices are incredible. It was refreshing to walk around in their tiny little produce department and actually be able to buy some fresh food! Again, the selection is simple. They stock very common seasonal items--zucchini, squash, lettuce, cucumbers, grapes, apples, bananas, etc. So I didn't have to look at things like swiss chard and kale while hunting for a simple head of lettuce. There is a sizeable freezer section, and their meat looks very good. I ended up with ground turkey instead of beef only because the ground beef only came in packages of over 2 pounds, I have no room in my freezer right now! I was also able to get paper towels at a reasonable price, which is not possible at Albertson's. All of this, without the frustration of Wal-Mart! So now that Zeke and I had stocked the little bit of room in our cart with some goodies, we were ready to check out! Aldi does not provide your regular plastic grocery bags. You can buy paper bags, or reusable plastic bags. I'm not sure of the cost of each of these. I brought my own reusable bags from home. The cashier scanned our stuff, and switched carts with us, putting our groceries in an empty cart that was already at the end of the line. That was a little bit annoying because I then had my groceries and my baby in separate carts, and the one with the baby was going to be used for the next customer. Since there is no bagging, the cashier puts each item individually back into the cart. Once you pay, you are responsible for bagging your own items at the front of the store, which the cashier described as the "bagging area." Basically it is a waist-high shelf that you use to organize everything. So after I paid (with a debit card, because Aldi does not take credit or check--just cash, debit or EBT food stamps), I proceeded to the bagging area and bagged. So I have no one to blame for the crappy bagging job but myself! With Zeke's carrier carefully perched on the handle of the cart, we were now ready to get everything into the car and get going! Throughout my shopping experience I was trying to figure out how I was going to return my cart and get my quarter back with a baby in tow. I figured that I had a couple of options--one was to take the groceries to the car, put the baby in the car, and leave him there while I returned the cart. Not the greatest option, because I don't want DCF at my door because I left my baby in the car. Another option was to put the groceries in the car and wheel the cart back to the cart lady with the baby still on it, then take the baby and my quarter back to the car. Hmmmm...that's a long way to carry my gargantuan son in his carrier. So I came up with a third option, which may not have been the easiest, but served me well. I put the baby and the groceries in the car, then took the baby out of his seat and perched him on my hip while I wheeled the cart with one hand back to the cart lady. Another shopper tried to help me with the cart and take it from me while I was struggling with the carrier back at the car, but I told her not to take it because I wanted my quarter back. She looked at me like I was crazy, so I told her the cart lady would explain the process to her...and she walked away, CONVINCED I was crazy. Anyway, the cart lady helped me maneuver it back into the line and connect its chain back to the other carts, thus releasing my precious quarter. So I strapped Zeke back into his carrier and we headed for home.

Overall, my experience at Aldi was very positive. I found the staff to be extremely helpful in explaining the process of shopping there. They were also very friendly and greeted all of the customers with a smile. The quality of the products seems to be great--I cooked the turkey last night and it was really good! The apples and bananas I bought are also really good. So now I bet you're wondering how much I spent! Were the prices really, truly lower than other grocery stores?! Well, you can decide for yourself by taking a peek at my receipt:

Choose-a-Size Towels: 2.99
100% Wheat Bread: 1.09
Ground Turkey: 2.49
Golden Delicious Apples: 2.69
Gala Apples: 2.69
Bananas: 1.07
Skim Milk: 2.79
Baby Carrots: 1.09
Seasoned Mashed Potatoes:
Lite Yogurt: 0.46
Lite Yogurt: 0.46
Lite Yogurt: 0.46
Pretzel Sticks/mini: 1.29
Dried Berries: 3.49
Subtotal: 23.95
Tax: 0.21
Amount Due: 24.16

That's right, I spent $24.16 on all of those great groceries! At Albertson's I would have spent $5.00 on each bag of apples--that's right, it was $2.49 for each THREE POUND bag of apples!

Hooray for my first frugal mom adventure! This is only the beginning--there will definitely be more. I'm going to try for once a week. If you have an Aldi near you, be sure to visit--I think you'll be surprised by the good stuff you can find...and the money you can save!

And does anyone have any ideas on how to make grocery shopping with an infant easier?!


John and Dana + 2 said...

Another bonus, if you aren't satisfy with something you can take it back and double your money!! Awesome. I am liking Aldi's as well. Except I have to take some cheese back!

Jordan said...

Hi Rachel!

I wish we had an Aldi here. That would be smashing! If you really want to make the most of Aldi, you might try keeping a price book of their prices so you know if an Albertson's sale actually beats Aldi's regular price. I've kicked myself do many times for stocking up on a "sale" price only to discover that my cheapie grocery store does better! So I have be discerning about sales.

If he can sit up, having Zeke sit in the cart will be much easier. Also, you can tell the clerk to use your cart so you don't have to switch your son, and the person behind you can use the one that you didn't use.

I love these German discount stores! We had one in England called Lidl and it was fantastic. Super cheap, and quality was almost never a problem. They did the cart thing too, which I guess saves them from hiring staff to round up the carts.

Hooray for Aldi! And hooray for you, for making your money work so hard!