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It's been a while since I've gotten a raise at work.  Quite a long while, actually.  While that in itself is less than optimal (read: it sucks), it gets even worse when you consider that things have gotten more expensive across the board.  Just a few examples:

  • Gas prices have gone up quite a bit
  • Food prices have gone up a lot (or they shrink the packages, which means you have to buy more, so the end result is you pay more)
  • Health insurance premiums have skyrocketed
  • Our mortgage was re-financed.  Even though we are putting over $500 more in principle away each month for a modest $150 increase in the payment, it's still a cash flow issue.

As a result, we've tightened in many areas.  Just a few areas we've reduced expenses over the past few years or tried to offset in some way:

  • We've updated our insurance plan to include an umbrella policy, which actually increased our total coverage while reducing our costs about 15%.  We also increased our deductible amounts for both home and auto.
  • We combined cell phone plans with my in-laws for a family plan, cutting costs for both households.  Later, I dropped off the plan altogether when my work offered to provide a phone.
  • We've called every year to get our cable company to continue to give us a discounted rate.
  • We use a Costco American Express credit card for all gas purchases.  This gives us 3% cash back for gasoline purchases.  Considering that price hikes of 5% in a single day are all too common these days, this extra couple of percent barely makes a dent, but every little bit helps.

Every time there is an opportunity to save some money, it seems that it's further and further since the last opportunity, and that it usually yields less savings.  In all likelihood this likely means that we've done a pretty good job at identifying potential cost savings.  You're usually going to get the greater returns up front as you hit the ‘low hanging fruit'.

Even so, it's always fun when you find a new opportunity and we recently did.  I'd always heard that Aldi is a great place to shop and save, but we never took advantage of shopping there.  There are two stores, both about 8 miles away, so it's not like it was just around the corner.  I'd been in one a few times, but pretty much just walked around, looked around, left, and promptly forgot all about it.

Still, I'd heard enough about it and I guess I read one too many blog posts talking about what a great store it is, so I mentioned it to my wife and we decided to check it out.  And, it was well worth it.

Here are some of the things I learned about Aldi:

  • It is a very no-frills store.  Things are stacked up in bulk, similar to Costco.  This means they rarely run out of anything, and I'm guessing means that they minimize the need to have people on the payroll to stock items throughout the day.
  • Their prices on produce are often unbeatable.  My wife does all the shopping for our fruits and vegetables, whereas I would likely not recognize a good deal from a bad deal (at least not as quickly as she can).  She looked through the ad and was amazed at some of the prices.  In many cases, you can get fresh produce for 20-50% less than what you pay at the supermarket.  We've bought a variety of different things, including pineapples, oranges, avocados, peppers, and likely other products, and my wife has not complained about the quality of anything.
  • Milk prices are great.  Their milk is a full 70 cents a gallon cheaper than what we pay, and come to find out that the supplier is a company that you typically pay even higher prices for.  In fact, my wife saw the truck pulling away from the store on one trip.  Both kids drink milk, and both my wife and I drink it every day, so this is a big cost savings for our family.
  • Yogurt prices are great, and it tastes awesome.  I get the store brand yogurt which generally runs anywhere from 40-60 cents per cup.  Aldi has theirs available for 39 cents, meaning I'm saving no matter what.  I bought a couple just to see what it was like, and it tastes better than even the national brands.
  • It requires slight tweaks to our budget system.  Groceries are one item that we typically put on our credit card, but Aldi doesn't take credit cards (another way to minimize costs), so we lose the 1% cash back that we'd otherwise get and we have to front the money instead of floating it a couple of weeks until the credit card is paid.  Minor issues, but still a tweak for a guy like me who has perfected his budget system and is therefore resistant to change.
  • Bagging is do it yourself. They have one person who runs the register, and he/she will simply take the items and place them back in your cart.  Then, you go over to a counter set in the front of the store and you bag it yourself.  That keeps the line moving even more so than you trying to bag it right at the register.  You also want to bring your own bags otherwise they charge you for them.
  • Bring a quarter for your shopping basket.  What's the one common thing about every grocery store parking lot?  Well, there actually two.  One is that there are cart corrals which annoy you because you think it's an empty spot until you drive up to it, and second is that there is always a handful of workers out there collecting the baskets and taking them back to the store.  Not so at Aldi, because you have to insert a quarter into the shopping cart to use it (the quarter ‘frees it' from the other carts it's attached to).  When you're done shopping, just push the cart back and once it clicks in place with the other carts, you get your quarter back.  You never see carts all over the lot at Aldi, because even if someone doesn't want to walk back up and put the cart back, you can bet that there are enterprising customers who would be happy to collect stray carts, and return them to the store to get the quarter(s)
  • They don't take coupons.  Most brands are not recognized brand names anyways, so there usually aren't coupons that you could even apply (and I'm thinking that's why all the brand names are unfamiliar), but even for  the brand name stuff that they do take, you can't take coupons.  It cuts down on their administrative overhead.

All in all, we are big fans of Aldi.  The distance makes it so that we generally seem to go about every other week, which so far works just fine for us.  And, it shows that there are always opportunities for savings even when you think you've done just about everything.  Because, even though we try to meal plan, we clip coupons, we stock up on items, we stack coupons with sale prices, and other tricks to save money at the grocery store, there is still money to be saved on our food bill.

So, even though it's harder to come by savings (because the fruit isn't as low hanging), another thing I realized is that it still feels good to come across and take advantage of a savings opportunity.  That part, it never gets old!

Readers, do you shop at Aldi?  What other savings opportunities have you recently found even if you had thought you'd squeezed all the blood out of the savings turnip?