“You are what you eat, so don’t be fast, cheap, easy or fake.” That always makes me chuckle. Okay, the fake part makes sense. Your diet probably shouldn’t be full of overly processed, fake ingredients. But fast, cheap and easy? Please. I only eat things if they’re fast, cheap and easy.
Maintaining a well-balanced diet while on a strict budget can be difficult, though. Bianca has shared some great tips for saving money while on a vegan diet, but today, we are exploring one of the most amazing places in the world: Aldi!
Aldi is a discount grocery store chain with headquarters in Germany, and it. is. fantastic. The chain is sort of owned by the same company as Trader Joe’s, so a lot of the products you’ll find in each store have similar packaging and the exact same ingredients.
I know “discount grocery store” has a bit of a negative connotation, but you’re not going to find dented cans, expired foods and moldy produce here. The stuff is high-quality, delicious and cheap. And they have a reputation for paying their employees better than their competitors (I worked in a grocery store through high school and most of college making less than $6/hour, so whenever anyone pays hard workers what they deserve, I try to give them support!).
I typically stop at Aldi on my way home from work on Mondays to stock up on supplies for my meals for the week. My menu for this week included leftover chili from a Crock Pot batch I made late last week (recipe coming soon!), broccoli and white bean soup, vegan macaroni and cheese and Bianca’s amazing pumpkin smoothie. Jotting down a rough plan of what you want to make during the week is a great way to save money by avoiding impulse purchases. You can be flexible with what you make on what days, but having an idea of three or four big batches you plan to cook is a great place to start.
Here are a few of my tips for shopping at Aldi:
- Check the hours. Aldi stores are typically only open during the most high-traffic hours of the day. After all, it isn’t very economical to run a store when there are only two or three people milling around, and those extra costs have to be covered somehow (hint: it’s by increasing the prices of groceries). Find your local store and check the hours before you try to go shopping at 10 p.m.
- Bring a quarter and your own bags. Aldi does everything they can to cut down on costs, and bags and carts have a lot to do with that. You’ll need to put a quarter into the cart to release it from a chain, but don’t worry, you get it back when you return it. They also won’t bag your groceries for you. They’ll put them back in your cart and you can bag them at a counter in the store or at your car on a nice day! No complains here; you should be using reusable bags everywhere you go, anyway! If you do forget your bags and have no other options, you can pick up empty boxes around the store or buy plastic bags at the checkout.
- Pay with cash or debit, but not credit. Aldi does not accept credit cards, so make sure you have enough cash on hand or money in your checking account to pay with a debit card. They also accept EBT/food stamps.
- Don’t expect brands you know. Much like at Trader Joe’s, almost everything in the store is Aldi-branded. But don’t worry, the stuff is delicious. If you do find national brands and buying brand name is important to you, snatch them up. That stuff is usually overstock that they will not have all the time.
- Don’t think; just buy. This probably doesn’t sound like a good money-saving tip, but let me explain: inventory doesn’t stick around at Aldi. If you see a sign that says “special buy” or “seasonal item,” stock up. This means it’s a product that they don’t carry consistently, so it will probably be gone by the next time you come back.
- Read the labels. Below every ingredient list, there will be text in bold print that reads, “Contains: Milk, Soy, Egg.” They list common allergens, so it’s easy to see if the products contain milk or egg. Be sure to read the rest of the list for other sneaky non-vegan ingredients, but this is an easy place to start. I found chocolate chip cookies (for 99 cents!) that are vegan!
- Don’t treat it as a one-stop shop. Most grocery stores offer everything you need under one roof. You may not find that at Aldi. They carry a wide selection, but you won’t always find exactly what you are looking for and may have to stop at another store for one or two items. But Aldi is a great place for canned beans and tomatoes, nuts, pasta and sauces, vegetables (fresh and frozen) and bagged lettuce, and pantry staples like olive oil and baking powder. Just do a little exploring and you’ll discover which of your regular purchases you can make at Aldi, and which you’ll have to get at another store.
Here’s my haul for the week (and then some) and what I paid. So cheap! At one of my local grocery stores, this probably would have run me closer to $60, especially with the typically more expensive items like organic blue corn chips (yes, Aldi sells some organic items), maple syrup, granola and whole wheat bread. And the best part: it’s all vegan.
I also have a few things in my pantry that I’ve purchased on previous trips that were so cheap I just have to share. I found Spanish olive oil for $3.99, pitted dates for $1.89, hummus for $1.99, dried cranberries for $1.19, and unsweetened almond milk (with no carrageenan!) for $2.49. I prefer almond, but they also carry soy milk for the $2.29. And you know the Peanut Butter & Co. products? Aldi sells their own versions of the dark chocolate and white chocolate versions for $2.49. TWO FORTY NINE. The lowest price I can find for these elsewhere in my area is $4.00 and the taste is just as good. I’m so in love. I sent Bianca 14 texts about it when I discovered this.
Now that I’m done gushing… what are your favorite Aldi finds? Or, if you haven’t been to Aldi, what are your tips for grocery shopping on a budget? xo Sara