As part of my year of thrift one of the most obvious outgoings to look at was how much I'm spending every week on supermarket shopping. Loads of people have told me that they'd saved quite a lot by swapping to either Aldi or Lidl instead of one of the main supermarkets so I thought it was worth a go myself. There is no Lidl close by so instead I headed to Hatfield and our local branch of Aldi. Before going I asked some of my blogger friends for their hints and tips and was fascinated to hear what they had to say – so much so that I hope to demystify the whole experience of shopping at Aldi.
How are they so cheap?
The main reason that Aldi is so much cheaper than other supermarkets is the simple fact that they often only sell one version of everything and you won't find many branded goods there at all. If you're someone who is very loyal to specific branded products then this isn't the shop for you. You'll only find one box of bran flakes or packet of digestive biscuits on the shelf, and they'll probably look a bit like a major brand that you know, but they'll actually be a special Aldi brand that you've not heard of before.
You also won't be finding fancy shelf displays or special offers like buy one get one free. The store layout and display is pretty simple, but then that all helps to save costs which is why you get the low prices.
When you go to Aldi for the first time there are a few practical issues that you might want to consider as they can catch some new shoppers out. Our store only seems to have trolleys available for customers to use and I'm told by others that they generally don't have baskets, so you may well end up with a few more purchases that you hadn't expected to make. Then again if you have all that space in your trolley then it would be rude not to fill it with bargain purchases!
Speaking of the trolleys, you'll also need to take a pound coin with you to get a trolley in the first place. Also the trolleys are all of a very simple design. Whilst they have a single child seat on them it wouldn't suit a very young baby and it also doesn't have a strap on it so if you've a little one who likes to try and climb out of things beware!
When it comes to paying Aldi don't accept credit cards (another way of them saving money as they don't have to pay the credit card fees for each transaction) so you need to either pay with cash or have a debit card handy.
At the till you have to pay for any carrier bags that you want, encouraging you to take your own bags with you instead. I'm told that the checkout staff have quite high targets as to the number of items that they have to scan every hour and as a result you need to try to pack your bags as quickly as possible. There isn't much space for your shopping to stack up once it's been scanned so you do end up throwing it into your bags pretty quickly, rather than packing it away nicely. It's therefore worth trying to put everything on the conveyor belt in a sensible order so that you don't end up with heavy bottles of milk on top of your eggs!
Beware the middle aisle
One thing that puzzled me somewhat was the repeated instruction from friends to "beware the middle aisle". Until you've been to Aldi this warning may not make much sense. The way that Aldi works is that they have an ever changing range of other discounted items which they sell in the supermarket and these may range from tools, to bedding, to ski wear to office goods.
Each week they have a new range and these are all located on the middle aisle of their stores. Friends have told me that they may have popped in for just some milk or coffee and instead come home with a laminator, ski wear for the whole family or a socket set! Aldi do produce a little booklet advertising the ranges coming up so that if you're really organised you can plan when to pounce to get a bargain.
What about the food?
After all that's normally your main reason for going to a supermarket. Before I went to Aldi my friends gave me a long list of things they sell that are worth trying – cheese, cold meats, Italian wine, quilted toilet roll, chocolate, baked goods, smoked salmon. We've shopped at Aldi twice now and have tried a range of things from there. Overall I'm very impressed with the quality of what we've been buying. The wine has certainly been very nice and at only £3.99 a complete bargain. The range of bread products is huge and generally very good. We found their white pitta bread a bit floury, but the chocolate brioche loaf was delicious. The one thing we did have to watch for is that several things say that they are not suitable for peanut allergy sufferers, but peanuts are labelled as an allergen very clearly and separately from nuts (as they should be) which is something which Marks and Spencer (who are much more expensive) don't seem to be able to do correctly!
When it comes to canned goods the baked beans were perfectly good and no where near as watery as Tesco's cheapest own brand ones. The tinned vegetable soup was easily on a par with Heinz and at just 26p a can the kidney beans were a complete bargain.
Milk is also significantly cheaper than in other supermarkets, but this does make me worry as to whether or not farmers are getting a fair deal. We didn't think the meat or fish was that much cheaper than some of what you find in Asda, Tesco or Sainsburys, but it was all of good quality with the salmon fillets being particularly good.
So, is it worth swapping where you shop?
If you're wanting to save money then yes, but only if you can stick to a shopping list. The food and drink basics are much cheaper than in other supermarkets, but you need to be strong to resist those middle aisle bargains. Just a few of those in your trolley will probably wipe out any savings you've made on the rest of your shopping.
Disclaimer: No payment (either financial or otherwise) has been received for writing this post.