When it comes to personal finances, one of the most frustrating things for me was to see my family’s grocery bill creep up every month regardless of how we tried to reduce it.
The reason I was fixated on groceries is because it was averaging my family nearly $10k/year, so it was a pretty hefty expense line item in our monthly budget. Heck, we were actually spending more on groceries than our mortgage after having paid down a big chunk of our mortgage in 2020.
Also, as someone interested in FIRE, I try to keep our living expenses as low as possible (within reason). Being able to figure out how to cut our grocery bill was a big part of that equation since that could save us thousands of dollars a year.
So at the end of every month (“month end”) when I tallied our expenses categories, our groceries expense line item would always be the same as last month’s if not more. At first, I thought it was because my wife, who did the majority of our grocery shopping, was buying expensive stuff. When COVID started, I took over grocery shopping for our family, both as a way to try to reduce our grocery bill and to take one for the team since my wife is an essential worker (pharmacist). What happened was our grocery bill just went up! Hah, I was wrong and she was pleased with my admission, lol.
Just a little background, we live in Chicago near a Jewel Osco, so that’s where we did the majority of our grocery shopping. We also used to hike to Costco about once a month to get gas and get some items in bulk since supposedly that was better for our budget. Wrong. We also got produce delivery from Imperfect Foods twice a month thinking that also was saving us money on produce. Again, wrong.
Last summer I was reading Root of Good and found an old post about his grocery shopping. He mentioned he went to Aldi a lot which was confusing to me because I always thought Trader Joe’s and Aldi were the same and organic produce was generally more expensive. Again, I was very wrong.
You may be wondering if you should stop reading this article given how many times I’ve assumed incorrectly, but just hang on, I swear it gets better!
What We Did
So, last summer I decided to take a day off work and I did some comparison shopping in terms of prices and $/oz at Jewel, Aldi, Cermak Produce and Costco. I created a spreadsheet (of course) and the results were utterly shocking 😲😲😲😲😲😲. So much so that I kept texting my wife while she was at work at how astonished I was.
Aldi vs. Jewel on average came out to be:
1. 40-50% cheaper on Meat & Fish
2. 25-30% cheaper on Produce
3. 40-50% cheaper on Dairy
4. 40-50% cheaper on Bread, Pastas & Starch
What’s even crazier, Aldi was even cheaper than Costco on many similar products.
Cermak Produce actually had pretty comparable prices on Meat & Produce, but were significantly more expensive (vs. Aldi) on non-perishable items.
So last September, we decided to try our hand at grocery shopping ONLY at Aldi, no Jewel and no Costco for a month and we wanted to see if we were to focus on saving money on groceries, what would happen. Mind you, we tried repeatedly to do this at Jewel and being selective on sales and what not, but we could never materially cut our monthly grocery bill.
Amazing things happened! That’s what happened! Hah.
So our average monthly grocery bill from March 2020 through August 2020 (when I was doing the shopping at Jewel and Costco) was around $736/month, which included beer & wine. After just one month at Aldi trying our best to not starve our family by penny pinching but really just buying what we thought was appropriate, our September groceries bill came out to be………………………………………..
🔥🔥💰💰 $351.22 💰💰🔥🔥
That’s a 52.3% reduction in our grocery bill. FIFTY TWO. FIVE TWO. We literally cut our grocery bill in half and saved a shitton on groceries while also not starving our family (two growing toddlers!)
When I was doing month end, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the final tally on our grocery line item for September. I simply could not. It was shocking. As noted, as someone who has watched my families grocery bill tick up every year due to two growing children who are now eating solids, I had basically resigned myself to thinking that it was futile but I guess a little inspiration and taking a day off to really brute force the comparison shopping was all that was needed.
Also, while Aldi sells mostly private label groceries, the difference vs. brand name wasn’t noticeable from a taste/quality perspective for most things (I will say Honey Nut Cheerios is superior by leaps and bounds vs. Honey Nut Oats or whatever Aldi’s private label equivalent is, their hummus is also inferior).
Now that we’ve gotten comfortable shopping at Aldi, our grocery bill has ticked up again because we’re buying slightly more food and we’re not trying as hard to save money, but it’s still down 25% on average from what we were spending by shopping mostly at Jewel Osco.
To give you some specifics on where we’ve really saved a lot:
– Bacon at Aldi costs around $0.23/ounce vs. Jewel’s bacon costs around $0.50/ounce, a 54% difference
– Chicken breasts at Aldi is around $1.89/pound vs. Jewel’s $5.99/pound, a 68% difference
– A dozen eggs at Aldi costs $1.23 vs. Jewel’s $1.99, a 40% difference
– Mac & Cheese at Aldi costs $0.50/box vs. Jewel’s $1.00/box, a 50% difference
– 24 oz wheat bread at Aldi costs $0.07/ounce vs. Jewel’s $0.18/ounce, a 60% difference
– Bananas at Aldi costs $0.44/pound vs. Jewel’s $0.49/pound, a 10% difference
– Honey crisp apples at Aldi costs $1.99/pound vs. Jewel’s $2.99/pound a 33% difference
– Sweet potatoes at Aldi costs $0.95/pound vs. Jewel’s $1.29/pound at 26% difference
Can we optimize our grocery spending even more? Definitely. With proper meal planning and being super meticulous with each grocery line item, we could probably shave off another 15-20% which I might think about more when I find some time. However, at this point, I am pleased with the fact that we basically saved a little over $200/month ($2,500/annually) passively by simply switching where we shopped for our groceries.
We still shop at Costco since there are a few things definitely cheaper there such as Veggie Straws, Rotisserie Chicken, Brownie Mix, Coke and Rice but that’s about it. Things like Orange Juice, Almond Milk, produce, coffee, bread are all cheaper at Aldi.
A Few Considerations
First, I know that this article sounds like a huge ringing endorsement for Aldi but let me be clear, that this article is more about saving money on groceries by doing a little due diligence on your available options. For example, Walmart also has a ton of great deals on groceries, but there isn’t a Walmart near us. Cermak Produce also has a ton of great deals on meat and sells a lot of cuts of meat that Aldi and Jewel don’t sell.
Online grocery delivery at least via Instacart adds a surcharge of over 20% per item (i.e. $2 for a gallon of milk at Aldi is now $2.55 via grocery delivery), so during COVID, you save on the convenience and mitigate risk, but something to think about in the future since it adds up quick. We used Aldi grocery delivery during the snow storm a few weeks ago and the final bill was around $35 more for a single trip (we go once a week).
In addition, when you shop at Aldi, there are a few kinda annoying things you need to deal with:
1. You need to bring a quarter to unlock a cart (you get your quarter back if you return the cart, but just remembering to keep a quarter on you is annoying since who keeps change especially during COVID)
2. You have to bag your own groceries
3. Aldi doesn’t always have non-core groceries in stock (i.e. Pain Au Chocolate, Frozen Pretzels, frozen lasagna), etc.
4. For some items, you can’t buy just one. Lemons for example, you have to buy a bag.
Regardless, for us, this whole experiment made me realize just how much more expensive some grocers are versus others. I always thought the grocery business was a low margin business and that prices couldn’t be that different, but apparently I was very wrong. Go figure. 🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣😂😂😂😂😂😂😅