No this is not me at Aldi, but it is an accurate picture of me at places. Walking one direction. Looking the other. Child in one hand. Child(ren) trailing behind. Thing in the hand, things on the mind, things slipping the mind–the mind is such a vast field. I get lost in and with my own at least once a day. And on one particular, recent day, I almost lost my mind altogether. At least according to my husband.
You see, I went to Aldi.
And this is the story of my first sojourn into Aldi. Just before dinnertime. With five kids.
A friend had recently shared with me that she was making great strides into meal planning and budgeting and I was riveted. Especially when she told me that she had a MONTHLY grocery bill of $300 and a weekly allowance of $50. After picking my jaw up from the ground and forming a dozen questions with which to pepper her, I decided I too, could do better.
Could I spend less?
How could I spend less?
How much do I actually spend?
What’s my password to my bank account?
What stores can feed my children for less?
What stores can feed me for less?
And more like this…
Now that the cat’s out of the bag and you are judging me for my lack of knowledge about these things, I have to add that my husband is ON TOP OF IT. He knows what goes in and what goes out and exactly what we need each week, and actually, blessing of blessings, he loves to cook, to grocery shop, and to keep us stocked on all the things.
But I was on a mission and honestly, a little shortsighted in the moment. I was so excited to make strides, that I confess, I didn’t consult my husband whatsoever about my project. And if you make it to the end of this blog (oh my goodness, what if he does???) you’ll see why I should have.
But I’ll tell you what. This experience helped me appreciate at a new level just how he takes care of the five hungry hippos in our house!
In my mission to help, I wanted to lift some of the burden for him that week.
And that’s how I ended up at Aldi on a Sunday, right before dinnertime.
The car was buzzing with energy. I had told the kids we were going somewhere new. A store that had grocery carts you put quarters into.
“Mom, can I put the quarter in?”
“Will candy come out when we put the quarter in?”
“Do we have a quarter in the car? You can have my quarter from my piggy bank.”
“Who gets to put the quarter in?”
“Can we each push a cart?”
The questions multiplied faster than I could answer them. We were all about the quarter.
“I’ll do the quarter today so you can see how it works,” I answered, nodding confidently and vigorously. “You guys are going to love it!” I recounted to them my favorite Aldi cookies from my own childhood–a chocolate covered graham cracker that my mom used to keep cold in the refrigerator, but which would always seemed to disappear within minutes of making it home.
“You can even find macaroni and cheese for 33 cents!” I exclaimed, full-well knowing that half the children in my car had no sense of why that was earth shattering or that it was earth shattering to begin with.
“Look!” my six-year-old shouted. “It’s Audi! The sign says Audi!” My kindergartner was pointing to the bright blue sign on which he had mistakenly misread his seven-year old sister’s name.
“No, Lucas, that’s Aldi. But you’re right! The letters are almost the same as Audi’s.” What a smart kid.
We turned left into the parking lot. Decisions. Where do I park and why does the lot seem so tiny? People emerged like loose ping pong balls, and I stretched my neck up and out to try to see around them and get a place close to the entrance. The anticipation around the quarters and the carts was racing through my own body as I pulled into that spot, and threw more directions at the kids.
“This is a different store, guys. You have to stay by me or you will get run over. Other people can’t see you. They will run over your feet with their cart. They will bump you. It will be busy and crowded. People might want the same food you are reaching for, so you have to be quick.” The things I was saying were starting to even make me wonder if I had made the right choice to bring five bodies into the store with me, especially during what was obviously a busy time.
But I was committed and the kids wouldn’t stop talking about quarters.
“You will stay glued to the cart,” I added. “If you let go, we go.” The kids nodded. They were ready. “Who gets to hold the quarter until we get to the cart?” One asked. “Can I hold it when we get it back after we’re done?” One more question about quarters and I was going to be quartered out. “I’ll hold the quarter today.” I was grateful for the first time excuse that mom needed to do it all.
We walked in a neat cluster up to the cart area and the kids’ eyes grew wider and wider as they realized all the carts were chained together.
“How are we going to get that cart unlocked from the other ones?” My four-year old asked. “They are stuck together!”
(People apparently have quarter keepers for this purpose!)
I was assuring him we could unlock a cart to use and had just moved to grab one as a lady leaving the store with her own cart stopped and spoke to me.
“Would you like my cart?” she asked.
Neither the kids nor I knew what was happening until she was off with my quarter and we were left standing with a cart. We didn’t get to plunk in our coin or watch the chain come unlocked. I was mad at myself the moment I accepted her “generous” offer.
“We will see the quarter when we bring our cart back, don’t worry,” I assured the kids. Crestfallen, they followed me into the store where I immediately began in with the “scoot over here’s” and the “stand behind me’s.”
We grabbed a dozen things in the first aisle. Animal crackers. Pretzels. Cheese and bread-stick snacks. Fruit snacks. Wow, snack time solved. The energy was flowing through my veins. I was so excited to surprise my husband with my thriftiness.
Sure enough carts of people began plowing through and around us. I’m still unsure why politeness rules seem less important at Aldi. I noticed there were fewer eye-contact moments and more tight-lipped ladies. I couldn’t help but feel judgy-stares and silent questions. It was almost enough to make me reconsider aisle two and make a break for my safe and spacious wholesale club. But this was an exercise in saving money, and was I really going to give up because a few people were annoyed that my one cart of people were taking up two carts of space? The kids were behaving after all so I didn’t really need to flee.
We rolled on. Three bags of apples, a bag of oranges, and a box of kiwi later, and the kids were in a rhythm. “Can we get these watermelons? How about this cucumber? And this bag of carrots?” They asked and I answered and my mind did not explode. Things were plunked into the cart and we hummed along through the rest of the store. I had to go around the frozen foods aisle twice because it was impossible to turn my cart around in the throng of shoppers.
When I found a place to stand by a check out line, I sighed a happy sigh. I sent the eight-year old to grab a few Aldi bags so we could bag our groceries on the giant shelf–how fun that was going to be!–and he happily flew to the appointed area to comply. I did enjoy giving the kids jobs to do, which is something I haven’t ever thought of doing in the grocery store.
Tallying it up.
I was elated to find that the items I had selected off the top of my head at the store tallied up to less than $100! I felt that I had climbed a mountain and needed a trophy at the finish line. I couldn’t tell if the cashier was amused or humoring me as I transferred my two-year old from my cart to the cart he’d dropped all my groceries into, but I pretended he liked me, thanked him, and got out of the way for the next people in line.
I then pressed the kids to the bagging area and asked them to bag up certain items. One was responsible for all the juice boxes; one for produce; one for soft things like bread and cheese, and the last for loose and light things like my Skyr. It was at that moment that I found items I had not put in the cart–how had I not noticed that when we were shopping? Or in the check out line?? The kids were clearly more in charge than I was! No big deal, we had saved money so I was cutting the losses.
When we finished bagging as well as a game of catch with a stray chapstick to the dismay of an elderly couple to my left, we left the building and renewed excitement over the quarter and the cart rose up.
Back to carts and quarters
I forgot we would need to unload the car before returning the cart and said as much. But then I unloaded the kids! As they were getting into the car and tucking in the Aldi bags, a bag of oranges ripped, and eight or nine of them rolled everywhere. I buckled my youngest two kids in, closed the car doors, and chased the oranges through the parking lot to the kids amusement. In all the fluster over fruit I had forgotten none of kids had seen the quarter-cart exchange!
I apologized to the kids about it and was heartbroken when they politely and quietly asked if they could walk back with me to the cart area and “see it.” But drivers were buzzing around and I was starting to fell the weight of my anxiety from the Aldi adventure. I told them, “for sure, next time they could.” Then choosing one lucky child, I whizzed away and let just one of five see the coin-cart exchange.
Suffice it to say that as I pulled out of the parking lot (and drove right over one of my own oranges!!) I was ready to leave.
Wins and Lessons
I’ll skip the next few days and convos in my life that flowed from that adventure to get to the wins and the lessons that I gained.
Kids love to help!
Kids can help.
Kids can choose food. Bag food. Do jobs. (They can also fit in a game of tag.)
Kids can put things in the cart with direction.
Lunch drinks were a hit the last two weeks. We’ve never bought drinks for the kids to take to lunch. At 17 lunchboxes per week, I’ve never wanted to invest, but with Aldi juice pouches so inexpensive, I didn’t mind buying them and we STILL have some left today!
Snacks–same story. We have had handy snacks every day and the 3:30 “Can I have a snack?” question is easily handled. “Yes, get something from the snack box.” Boom. Fixed.
The generic brands can be delicious too! I tried their Skyr and the vanilla is just divine!
It is possible to shop for a family of seven with a few modifications for under $100 a week!
Aldi produce is ripe. Eat fast.
Aldi produce is ripe.
Don’t let it sit out when you leave for the weekend.
We came home from a trip out of town this past weekend only to find that the watermelon the kids had chosen on that Aldi trip had no only rotted, but had exploded and had leaked out onto the counter, under the coffee maker and we think seeped behind the cabinets. IF we can’t sell our house (which is currently on the market), I might actually blame Aldi. The SMELL!
We are so used to being able to stock up on produce and eat it through the whole week and sometimes beyond, but unfortunately (or fortunately?) Aldi produce is already ripe and I ended up having to toss half the kiwi, apples, and other produce because I couldn’t eat the amount I bought fast enough.
On the other hand, shelf food goes very fast!!! One bag of Aldi pretzels in our house lasts 1.2 days and one box of Aldi animal crackers lasts 1 hour–so delicious! So we might need to stock up better one those items.
Shop with a meal plan.
Shop with a shopping list.
Don’t go shopping with 5 kids.
Don’t go shopping for just one item. (I did that later in the week, returning for more Skyr, and not only did Aldi not have it, but I couldn’t leave the store! It was packed and I had my cart and couldn’t turn around to work my way backward through the entrance. I ended up leaving my cart (and my quarter!!) in an aisle and plunging past people in an effort to escape empty-handed. I felt like people were watching and wondering if I was shoplifting, but I couldn’t stay to explain.
Don’t shop right before dinnertime.
Don’t shop on the weekend.
But if you do all of these things, DO write about it and share your adventure with friends.