After a Trader Joe’s opened up near me a few months back I decided to do a price comparison of some of my pantry staples at Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and the grocery store I normally shop at (RS in the post for “regular store”) to see if I should be changing up my grocery shopping habits in order to get the best deals on things I buy regularly.
Turned out there are a few things that are cheaper to buy at TJ, even though it’s more out of my way, and I’ve tried to buy those items there since that post.
My last grocery price comparison post started out like this:
Ah, Trader Joe’s. The bargain store spoken of in hushed tones of reverence usually reserved for sacred spaces and museum exhibitions of old masters (or no, is that just me speaking as an history nerd?).
Replace “Trader Joe’s” with “ALDI” and I’ve got myself the beginning of a second price comparison post!
I’ve actually been familiar with ALDI as a discount grocery store for years, since there was one in the small Ohio town where my maternal grandparents lived when I was younger. But it’s only in the last few years (and obviously more so lately now that I spend a lot of time hanging around personal finance nerds on the internet) that I’ve heard it universally lauded as a place where you can get amazing deals on groceries.
Lucky for me, there is one near me! But the reason I haven’t been shopping there since I found out about its existence is pure laziness: I’d have to drive there instead of walking.
I know that sounds ludicrous—who prefers to lug heavy bags of groceries back home instead of driving? But I do. Walking to the store is in my mind way less effort than getting in my car, dealing with lights, parking, stopping at lights on the way home, and then finding another parking spot on the street. I’m also assisted by my grocery shopping habits, which right now largely look like multiple small trips to the store every week, so I’m not carrying super heavy bags home all that often.
But I was intrigued by the potential cost savings, so I had to make a visit to ALDI to check out the prices.
The list of pantry items is still the same from last time.
Produce: avocados (yes, still don’t @ me), limes, lemons, bananas, sweet potatoes
Dairy: milk, Greek yogurt, cheese
Other: bread, rice, frozen spinach, eggs
Prices are store brand wherever possible. Let’s see the fruits (heh) of my labor, shall we?
Why I will never be able to buy a house.
TJ: $1.29 each
A: $0.99 each
If I hadn’t already had a few in my fridge, I definitely would’ve availed myself of this opportunity to buy the destroyers of my home ownership dreams at a discount!
Also remember that time I carried home a bunch of avocados in my purse because they were on sale for $0.50 each?
#avocadopurse is what happens when you go to the grocery store on Friday night with @BudgetEpicurean for wine and find out avocados are on sale 2 for $1 #peakmillennial #neverowningahouseomg pic.twitter.com/1gqF8OGbqC
— Erin | Reaching for FI (@reachingforfi) February 3, 2018
My verdict from before: “honestly I’m going to call that price difference negligible. If I need limes and I’m at TJ, I’ll pick some up. Otherwise I’m sticking with my regular grocery store.”
TJ: $0.29 each
A: $1.99/lb. I honestly didn’t weigh out a lime to figure out approximately how many are in a pound, but I don’t really foresee a future in which I’ll be buying a bag of limes, since individual limes aren’t an option. And if I do need that many (frozen drinks in the summer, maybe?), I’d probably buy a bag from Costco instead.
I called this one a tie as well since all prices were more or less negligible, but Trader Joe’s was the cheapest of the three.
TJ: Based on the one lemon I weighed, which was 0.43 pounds, their $1.49/lb price works out to be around $0.64 per lemon
A: $3.49 for a 2 pound bag, so about $0.75 per lemon
I have a whole bunch of frozen ones in my freezer at the moment, but this is good to know.
WF: $0.99/lb. Another tie!
A: No sweet potatoes?!?? No individual ones, but maybe I missed bags of them in among the bags of regular potatoes. Surely they have sweet potatoes?
Originally TJ was the winner here, both for the quarts I bring to work ($1.19) and the half gallons I use at home ($1.69).
BUT. Turns out their milk goes bad way too quickly, even before the sell-by date. I don’t care how cheap the milk is, it’s not worth it to end up pouring half of it down the drain because it’s spoiled. So I now split my milk purchases between Whole Foods and my normal grocery store, based on what size I’m buying.
RS: quart $1.89, half gallon $2.29
WF: quart $1.39, half gallon $2.39
A: quart $1.49, half gallon $1.99
I’ve started cooking with plain Greek yogurt in the last few years. Makes a decent mayo base (because mayo itself is disgusting) and is a good substitute for sour cream, which I never use enough of before it goes bad. I also have been eating it with granola fairly often for breakfast.
Again, since it’s a staple, I already have a container in my fridge and didn’t need to buy more during this reconnaissance mission.
When I first did this, I compared prices for shredded and for slices. Turns out most stores other than my preferred grocery store price different kinds of cheese differently? Who knew!
A: $2.65/lb when you buy the 12 ounce bag, $2.49/lb when you buy the 16 oz bag
There weren’t really any good comparison options for sliced cheese at ALDI.
Prices are for loaves of whole wheat bread.
A: approximately $1.43/lb
Honestly I had a loaf of bread in my bag, which I would’ve bought if I hadn’t gotten to the checkout and would’ve had to wait to buy that one item. I’ve also been running an experiment to see how long I can go without buying bread since eating a whole loaf before it goes bad is sometimes a struggle.
Brown rice for the win. I only buy white rice if I’m making sushi.
A: No bags of brown rice available, only white and parboiled rice
Chopped frozen spinach, which is an essential in my cooking.
A: no frozen spinach, as far as I could tell (?????)
It’ll be a while before I need frozen spinach again since I just bought a massive, 2.5 pound bag of spinach at Costco (for only $5!!) and I always end up freezing most of it. But good to know TJ continues to be my frozen spinach supplier.
I usually buy two dozen at a time from Costco, although I’ve noticed the price on those going up (I obviously haven’t checked lately to see if prices elsewhere have also climbed).
And since I just bought eggs at Costco (and therefore have the receipt handy) but didn’t include them in my last price comparison, those are $1.70 per dozen. INTERESTING.
ETA 3/20 after posting: yeah, I just looked at my preferred grocery store and the price has gone up to something like $2.50-$3.00/dozen (I didn’t write it down) since I originally got these prices in November, so the Costco price isn’t as high as it seems.
Cans of coconut milk
TJ: They get fancy with their pricing: $1.29 for a can of low fat coconut milk, $1.69 for high test
A: no coconut milk
Cans of beans
$0.55 at ALDI, at least $0.79 everywhere else.
I didn’t bother checking the price at ALDI since I get huge bags of these from Costco and then am good to go for quite a while. But given the limited selection at the store I was very surprised to see these with all the other baking goods!
So I’m going to start shopping at ALDI for things like dairy, avocados, and bananas, right?
This is the time versus money tradeoff in full effect, and in this instance at least, the savings I’d get from shopping at ALDI aren’t worth the extra effort of having to drive there instead of walking. It might be negligible on the time front, but anytime I can walk instead of driving my car is a win in my book.
I also noticed a lot of the produce (lemons and limes, yes, but also things like potatoes and onions) only comes in bags, not as individual fruits or vegetables. I know that buying in bulk is usually cheaper than buying individually, and that probably extends to these smaller economies of scale of two pounds of lemons instead of individual ones.
But I’m also only one person. I tend to buy my larger produce items one or two at a time, and as much as I love me some sweet potato fries, I wouldn’t buy a whole bag of them at once. That doesn’t fit in with how I currently meal plan—which, ahem, is to say I don’t really. I tend to make big batches of things twice a week and plan for those only a day or so in advance instead of planning for the whole week. Hence the multiple grocery runs per week.
And like the milk at TJ, getting food cheaply doesn’t matter if you end up wasting some of it because you couldn’t eat it in time. That’s part of the reason I haven’t bought bread in a while.[*] So I’ll stick with the stores that allow me to control the amounts I’m buying.
However, I will probably end up going to ALDI once every month or two and doing a massive stock-up on cans, since those are so much cheaper. I’m still working my way through the truly impressive stockpile I’ve amassed by buying 10+ cans of various kinds of beans when I find them on sale for $0.50 each, but lugging 10 cans home is one of those times I hate my stupid walkable life. I won’t be sorry to drive home on those trips instead.
And there you have it: turns out in most cases the savings from shopping at ALDI aren’t worth it for me. Secretly I’m just pleased that this means I don’t have to change up my grocery shopping strategy!
[*]Side note: ever since I started college I’ve wondered why there aren’t grocery stores that cater to single people. Being able to buy half a loaf of bread at a time? Yes, please! I’m half-convinced this is going to be a business opportunity for me (who says you can’t reach FI solely by paying attention to your groceries?? ?), so if you know anything about grocery distribution, hit me up!
22 Replies to “Pantry staple price comparison: ALDI edition”
Good thing you didn’t buy the bread from TJs – I’ve learned the hard way that it goes bad REALLY fast as well. Haven’t had that experience with milk, but it goes fast around here thanks to the toddler. I’m impressed that Whole Foods was competitive at all, to be honest. We also choose the store that’s walking distance to us even though it’s a bit more expensive (and then make a Costco trip once a month for the bulk stuff).
Do you keep your bread in the fridge? We do, and haven’t ever had a problem with it going bad.
I tried keeping a loaf in the fridge once and found it completely changed the texture—like it dried it out. Obviously that doesn’t matter as much when you’re toasting it, but I noticed it for sandwiches and wasn’t happy. Have you found a way around that, or is it just me that has that problem?
When I’m going to make sandwiches, I leave the bread out for a while so it comes to room temp and that seems to solve it. I wonder if that would work for you?
Hah as I wrote in my original post, I headed into WF for shits and giggles because I wasn’t actually expecting it to be competitive at all. Glad to hear I’m not the only weirdo who prefers walking to the grocery store!
I agree that grocery stores are not necessarily set up for single people. I find that same issue when I am shopping. I don’t want to buy items in bulk that will go bad and waste my money. As you pointed out, maybe in the future that will change.
I’d love to see a future where we can reduce food waste by offering options for single people!
It also takes me forever to go through a loaf of bread, so what I do is I freeze it. Nine times out of ten I just toast it straight from freezing, but if I want a sandwich not-toasted, I’ll just thaw two slices overnight or in the morning before lunch.
Jess, when you thaw out the slices overnight does it change the texture? I haven’t tried freezing bread, but the one time I tried keeping it in the fridge I wasn’t happy with using it for sandwiches (and PB&J sandwiches are what I use bread for about 90% of the time).
Yeah, it gets really dry and kind of strangely mealy in the fridge! When I thaw bread overnight (and it usually thaws out within a couple of hours, so great if you’re bringing it to work in the morning), it’s usually back to its original texture (or pretty close). Definitely a better texture than just living in the fridge.
That’s so good to know, thanks!
We usually buy our bread from TJs but we’re a family of 3 that eats like 6. The milk, though, has gone off before the date and the nice thing about TJ’s is you can just tell them of the problem when you return, not making a separate trip, and they’ll refund you. At least ours will. We’ve had problems with the milk and ground turkey in the past but they’ve always made it right and the problems have also stopped.
You’ve reminded me that I have to put together a post about the inefficiencies of our shopping, lately, too 🙂
Oh I didn’t know that about TJ! I don’t shop there often enough (it’s more stocking up there than buying essentials I need all the time) to go through the hassle of keeping my receipt, etc, but that’s definitely good to know for the future!
Woo hoo, looking forward to reading it! Who knew grocery shopping inefficiencies were so interesting? ?
Interesting comparison! I agree that buying in bulk definitely tends to be cheaper, but like you said if it goes bad before you use it, you don’t want to have to throw it out!
I’m surprised you don’t buy the bags if seeet potatoes though, those have lasted a while for me in the past and it’s very convenient to have them!
Maybe I wasn’t looking hard enough, but I don’t remember seeing sweet potatoes or I definitely would’ve written that price down! You’re right, I don’t tend to buy a lot at a time, but a bag of sweet potatoes wouldn’t go amiss here. Although I do still like being able to choose which ones I get—smaller ones for putting in dishes, larger ones for making fries. I just apparently like being able to choose exactly what produce I’m going to buy ?
First off mucho kudos to you for walking to the store vice driving!
I’m a TJ’s guy through and through, I love ’em. I had never been to an Aldi until one opened near me in 2016. Since then I’ve been experimenting with their offerings more and more and now I do use them for certain things like coffee, mixed nuts, salsa, hummus, eggs, etc.
They own Trader Joe’s so I started looking to see if some of the stuff was the same with different labels. I suspect it is! I’ve found many products that are in the EXACT same packaging but just have a different label, and Aldi often has them cheaper. So for those items I get the Aldi version if possible.
Ah I’d been wondering if they were owned by the same company! That’s good to know about Aldi usually being cheaper. Maybe next time I’m there I’ll check out some of the things I don’t buy as often that didn’t make it on this list.
I’ve been feeling jealous I don’t have a nearby Aldi’s, so it’s nice to see that other stores can be comparable. And I think we’ve talked about it before, but some things like milk and bread from TJ’s go bad so fast! It’s pretty frustrating.
Hah same, I was so relieved that things elsewhere were still competitive and that Aldi’s wasn’t by far the cheapest option!
Aldi’s shopper here, with two within a few blocks. Pretty sure my store has sweet potatoes and lots of sliced cheese options. Dry cereal is cheaper than anywhere else. Also the cheapest for organic milk.
Just wife and I at home now. Costco seems overkill. Aldi’s is about right sizes for us.
Try the whole milk yogurts, especially cocnut and lemon!
Woah, two in a few blocks? That’s pretty awesome. It’s quite possible I missed those things because I was in a bit of a rush. Costco is great for some things, but agreed that it can definitely be overkill for many other things!
Kudos to you for doing a legit price comparison. I typically buy the same things every week so I can usually tell how expensive a store is by my overall bill. I used to shop at a store where the total would come out around $200. I switched and can now usually come out around $150. I don’t think people realize how much their choice of store can impact their overall food budget!