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!