Monday, May 20, 2013

Crappy Boxes, Great Prices

When I was a kid, I never wanted to go to ALDI. Ever. Shopping at ALDI always served as a reminder of just how poor we really were. And I was really, really self conscious about "looking poor."

My parents divorced when I was three, and not long after, my mom, my younger sister and I moved into a subsidized townhouse in Independence, Missouri — a suburb of Kansas City best known for Harry S. Truman and meth. For the most part, I was oblivious to the whole meth thing. Until I was 21 or so, and had lived in Brooklyn for a few years, I honestly thought that the people in Independence were skinny and had bad teeth because they were poor. (Hey, at least I didn't look that poor, right?)

Because of our economic status, I was a free-lunch kid — I hated flashing that pink punch card every day! — and we were on food stamps. I always thought that if we were going to get help buying groceries from the government, the least we could do was get them where everyone else did. ALDI didn't carry any of the brands my friends' parents used to stock their pantries... not that my mom ever stocked our pantry with the knock-off brands, either.

The worst part, I think, was that ALDI didn't even have bags; you just had to find an empty box and carry your crappy groceries to your crappy car in your crappy found box with the top cut off (probably with a crappy box cutter). When we unloaded the car at home, there would be no hiding the fact that our groceries came from ALDI.

I knew when I decided to do this frugality project that I would have to go to ALDI again. There's one five minutes from my house, and I'd heard multiple stories from friends who'd cut their grocery bills in half by shopping there. So, I decided to get it over with early.

Last Tuesday, I made my first voluntary, adult trip to ALDI. To be completely honest, at first I was self conscious, but in a very different way than when I was a kid. I was carrying my expensive blue leather tote, I didn't know how to operate the quarter deposit lock on the carts, and I appeared to be the only woman within 10 years of my age who didn't have at least two kids in tow. I felt like I didn't belong. I mean, I went into a ton of debt and made a lot of impulse purchases to get to a point where I felt like I didn't belong there anymore. But there I was, back at ALDI because I needed to be, and because I was ready to make smart decisions about my spending.

Once I focused on shopping and prices, most of my self-conscious thoughts slipped away. ALDI had some decent products at great values. I ended up with 16 items — enough food to fill at least three large crappy boxes, including sweet potatoes, apples and onions in bulk; garlic; peppers; lettuce; goat cheese; natural peanut butter; canned tomatoes; frozen berries; and organic almond milk — for $35. Other than the apples and lettuce, I'd probably buy everything there again.

For the sake of full disclosure, and the sustainability of our more ethical food systems, I will also admit that (save for the goat cheese) I decided to get my animal products at my locally-owned store. On the way home from ALDI, I stopped at Hen House for a whole chicken and a dozen eggs (both from Good Natured Family Farms) as well as quinoa and smoked Gouda (neither of which ALDI carried). My bill was $35 there, too.

Once my vegetable CSA begins in early June, and we can harvest some of the vegetables we planted last weekend, I probably won't be buying much produce from any grocery store.  I'll continue to get free-range, natural chickens and eggs (though I'll surely cut back on quantity), but I imagine I'll be making frequent trips to ALDI, too.

It really isn't that bad.

When you're a kid, shopping at "poor people places" can feel like the most embarrassing thing in the world. When you're an adult with a history of overspending on fancy cheese and olive oils, patronizing ALDI — and, in turn, not blowing an entire paycheck on food I might throw out — feels pretty damn great.

Plus, I almost always take tote bags to the grocery store with me. So no crappy boxes needed. Not that anyone would ever notice, anyway.

1 comment:

  1. I'm a converted ALDI shopper, too. I remember the pain and shame of going as a kid!
    One thing I've noticed - and gives me a bit of pride, actually - is that quite a lot of shoppers aren't buying the most processed stuff. There is a lot of fruit, veggies and bread moving across the conveyor belt.