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Adventures at Aldi

Very few things make me as happy as food does. Looking at a fully stocked fridge and knowing I have enough food in my house to survive the apocalypse makes me feel secure. I grew up in a household that didn’t always have food. I remember looking longingly at fruit roll-ups. We couldn’t afford them. Finally, I’m in a position to afford anything my family wants to eat. I take pride in being able to provide that for them. So, when it came to cutting back, the grocery budget was the last thing I wanted to cut.

But the truth was, we were spending over a thousand dollars a month on groceries alone. We would also eat out, so half the produce I bought would end up getting thrown out. What a waste.

I heard about Aldi on Choose FI. They have innovative cost savings techniques like having customer bag their own groceries. They save on personnel by incentivizing people to return their own carts. We have to put in a quarter to free a cart from the rack. The only way we get our quarter back is if we return the cart. And this works. There is never a stray cart in the parking lot. Humans are weird. Anyway, this is how Aldi brings us significant savings. The idea was cool and I needed room in the budget. So, with a heavy heart, I went to Aldi.

The store is bare bones. But, it has most of the things my family needs. If you are a name brand person or someone that wants the same thing all the time, this may not be the place for you. But, for someone like me who gets overwhelmed with choices and falls for impulse purchasing of food I don’t need, it is perfect. There are only a couple of options for each essential item. Everything is ridiculously cheap. The only negative for me is that they have very few tree nut-free options and I have a kid with a bad allergy. But, I was used to spending $250-300 per grocery trip. My first trip, I loaded up my cart with everything I needed. I unloaded at the checkout line and felt the familiar cold sweat come on when I realized how much I had bought and how it would most certainly be over $200. The cashier came up with the total- just over $100! I was hooked.

But, more than the savings, it is the people at Aldi I find the most interesting.

It is like a frugal cult. Everyone is super friendly and super intent on saving money. On one trip, I had my two toddlers (3 and 1 year old) with me. If you have kids, you know keeping them well behaved is a very calculated balancing act. We go from “This is new and cool,” to “I’m bored,” to “I’m hungry,” to “This sucks,” to “I WANT TO GO HOME!” to “Total Meltdown- WAAAA!!!!” over the course of 30-60 minutes (on a good day). I give them snacks when we get in the store and that will keep them happy for about 10 minutes. Then, I rely on playing games while shopping and occasionally opening something we haven't paid for yet (sorry Aldi) so that they stay in the “I’m bored but I can eat” phase.

We were at “This Sucks” while waiting to check out. There was a middle aged, balding man who wore somewhat worn but reasonable clothes in front of us. He had the look of a well off homeless man and the demeanor of a shy uncle. I could keep the kids happy by making faces. Everything was good. The cashier gave him his total- $88. The man looked displeased. Disgruntled, he started putting things back. A box of cereal. Some bananas. A couple of knick knacks.

“Now what’s the total?” he asked.

“$75,” said the clerk.

He gave more things back. A gallon of milk...juice...chocolate syrup. I started to feel bad for this guy. But then my boys started getting weepy. “I wanna go home, Mommy!” My three year old starts whining. My 1 year old starts whimpering along in solidarity. Now this Mommy wasn’t happy. The man was still going… putting things back, then checking the total. Putting more things back, then checking the total. I swear the cashiers at Aldi are saints.

Partly because I felt bad for the guy but more because I needed to get the heck out of there before the boys reached Total Meltdown, I spoke up and offered to spot the man some money so he could check out. He looked up surprised. He said in a soft voice, “That’s really nice of you.” But then he looked down and shook his head. Finally, after a couple of more things back, he reached his goal of $50 and paid. He waved to me on his way to the ledge where he would go and bag his groceries into his reusable bags. “Good job on sticking to your budget!” I said.

Finally, I got my stuff checked out. I had budgeted exactly $200 for groceries for my little guy’s birthday party and I just made it at $199! Happily, I made my way out to the car, put the little guys in, started the car, and then unloaded the groceries. I turned around to make the mad dash back to the cart rack so as not to leave the boys alone too long. To my surprise, the man from the store was right behind me holding a quarter up.

“Can I take your cart back for you?” he asked.

I looked at his face and then to the quarter in his hand in confusion. Then, I got it. He was offering me a quarter and he would take the one from the cart once he returned it.

“Uh, sure.. Yeah that’ll be great. Thank you.” I said.

“Thank you for your offer,” he said, “That was really kind.”

Then he gave me his quarter and took my cart to put it back.

As I pulled out in my mommy SUV, I watched as the man re-racked my cart and then grabbed his pull-behind dolly with his groceries and walked to the stoplight. He would be walking to his destination. For some reason, I wasn’t sure he was homeless. His back was straight and his shoulders were back. There was an air of self respect and strength of character about him. I have a feeling he was one of us- one of the stealth wealth community. I wonder if thought of his holdings in VTSAX on his walk home.

You know what, I think I know that he did.


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