Well, well, well, how times have changed. Just a few years ago I was living 6km from town, literally next to a deli and lighting money on fire when it came to groceries. Fast forward a few years and I’m coupled up, living 30km out (25mins to the city off peak, you guys, chill!) and I’m optimising our household budget so we can reach our financial goals faster. It’s not about being a grinch, not having fun or subscribing to some Minimalist Frugality Cult…it’s about respecting how hard and long we all work for each dollar we earn and doing our future selves a favour.
Food is one of life’s biggest and most consistent expenses. Whether you are riding solo, a DINK couple, a family of three, four, five, six or more: food will be one of your most substantial expenditures after housing and bloody insurance! So, if you really wanted to hurt yourself you could sit down with 12 months of bank statements and credit card statements and estimate what you spend on food and dining out in a year. You may want to put restaurants under the ‘entertainment’ section but either way, it’s food and while I love eating out at beautiful and fun places as much as anyone (if not more), I also cringe when I spend a week or two’s worth of groceries on one meal. Because it happens in the blink of an eye. Even going out for breakfast in Brisbane as a couple costs $60 on average with two plates and four coffees. I get why: rent, staff, product, wastage, electricity, profit. As one of my current favourite mentors Mr Money Mustache says: eating in a restaurant is effectively hiring an entire team of slaves to make food for you and pamper you. How luxurious is that? Sidenote: how great are people in hospitality? Beautiful people with great hearts. Unfortunately, I can’t prioritise regularly supporting local business and industry over our personal financial goals anymore. Unsure if my local café would feed me for free, so for now I’ve stopped giving them our hard-earned cash in order to put it to better use: the mortgage!
Yup, I refuse to spend the next 25 years paying effectively double the mortgage balance because of interest. Especially as we are in such a low interest environment right now; no excuse not to be making as many extra payments as possible. We have about 420k (update Jan '19: 318k!) left on our balance, which is above the national average of 370, but lower than many others in major cities. D and I both earn well and my goal is to live on one income until Christmas 2018 to see how it changes our lives and mostly, to see if I can keep the lid on my impulse control! #theiconic #danmurphys #sendhelp
So, we’re effectively stomping on our restaurant habits. There have been a few exceptions with previously planned engagements, but basically, we have an entertainment and booze budget for $100 a fortnight. This is very lavish in comparison to the way millions of people around the world live, but I must admit it’s much less than we often spend, especially if there are guests, school holidays, special occasions, I get bored and want to go to a restaurant on a Wednesday/accidentally order cartons of wine from Vinomofo. Apologies to the English teachers for the long sentences.
So, if we want to eat (we do), we are cooking. Which means shopping. Since we moved to Shailer Park in early 2016 I have become a total, die hard Aldi nut. I wasn’t a convert previously: was a bit suss on the quality, had tried the cleaning products, all too hard, the others deliver, etc.
Now I’ve got two stores that are convenient to us and I’ve gone full evangelist. I have the initial aim of keeping our food bill to $350 per fortnight, which covers the two of us, two kids part time, and my compulsion to cook for people. We are 32 days in and the first month we spent just $629 on food including two takeout nights (family birthdays/living large). I was pretty impressed and it gives me the feeling that not only can we stick to that budget, but spending may actually get much lower over time. Penina Peterson of $1.50 dinners fame talks about this idea: the more you cook and shop at home, the cheaper things get over time as you start to buy more in bulk, cook more in bulk and use more of what you already have from the pantry.
I’d heard that Aldi was on average, 35% cheaper for a basket of groceries than the two major supermarkets in Australia. Yesterday I decided to put that to the test. I did a moderate shop at Aldi Springwood on my way home and it totalled $168.60.
I bought quite a bit of meat, some miscellaneous household items, a few pantry bits for baked gifts and some fresh fruit and veg. I’d gotten most of my fresh haul at a local permanent market that has insane weekly specials. I will refrain from mentioning the name here just in case my monthly readership drives demand for the place even higher than it already is! 😉 I also frequent the local butcher regularly who has beautiful grass fed meat, but I'm not opposed to the meat at Aldi. The lamb is especially good.
My darling husband with all of the patience in the world sat at the kitchen counter last night with the docket and put together a cart of comparable items online from one of the major two supermarkets. I did pour him a good whisky first. 😉
For the first round of comparisons we chose home brand items where possible. I did a second comparison this morning by trawling through the saved cart and identifying items that had a luxury/name brand equivalent. So we have three figures to look at: Aldi, Home Brands and Name Brands.
I put a teaser on Facebook asking you all how much you think the basket would have cost ‘elsewhere’. Estimates came in as low as $183 and as high as $305. Well, ladies and gents, drumroll please:
My shop would have cost $246.09.*
$246.09 versus $168.60. That is a saving of $77.49 or 32%. My guess is a family of four would do a shop this big at least every week. This could represent over $4000 a year after tax. So for some Australians, nearly $7000 before tax. If you’re 30 and are aiming to retire at 65 (everyone wants earlier, nearly no one plans for it), then you might be able to salary sacrifice this $7000 a year to your superannuation, (after taking advice) and it could be a cool $1 million in 35 years assuming 7% returns. I’m just getting my head around the beauty of compound interest, so my calculations might be off, but we can all agree it amounts to a shit tonne of cash over time.
Yup, you could have an extra (or your first) million dollars for retirement by changing the way you feed yourself. Even if you don’t give a shit about your future self, saving money or investing, you could buy a VERY.GOOD.BOTTLE of plonk every week with what you save! Today Amanda says: Delicious! Order me up a bottle of decent fizz!
It gets better, or worse, depending on how you look at it. I did a second comparison, because I’m intrigued about a second factor. When shopping at Aldi, you don’t really have brand choices to make. This reduces decision fatigue and allows you to shop more efficiently. When I shop at a major supermarket, my millennial ideals kick in. ‘Vote with your dollars, Amanda! Don’t buy home brand and bankrupt hard-working companies who have spent generations farming sugar, dairy, nuts, beef!’ ‘Buy the highest welfare animals and eggs you can find, Amanda! Think of the chooks!’ ‘Buy quality, Amanda! It’s worth it!’ ‘Food miles! Environment!’
There’s nothing wrong with these concerns, and there’s solid sentiment behind them. The challenge is, we rarely get the full story when it comes to animal welfare (think the recent scandals over ‘free range’ eggs) and we don’t know that Coles and CSR aren’t in bed with each other. The environment is a major concern for me and I do my bit by recycling, reusing, buying local fruit and veg when I have an option and minimising food waste.
All of these ethically-loaded purchasing decisions can be a mental drain and we can now acknowledge these choices may be worth a million bucks to you and your family.
Shopping at Aldi is just easier because there are less choices. So, without further waffling, the branded versions comparison total is:
Yup, another $39. This means that, making luxe (or normal, depending on purchasing habits) choices at a major supermarket would cost you 41% more than the same shop at Aldi. $285.79 versus $168.60. That is $117.19 extra in your pocket, off your mortgage, or off your bad debt. Also: that’s only on 14 items out of a 36-item shop. If you have a big family, or eat a lot of packaged food, it could mean much more for your household. If you check out the spreadsheet here, you’ll see it’s basics like blocks of cream cheese for baking, walnuts, frozen beer battered fries (a nutritional staple), UHT milk, tomato puree, laundry items that are making this difference. We are not talking caviar, $10 half pints of imported ice cream and expensive face creams here.
Regarding quality, having no choice on certain items can be challenging. You can’t just pay more and assume the item will be good. It’s trial and error. Very few products from Aldi are worse than their counterparts from major supermarkets, and some are much better.
Condensed milk is way better than home brand version from major supermarkets and as good as Nestle for my purposes (catering quantities of caramel slice). Haven’t tested it in fudge though, which is the true test of condensed milk. (Can I get an amen, Sarah?) I bet she doesn’t read this. Moll.
Chocolate – German chocolate. All varieties tried are great. Less than half price of comparable brands in other stores.
Cheese. Again, often half price or less
Antipasto – fantastic quality and often half the price
Laundry products – awesome and mega cheap. The Di San Laundry Sanitizer is a great Dettol knock-off and a fraction of the cost. My mother has gone next level and is just using Eucalyptus Disinfectant in her washes now. Go Mum!
Caramel slice: all ingredients from Aldi. Costs less than $10 to make as opposed to $20 if you bought the items from one of the major two supermarkets.
Well if I don’t have a year’s worth of free groceries from Aldi by now, their PR department obviously doesn’t read my blog. Which is appalling.
If you’re an Aldi regular or a snob who hasn’t quite ‘gone there’ yet, check out this article for awesome tips on people’s favourite Aldi products.
Finally, I will admit that there are still some items that I cannot get at Aldi. Yes, you can get a guitar, but for the love of God why no capers or shredded coconut? However, it doesn't normally mean two shops. It means once a month or less, I skulk into one of the majors for a few things. Here is my current 'have to go elsewhere' list:
Demineralised water for the iron/steamer
Cayenne Pepper (and a few other specific spices)
Connoisseur Vanilla Ice Cream (it's still better than their fancy version)
Chocolate chips for baking (seriously, Aldi? Get ya shit together!)
Mirin and other random Asian condiments
Decent peanut butter
Plain Chobani Yoghurt in large tubs -Aldi used to stock this but not at the moment
So, obviously that's a tad frustrating at times but generally these items are random pantry staples I don't need often. Aldi certainly has gotten a lot more inclusive with the range of groceries they offer over the years.
How does your family shop? Are you an Aldi convert? Anything you can't get there that drives you spare?
*Originally Dylan had the total at $260 for the home brands comparison, but after closer inspection I adjusted some items for better accuracy.
Extra reading: Check out how Melbournite Penina Peterson went from 50k in the hole to being a pimp property investor. Also recommend her $1.50 dinners ebooks. Some great ideas, even if you don't go as hardcore as she does. I once made 17 family meals for the freezer on a Saturday with her tips!