Sunday, February 23, 2014

How to Conquer Your First Trip to ALDI

How to Conquer Your First Trip to ALDI:

Hello Again! 
I recently stumbled across a new place that I would like to share with everyone out there!  Sometimes I go to a new place or use a new product and am so pleased that I just HAVE to share over and over again.
Since beginning the Dave Ramsey baby-steps to financial peace, we have been looking for new ways to cut back on our expenses.  Each week our mail box is bombarded by surrounding grocery store ads and many times we have looked through the ALDI add and were amazed by the prices, but had never taken the time to actually go to the store and check it out. 
I sure do love me some Super Target, but I do NOT love the prices when I get to the check-out.  That being said, we usually buy our groceries from Wal-Mart and try to make it to the farmer's market by our house for most of our produce (we are not crazy about the Wal-Mart produce).
Like I have said before, I am in a constant battle between eating healthy and saving money, and this is why I thought ALDI would not work for me.  I thought the prices would be great but the choices for someone who is health conscious would be poor or limited.  HOWEVER.... I was wrong! 
The first weekend that we began using our budget and started using the cash envelopes method we needed to go grocery shopping.  We had been working 6-7 days a week and had absolutely NOTHING in our fridge other than 1 beer and some condiments.  We needed to buy ALL of our normal items to completely stock out fridge and pantry for the next two weeks.  Not only did we need enough for 14 dinners for two, but also enough for 28 breakfasts, 28 lunches, morning snacks, and afternoon snacks because we both eat 5 times a day. 
Our grocery budget for the entire month was set at $300. Normally when we are completely empty and in need of everything we spend $250-$300 restocking on just one trip.  So.... I knew we would have to do something different.  That is when I decided we needed to check out those awesome prices at ALDI.
My husband was at work so I had to try and conquer ALDI alone.  I looked up the nearest location and headed out, not really knowing what to expect but hoping I would be pleasantly surprised. 
What I discovered is the sole purpose for this post.  I found a store that is not only affordable but a store that does things differently so that it can help save you money!  How cool is that?
Since they do things differently than most grocery stores, there are some things to know before taking the first trip to ALDI (I wish someone would have told me before I went). I was not prepared when I took my first trip to ALDI so I just had to learn along the way, but the next time I went I was much more prepared and things went a lot smoother.  So, I hope these tips will help!
  • You need to bring your own shopping sacks with you or buy them while you are there.  They do not supply them for you.

I did not know this until I was checking out with my cart full of groceries (man was I confused when I saw NO plastic bags anywhere in the check-out lines). Maybe some of you already do this?

I know people have turned to those fabric sacks that you use over and over again to help save the environment (which I think is great). Though I had thought about getting some reusable sacks in the past, I had never actually done it.  I was confused so I told the checker that it was my fist time to ALDI and he was more than happy to help me with the process.

They DO have sacs you can buy if you forget to bring yours or prefer to use disposable bags.  Since that was my only option, I purchased 10 brown paper sacs at 6 cents each. 
Yes, that cost me $.60 that day, but looking back I am pretty happy about buying those sacks.  One reason is, I didn't use them all that day even though I had a LOT of groceries.  I think I only used 5 or 6.  The other reason is I have actually reused them each time I've gone to ALDI since.  When I unloaded my groceries after my first trip to ALDI, I folded up all of the sacs and stuck them in my car for the next trip. 
Now, I never have to remember to grab my sacks and I only had to spend 60 cents total on them all. Though I will probably have to replace them later on, I can tell they will serve their purpose for many many trips to ALDI before that is necessary. :)
ALDI is passionate about 2 things:  the environment and saving their customers money.  Encouraging their customers to bring their own sacks has help them achieve both of their goals.  When I purchased my sacks at ALDI I was the only person in the check-out lines who did not have reusable sacks already (I must have been the only first-timer).
My handy brown ALDI sacks

  • Your local ALDI store will NOT be in the nicest or fanciest location

The ALDI store will not be located in some fancy high-dollar shopping center like a Target or Whole Foods.  Those spots are extremely expensive for the retailers which only causes them to charge higher prices for their merchandise. This did not bother me at all because the ALDI I went to was right by a few thrift stores I like to go to sometimes.  It wasn't a scary part of town  or anything like that, it just wasn't what you normally see when you walk into your typical grocery store. 
Located by a few older retail chains, a few restaurants, and some second-hand stores.

The view from my car.
  • You must bring a quarter if you want to use a shopping cart

Trust me, it is not what you think.  You do not have to pay $0.25 to use a cart (so they can sneakily take money from everyone for things that should be free).  In fact, ALDI has created a cart system that helps them cut back on operating expenses and in return saves their customers money.  Brilliant! They do not hire people to manage the shopping carts.  Instead, the customers help keep the carts where they need to be using their creative system.   
You bring a quarter and head over to the shopping carts that are located in front of the store.  The carts are outside only so do not go inside looking for all the carts like I did.  You will not find them.

All of the carts are linked together by a lock system.  When you insert a quarter into one of the slots, it allows you to take the cart.  Once you are finished shopping, you place your cart back with the others and lock it to the cart in front of it.  When you lock the two together your quarter will pop out for you to keep.  I think it is so awesome!  Don't you???
  • ALDI stores are pretty small, but have a lot to offer!

When I first walked in to ALDI I was a little shocked at the size of the store. The one I went to was really no bigger than a Dollar Tree or Dollar General Store.  I had a huge list of items to get and thought there was no way they would have all of the things I needed.  However, I was wrong!
ALDI has all the "sections" of a normal grocery store, only condensed.  You are not going to find 1943989 flavors of yogurt from 100 different brands or 9876899 flavors of ice cream to choose from.  Each item they have only comes in 1 or 2 different varieties/brands.  This makes the store MUCH smaller, which I found SOOO relieving.  You can go on every aisle of the store and pick up everything you need in 30 minutes or less. What a relief from the 2 hour long trips to Wal-Mart!
They even have an isle or two of non-grocery items where I was able to pick up some soap and disposable razors (for great prices!).  Didn't even have to make a second stop on the way home :)
My worry that they would not have healthy items was completely unnecessary. Do they have a lot of really cheap boxed convenience foods?  Yes.  Is that all they are about?  NO.  My husband and I have pretty high standards (compared to most) for the food items we buy, and I had no problems finding all the items that we regularly eat.  They also have a LOT of organic options!  The best part is that the same items are MUCH cheaper at ALDI than even Wal-Mart.  Wow!  Who knew? 
I was blown away by the produce prices listed on my mailing flier and I was even more blown away by the produce section when I arrived at ALDI.  I was not impressed by the vast size or quantity, but by the quality of the selections and the PRICES! I was able to get better quality produce than I had been getting AND a larger quantity for a LOWER price.  I guess you can have your cake and eat it too! 
Just to note:  My husband HATES the produce selection at Wal-Mart.  We have went to Wal-Mart a few times in the past and left with NO produce because everything available was that bad (black spots on the fruits, bugs in the potato bins, brown wilted veggies, etc.). When he saw all of the produce I brought home from ALDI, he was very impressed.  When I told him what the total bill was for everything he couldn't believe it!  Needless to say, we were both super happy with our new grocery store find!
  • You have to pack up your own groceries at check-out:

This is also a way that ALDI cuts back on costs.  At check-out they quickly put all of your items that are scanned into an empty shopping cart that is waiting at the end of the line (they do not bag groceries).  After you pay, they take your empty cart to use for the next customer and you take the new filled cart to the bagging area.  So basically, all of your items are just transferred to a new cart by the checker. 

The bagging area is a very long counter where you can place all your items purchased on top and bag them as you wish.  The picture below was taken on a Saturday afternoon.  I had all the space I needed to bag my items and I didn't have to wait in a long line to check-out..... on a SATURDAY people!  That is crazy awesome!
The process is so unique and SO FAST that I couldn't believe that I didn't have to stand in a horridly long line to pay for my cheap groceries! Yes, you have to bag your own groceries, but in the end it really saved me time being able to put everything in bags myself.  I put all my meat in one, produce in one, dairy in one, etc., and when I got home I had only a limited number of bags, which made unloading easier, and I had all the items grouped together for easy put-away. 

  • ALDI is super cheap, super efficient, and super clean!

I think I was subconsciously thinking that ALDI would be a dirty, smelly, disorganized place to shop, where you could save a few bucks and it may or may not be worth the money you saved.  (We've all been to those really bad Wal-Mart stores, some are nice and clean and others are NOT.)
To say the least, I was SOOO wrong!  I was pleasantly surprised by so many things at ALDI that I now go there EVERY time I need groceries.  When you walk in ALDI it sort of looks like a small version of a SAM's Club store.  The set up is very basic with no bells and whistles, like brand-placement set-ups for every holiday on every aisle cap. 

  • The simple truth about ALDI

So here is the final break-down: 
That first day, I spent only $142.48 to completely fill our fridge and pantry and to feed us for 2 weeks, no problem. 
The next trip I made, I spent only $74.21 to restock us again for another 2 weeks.
If you add that all up, I only spent a total of $216.69 to feed 2 people for and entire month!  That amount made about 60 breakfasts, 60 lunches, 30 dinners for two, and 120 snacks.... all healthy!!!

Here are some of the things I bought:
  • Ground Turkey
  • Chicken tenderloins
  • Turkey Bacon
  • Pork Tenderloin
  • Tuna
  • Filet Mignon wrapped with Bacon
  • Baby Spinach
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Bell Peppers
  • Poblano Peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Roma Tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Asparagus
  • Green Beans
  • Spring Mix
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Onions
  • Bananas
  • Apples
  • Strawberries
  • Grapes
  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Almond Milk
  • Greek Yogurt
  • Egg whites
  • String Cheese
  • Natural Peanut Butter
  • Jif Natural Peanut Butter To-Go
  • Corn tortillas
  • Black Beans
  • Pita Chips
  • English Muffins
  • Bread
  • Hummus
  • 100 Calories Packs of Guacamole
  • Steam-able Veggies Packs
  • Brown Rice
  • Salsa
  • Chicken Broth
  • Gnocchi
  • Organic Spaghetti Sauce
  • Wine
  • Razors
  • Tampons
  • Soap
  • Paper Bags
I think that about wraps is up on my ALDI rant.  :)  I am happy to say that we went from a $300 grocery budget a month (and thought there was no way we could make it work) to a $250 budget with some leftover for toiletry items like TP and shampoo/conditioner when we needed it.  And, the best part is we really didn't have to sacrifice anything we like!  We only had to make a venue change for our grocery shopping. 
This change has helped us stay on our path to financial peace and has even helped up get there sooner! 
 What do you think of ALDI?  Do you have any tips to share with us to cut our budget in other areas?   

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Starting Step 1 of Dave Ramsey's Baby-Steps to Financial Peace


I am so excited to be writing my first post about our journey to financial peace! We are currently about 2 months in and we are 100% dedicated! We are still finding things here and there that we need to tweak a bit in our budget, and I wanted to share some things that we have done up to this point.

What to do once you have committed to taking the Dave Ramsey steps to financial peace?

As we all know, most new things take some getting used to at first.  That being said, we wanted to attack this new thing in our lives like anything else.  We knew the uneasiness would come at first, like the feeling you get when your alarm goes off at 4:45 A.M., the morning after you've committed to wake up and work-out before work every morning. That is the point where you ask yourself, "why did I say I would do this again?"

We promised we would get through that rough period until the new behaviors turned into habits, however long it took.  Surprisingly, it did not take that long at all.  Don't they say it only takes 14 days of doing something to start a new habit?  Well, perhaps they are right!  For us, the first month we pulled out the cash for our expenses and put it into the corresponding envelopes, we were hooked. 

I want to share the things that we did a little differently (sorry Dave) and the things that we think help make the process easier on this blog.  So, to begin I have created a list of things we did when we started and the things we tweaked a little to help us stick to the plan. Did I mention that I LOVE making lists?  The only thing better than making lists is crossing through completed tasks on lists.... :)

How to Start:

1.  Make a budget

Yes, it seems pretty obvious, but it is the most difficult part of getting started.  It takes time and it takes effort if you are not on top of your finances.  Had we ever made a budget before? Yes.  Had it ever been done with as much research and purpose before? No.  CHALLENGE ACCEPTED

We created a spread sheet in Excel for the year to help us track every dollar and our progress along the way. First, calculate your monthly income.  If you have two incomes calculate a total monthly income. This can be hard if you have commission-based income or get paid by the hour, but my only advice on that is to use the lowest amount you have made for your budget.

Next, list out all debts.  We had student loans and credit cards that we had to login online and see what the balances were because we had no clue on most of them. We listed out all of the names, total amounts, minimum payment amounts, and interest rates. Our first page on our spread sheet is labeled DEBT.  On the debt page we put all of this information so we could update it as we went and we could TOTAL it all up. This part is scary, but it must be done and it is the first step to being on top of your finances!

The second page of our spreadsheet is our budget.  We input all of our fixed expenses for the month, such as mortgage, car payments, student loan payments, etc. We researched our variable bills such as electricity and water and created an average for each variable expense.  In the summer our electric bill was almost double what is was in January when we began.  So, we used an amount that was a little bit more than our yearly average for the budgeted amount.  Our thought was that from now until the summer, we will be using less than the budgeted amount for electricity, which will be in our account ready for the months when it is more.  On variable expenses we wanted to be overly cautious and set the budgeted about higher than we thought it would be so we could build a good cushion in our account for months that it was higher.

As we listed out many of our fixed expenses, some things just didn't settle right with us so we decided to make some changes.  For instance, our T.V/Internet bill was about $200 a month!  We use our internet all the time for working at home and watching Netflix, but we almost NEVER watched our TV channels.  We both agreed that we did not watch the premium TV channels we were paying for enough to justify the cost per month and we could keep our $9/month Netflix as long as we sacrificed elsewhere.  Our thought was, since we would be entertaining ourselves at home a lot while we get out of debt, we need something to help keep up entertained, something inexpensive....That something is Netflix. That day we called and downgraded our TV package to include only basic channels.  That small change saved us $85.00 per month!

We tried to think of all expenses that could come up.  We looked through our online banking to see what we had spent money on in the past year and figure out if we had forgotten anything important.  One thing we left out was money spent on tolls.  We live right in the middle of 3 toll ways and it impossible to get certain places without taking one so we added tolls to the budget.  We also added a small amount each month for gifts.  Everyone will have little situational budget items that need to be addressed and possibly added in to the budget.  The best way to figure out what your items are is to research your spending history. 

Finally, the hardest part of the budget is coming up with spending limits for things like groceries, gas, and entertainment. For our gas budget we tried to get as exact as possible by calculating the number of miles we drive in the month and adding cushion to it for places we drive other than work. The grocery budget was difficult for one reason, we are always in a constant battle to save money and eat healthy.  We decided it would be tough but if we got crafty enough, we could manage to do both :)

We set our grocery budget for $300 a month (for just the two of us).  Our goal was to go to the store for groceries two times a month and spend $125 each time. The $50 left over was to be used during the weeks that we did not go to the store to pick up items we ran out of frequently like eggs, milk, and bread.  We knew it would be difficult because we are very picky (compared to most) about our groceries.  We like to buy organic when possible and we don't buy hardly any "convenience" foods that are highly processed.  Eating fresh organic food is more expensive than eating boxed pasta, plain and simple.  That being said, we have made it work and have even CUT our grocery budget after the first month all thanks to our new friend ALDI (more on ALDI to come). (:

My husband and I had a few conversations about our "entertainment" portion of the budget and finally came to the conclusion that we DID need some sort of entertainment budget.  Now, I will tell you that Dave would not agree with that part of our budget and we understand why, but this is our thinking... 

We wanted a budget that we knew we could stick to for a LONG time.  We thought that if we had $0 for entertainment then we may stray from the budget and do something like go out on a "binge date"  where we may go and spend $50 on dinner one night "because we deserve it".  So, if it makes any sense at all, to help us stick to the budget, we added entertainment to our budget.  The amount we set for entertainment is enough for us to do one thing on the weekends. 

For example, our favorite thing EVER is to wake up on Saturdays and go to breakfast at one of 3 places by our house.  We have a LOT of coffee and sugar, and get to sit down together after a long week and have a leisurely meal together.  It is also our "cheat" meal because it is the only time that we eat that many calories in one sitting :) sooo worth it!

BUT after two months into the process, the entertainment budget has evolved into something a little different.  Now, we do still go to eat breakfast a couple of times a month, but the remaining amount is often spent on unbudgeted or unforeseen expenses, like Valentine's Day. 

At the beginning of February we set a small amount for Valentine's gifts to each other of $20.  Each of us took $20 out of our "entertainment" budget and bought a small gift.  Also, I went to the store and bought some steaks and a bottle of wine for our Valentines dinner at home, which also came out of the fund.  That is just one example, but I know there will be more throughout the year.  Those expenses, whether it be a birthday dinner out with our friends or an unforeseen doctor visit and a prescription antibiotic, will always come out of our entertainment budget.  Sorry entertainment, you are first to go! This actually makes it more of a "how cheap can you be" game, which is really fun! If we go to eat anywhere we always share an entrĂ©e and we always drink water (for health and budget reasons), which means that we ate out yesterday for only $13.  Not bad at all!

After we were all done discussing how each dollar would be spent we completed our budget and put everything else toward our DEBT!  (Note:  We already had saved our emergency fund and had a cushion in our checking account, which is Dave's baby-step #1).
Our budget:

Savings $                 250.00
Mortgage $             1,162.00
Utilities $                 335.00
Gas $                 150.00
Cars $             1,156.00
Min Debt payments $             1,400.00

TV $                 116.00
Tolls $                   40.00
Groceries $                 300.00
Netflix $                     9.00
Entertainment $                 215.00
Car Insurance $                 200.00
Gifts $                  25.00

 $           5,468.00


 2.  Put Any Remaining Funds Toward Debt

After we had our budget set, we used the left-over portion to add to our debt payment each month.  The awesome part is, each month it continues to grow.  After we received our tax refund from the IRS a few days ago we were able to pay off a debt in full, which decreased our expenses almost $150 per month! That means, next month we have $150 MORE to put towards debt.  Awesome.

Dave recommends that you attack your debts in order of smallest balance to largest.  The idea is that you can work to get lots of small victories in the beginning, which will help propel you to the end. I think that is a great idea, but I do think you may choose to pay off the debt as you like if you think another way will work best for you.  We chose to pay off the debts with the highest APRs first. 

3.  Use Dave's Debt-Reduction Spreadsheet

This is an awesome spreadsheet that you can use to see when you will be out of debt and track your debt-snowball payment each month.  You can find it online for free!  It allows you to input all of your debts and the interest rates.  You tell it how much you will be adding each month on top of the minimum payments due and in which order.  It will tell you when you will be out of debt and how much interest you will have paid when it is all said and done.

Seeing these calculations really helped us tweak our budget even more.  We were able to see if we added just $100 extra per month what effect it would have on our overall "debt-free" date. Since it knows the order of the debts you are paying off, it calculates the payment you need to make each month for you and adds the extra payment you add each month by paying off more and more debt.                                           
                                                 It.  Is.  Awesome.  Thanks Dave!

4.  Get Some Envelopes, Go To the ATM, and GET STARTED ALREADY!


Once you have done all the above, you should know the exact amount of cash you need each month.  We had all of our bills already set up on automatic payment so we only had to take out cash for the following things:  Groceries, Gas, Entertainment, Gifts. 

On the first day of the month we go to the ATM and take out $665.  We put the cash into corresponding envelopes and I draw lines on them so we can write down each time we spend money and what is left in the envelope. 

We DO NOT use our debit cards anymore (and no credit cards of course, as we no longer even have them available to use).  Not even for gas.  It was a little hard to get used to at first, especially for my husband, but we did it and now we are happy to use cash.  We think it really helps you SEE the money you are spending.  $300 doesn't seem like much when you slide your card real quick, but when you hand over $300 in cash you actually SEE it and FEEL it

5.  Reevaluate and Change Your Budget When Needed

Sit down each month and track your expenses.  We have a page on our spreadsheet where we keep track of our variable expenses, like electricity.  It helps you see how they change from month to month and determine where you can improve and make any needed changes.  You will not get it exactly right the first time, and that is OKAY!

6.  Help Keep Yourself Motivated

Staying motivated hasn't really been an issue for us yet since we are new to the program, but I can see that it could be in the future so I wanted to address it now.  Right now we are a little consumed with the project, so we are motivating ourselves without even knowing we are doing it.

For Valentines Day my husband bought me Dave's book called, "The Total Money Makeover" and a couple of nights a week he reads some of the book out loud before we go to bed.  It helps us make sure we are on track as a couple and it REALLY motivates us to keep going.  Also, at work I listen to the Dave Ramsey radio show on  There are so many people on there who call in and tell their story that I get pumped each time I hear them.  One day we WILL call Dave and tell him our success!

(Note:  We do realize there are other things we need to address our budget, like our car payments.  WAY too high!  But don't you worry, we are working on making even more changes!)

 Well that is all for today.  I have so many tips and tricks to share with you all after only 2 months into this experience!  My mind is just swirling with all these things to share and they can not get on the page fast enough!  I can't explain how just starting this journey has made us feel about our future.  We couldn't wait to make our first big payment!  I already feel like weight is being lifted off of my shoulders one dollar at a time! I cannot even imagine how great it will feel to be DEBT FREE!
I hope this first post helps anyone who may need a little help getting started on the path to financial peace!
Are there any other weird people out there?  Any tips you can share with us?