Yesterday, I drove K. into the city for his orthodontist appointment. Since I was already nearly there, I decided to pick up a few things at my old, and much missed, grocery store. I came away with quite a lot, but either they were things I have been having trouble finding, or they were super on sale.
As I was walking around, missing my old grocery store very much, I came to a realization. The prices in this store are very, very good. Now, I knew they were good when I was shopping there regularly, it's why I shopped there. What I didn't really appreciate was just how good they were. It goes a long way towards helping my understand why my grocery budget has seemed to be out of control every since we moved.
The Aldi milk puzzle also helped me to figure it out. Remember when I mentioned that I discovered that one Aldi near me had milk at 95 cents a gallon while another Aldi near me (yes, we live in Aldi-Land), had milk for $2.50 a gallon? Well, I figured out (with the help of an Aldi management employee) what the explanation is. Each Aldi prices their items such as milk differently, using a variety of factors to determine the price. The Aldi with the cheaper milk is very close to a Walmart. Thus, to stay competitive, their milk is priced accordingly. The other Aldi is slightly farther away, so it is not in direct competition with another store.
Here's where it all came together for me. My beloved grocery store shares a building with Aldi. They are the only two grocery stores within several blocks. For the grocery store to remain viable, they must compete with Aldi's prices. This explains why their prices are so significantly lower for many items. When I was shopping, I would first go to Aldi and buy the things I usually buy there, and then go next door and buy everything else. Yet, even though I was shopping at two different stores, I was benefiting from their extremely low prices because of their proximity.
And then we moved. While we may feel as though we now have an Aldi on every corner, all of the other grocery stores are farther away from any particular Aldi. Thus, like the Walmart influence on the Aldi milk prices, there is not immediate effect on a grocery store, especially one that sells the more ethnic foods I'm looking for, to keep their prices in line. There was no one item that I would look at and think, "Wow, that's high." Instead, it was 50 cents higher here, 75 cents higher there, and by the time you fill your cart, all those cents really add up. Instead of spending my usual $600 a month on food, I was routinely spending $800 a month.
I may never be able to keep it at the $600/month level, but I have figured out how to avoid the $800/month. I'm going to actually just do my weekly shopping at one store. Aldi's prices are the lowest, with good quality, so that is where I'll do the bulk of my shopping. When I need to stock up on things which I can't get at Aldi, I'll do a stock-up run to another store. With the ongoing orthodontist appointments, I'll probably be able to run to my old grocery store for a while yet.
So, my point in all of this to you is, don't assume you have figured out the cheapest option for your groceries. Look around and see what prices other places charge, and if those places are by other low-cost options, it might be to your benefit. And I do like to have a mystery solved.