This article is by staff writer Lisa Aberle.

No matter what I do, we’re still spending more on food each month than I want to be spending. Two of my weapons in the battle to lower my food bill that I haven’t talked about yet are Aldi and bulk-food stores.

One thing I don’t like to do is stop at several different stores, so I don’t shop at all stores every week, or even every two weeks. Both these stores are small, and I prefer to shop at these stores instead of Walmart or other huge stores. (Does anyone else get exhausted by the sheer number of decisions, people, and products in the huge stores?)

Positives about Aldi

Aldi and I go way back, but it wasn’t a pleasant start. As a college student, I shopped there because it was cheap, but I didn’t always like the food. I think they have really improved their products since then, however, plus I like several things about the store. But first you have to find one. Aldi stores are found in 32 different states in the US. There are two within driving distance from my house.

Once inside, it looks different than your normal grocery store. Everything about the store has a streamlined approach. First, you “rent” a shopping cart. You must put in a quarter in the shopping cart, and you get your deposit back when you return the cart to the corral. No runaway carts to ding your car in the parking lot, and no employees needed to drive the carts back to the store. Second, you’re charged for shopping bags, so most people bring their own. If you forget your own bags and don’t feel like buying theirs, you can grab empty boxes from the shelves.

The stores have a small footprint, which cuts down on their utility and construction costs. The smaller store has another benefit too: It doesn’t overwhelm me. Still, it’s large enough to have a wide variety of products. Most of their items are Aldi-specific brands that may taste different than the brands you’re used to; however, as I mentioned, I think their products have improved. If you don’t like a product, they offer a double guarantee on most items. In other words, they replace the product for you AND they refund your money.

According to their website, they staff each store with three to five people at a time. This means the staff members need to be efficient — and they are. I have never seen faster cashiers. Since you bag (or box) your own groceries, the (seated) cashiers can concentrate on ringing up your items at lightning speed.

Most stores don’t have a phone system, so no one has to answer the phone. They have very few shelves, but instead keep their products in boxes. That speeds up the restocking process, for sure.

This streamlined approach allows the store to operate with a lower overhead. But the customers aren’t the only ones who get to take advantage of all the cost-saving measures. I’ve heard that Aldi employees are paid above the industry average (though I couldn’t confirm this).

Negatives about Aldi

They don’t accept checks or WIC. In addition, while my Aldi has good produce, I’ve heard stories from other locations that tell of produce that doesn’t last as long or taste as good. But that’s not necessarily true. The last time I bought a fresh pineapple, I paid one dollar for it at Aldi and it was as delicious as any pineapple I’ve had.

Also, they don’t have everything. Some stores sell beer and wine; some don’t.

Shopping at Aldi is like an initiation into a secret club. You’ll know what I mean if another shopper gives you a quarter to take your shopping cart.

Aldi seems to be polarizing: People seem to love it or hate it. Have you shopped there? What do you think?

The bulk-food store

My second weapon is a bulk-food store. I’m not talking about buying in bulk, like getting giant jars of pretzels from Sam’s Club. Instead, these small stores get the food in huge packages and then divide it up for you. While I think these usually small stores may be rare, such stores have been within a couple of hours of all the communities I’ve lived in. Yours may be masquerading as a health-food store.

Not all products are less expensive here; but I have found that spices, oatmeal, and nuts are good buys. Speaking of oatmeal, our family consumes a lot of it, so I buy it often. At 89 cents per pound, this store has been my least expensive source for oatmeal. In addition, they sell specialty items that are difficult to find elsewhere in my rural community — things like different types of gluten-free flours, nutritional yeast, and coconut oil can be found here.

But the “bulk food” concept is found in other places too. I have also seen bulk bins in the standard grocery store. I like these because you can buy as much (or as little) as you need, which cuts down on food waste. And the price is usually the same.

By buying certain products at these two stores, I am spending a little less on my grocery budget. Do you “store hop” to save money? Have you found that some stores have some products that are consistently less expensive?