There is a huge difference between prices in grocery stores, and the strange thing is, there isn’t a huge variation in terms of what you actually get.
One of the biggest changes to my grocery budget’s bottom line on the path to FI was adopting a whole food plant based diet, but the second biggest impact has been changing from shopping at ‘the big three’ supermarket retailers to a no frills style supermarket. I mostly buy fresh produce (supplemented by my garden as I am Growing Financial Independence) and this has really pushed my weekly food costs down even further – it’s great.
The biggest supermarkets
The big three supermarkets are the ones you would be most familiar with, and combined they actually have over an almost 80% market share on supermarket sales in Australia.
Because they have a stranglehold on the market, they can basically set their own price. No wonder so many people are finding it tough to make ends meet. The big three also spend exorbitant amounts of money on advertising, rewards programs and ‘specials’ (loss leaders) to try and entice customers into their stores.
So where am I shopping?
Aldi is a no frills supermarket (similar to Lidl) and operates on a completely different strategy to the big three supermarkets in Australia (Coles, Woolworths and IGA). While they maintain a few standard aisles of consumer staples and general processed rubbish, their main focus is on offering a small range of high quality stock with rock bottom prices. They are probably better known for their ‘crazy central aisles’ full of the ‘mind blowing Aldi shit.’
I tell you what, I seriously have to stay away from those aisles. Sure – why not bring home a 2 stroke petrol chainsaw for only $49.99 with your weekly fruit and veg? But seriously, some of this ‘mind blowing Aldi shit’ are legit goods, for example all my gym shorts and snow gear came from Aldi!
What you might not know however is Aldi are securing great deals with fresh produce farmers all over the country. They then offer insane prices on the produce, and every few days this changes. Just last weekend I picked up 3kg of sweet potatoes at $1.50 a kilo!
They don’t really have a great website or offer online shopping, and they don’t really spend much on advertising (apart from those weird ads if you watch TV) because they are focusing on their core business principle: a small range of high quality stock at rock bottom prices.
Some people complain about low cost supermarkets like Aldi, but personally I’ve never had a bad experience. Maybe I am just a more savvy shopper and better at picking out produce than them. I don’t want for anything, and my fridge is literally bursting with fresh fruit and vegetables and other awesome food from which I enjoy preparing delicious and wholesome meals.
Other complaints I have heard about Aldi is that you have to bag your own groceries and they feel pressured to do this super fast and have some kind of weird speed-bagging public anxiety, but hell, for half price groceries I’m happy to bag the next guy’s stuff, too! I haven’t quite perfected out how to use their trolley system so I just bring my own backpack (bonus – stops me from buying too much stuff). So what if I am painfully slow at re-bagging at the check-out, what are they going to do? Not sell me the groceries?! Ha!
I’ll leave the discussion about their wines for another day. But having been referred to try some by an experienced and successful property investor with expensive taste, I ended up trying a few and I must say they are quite drinkable.
Just how much do I save?
Literally more than half! My previous shops at the big three before I went WFPB cost me around $300 a week (for a single guy with a gym addition and love of food). After I adopted a WFPB I got that down to about $120 a week, and then after switching to Aldi I cut that number in half!
I’ve never really been that disciplined with my shopping, so focusing on just buying good quality natural whole foods meant I’ve avoided a ton of processed crap with loads of hidden junk and fillers. I still buy the occasional packet of pasta or bread, but now I try to make most of my own meals from scratch. Check out my shopping list here.
Shopping at Aldi for these essentials means I spent on average about $40 a week. I also still buy some plant based pea protein powder for a protein shake after the gym. This costs me about $2 a serve but I’m probably going to ditch this soon in favour of just eating more protein rich whole food plant based stuff, like actual peas, lentils and beans, or snacks like peanut butter or trail mix. I’m not sure if there is any actual scientific evidence on the benefits of protein shakes, and I think more real food and fibre is probably the answer. In total, I spend about $55 a week on food, plus whatever I splurge on eating out.
I accept that yes, I am just shopping for me and my girlfriend, so perhaps your budget is going to be a little higher. Don’t be a brand snob though, did you know that all of those products come out of the same factories and just get labelled differently? Besides, if you’re focusing on eating more healthy fresh fruit and vegetables, they all come from the same plants!
Organic or GMO?
I also don’t eat ‘organic’ because I have a post-graduate education and I am not afraid of anything labelled a ‘chemical’ and don’t want to pay five times the price for ‘organic’. By the way, almost every single physical thing is a chemical (defined as elements or a combination of elements with a specific combination and structure) – including water. There is a running joke amongst Nobel Laureates in chemistry that if you can physically bring them something that isn’t a chemical, they will give you a million dollars (thoughts and prayers don’t qualify, FYI).
Modern farming processes use chemical fertilisers to maximise yields, just like you trying to maximise your investment yields. Food security is a massive issue, and fertilisers and pesticides are an important part of modern farming to produce enough food to feed the country. Yes I take a few simple steps including rinsing my produce, but studies show residual levels of pesticides or fertilisers are barely detectable and negligible compared to the chemicals you ingest in your day to day life. This includes chemicals from pollution due to car exhaust fumes, cleaning products you use or other Volatile Organic Compounds that are emitted from everyday household products like carpet, paints, plastics and furniture made from engineered wood like particleboards.
GMOs have existed for thousands of years (if you don’t believe me, google ancient genetic modification through selective breeding) – the most common example being dogs (selectively bred from wolves). Corn and rice were similarly selectively grown by ancient civilisations, and the crops we grow today bear little resemblance to their original ancestors.
Modern GMO technology is focused on producing viral resistant and high yield crops, which help to feed the hundreds of millions of starving people world-wide in an effort to combat global hunger. I have had the experience of travelling to some of the poorest places in the world, and seeing starving children and refugees desperate for food – once you’ve seen that it’s pretty hard to come back with any form of counter argument on GMO crops.
Don’t take my word for it. Check out the numbers produced by Choice.com when comparing Aldi to the Big three. They found that Aldi consistently outperformed their competitors when it came to the checkout, and can save you up to 50% on your regular shop, even when you include all the ‘awesome specials’ that people often visit the big three for.
The below infographic is based on an average household weekly shop (including far too many of the processed and unhealthy junk foods that we all seem to buy). The savings also include purchasing a number of ‘name brand’ items at Aldi, which are on average 23% cheaper at Aldi than the exact same product is at the big three.
So there it is – my secret weapon in maintaining a minuscule food budget – Whole food plant based from Aldi! If you have any great food shopping tips or suggestions, why not leave a short comment with your tips to help us all Get FI !