I consider myself, and have been told by others, that I’m a reasonably intelligent adult. I graduated cum laude from one of those “Ivy League of the Midwest” colleges back in the day. I am a freelance writer and have run successful businesses. As I result, I’m fairly confident, and think I’ve maintained a healthy, not-too-arrogant sense of self-esteem.
But today my self-worth was shattered. In a way I never would have imagined. It happened because I chose to test my commitment to frugality by shopping at Aldi.
I have to admit that I used to think that Aldi was a step above a food pantry. There had to be a place for people who were subsisting on 59 cent mac and cheese. Somewhere to buy generic sausage links and butter cookies. God bless them.
Then I heard people say, “Oh, Aldi is the best. They’ve even got organic produce now.” So I headed out this afternoon, planning to impress my husband that I picked up our favorite foods for a fraction of the price that we normally pay at other stores.
Gaffe #1: The Shopping Cart
The humiliation began before I walked into the store. There were several other people walking in at the same time, so I thought I could blend into the crowd like a regular. They didn’t have carts, so I didn’t need a cart. I glanced over at the outdoor cart corral to see the chain gang of shopping carts, assuming that they were taking a time out because they hadn’t behaved. You know those carts that make you look like a fool because their wheels are all wonky and it ruins your entire excursion? This must be their penalty box.
Once inside the store, the look of bewilderment on my face couldn’t be disguised. Why was there absolutely no rhyme or reason to where items were located? Why were there tents next to tomatoes and crew socks next to croutons? Was it meant to be a scavenger hunt and I missed the sign as I walked in?
I played it cool and starting picking up items. Indeed, there were organic berries, grapes, peppers, bananas, avocados. Cool. I started loading my arms with fruit, and realized I absolutely needed a cart. But I didn’t see any. Had Jesus come back and raptured the good shopping carts and I was left behind with the imprisoned ones?
As grapes began spilling out of the bag, I found an employee who indicated that you have to pay a quarter to get a shopping cart outside. What? I don’t come to the store with real money! Where was I going to find a quarter? Would I be forced to stand outside like a ticket scalper and try to con someone into giving me their cart as they were leaving?
Thankfully, the woman said I could borrow one that was up by the cashier. As I did so, I could feel people sneering at me. “Who does she think she is? I had to pay a whole 25 cents and she just waltzes in?”
Gaffe #2: Are These Generic Brands?
My father has tried to convince me for years that there are only a couple of manufacturers that package food and they sell them to companies who put their own brand on them. It’s possible. But I’m skeptical as I’m looking at the weird, all-too-gleeful names on the products at Aldi.
Maybe it was because my parents bought generic items when they were the rage in the ’70s. Who can blame them with seven kids and one income? But while my friends were eating Lucky Charms in the beautiful red box with the joyful leprechaun, I got the black and white box that said “Marshmallow Cereal”. To this day, I still can’t look that leprechaun in the eye without tearing up.
So as I looked at the brand names, I couldn’t figure out if they were indeed generics. I looked around at the other shoppers. They didn’t seem to have a problem. I’m sure they knew the secret that my father knew and understood that generics were just as good, but I imagined having to con my husband into eating “G Free” brand of gluten free products, and I baled.
Instead I got “safe” foods: eggs, milk, fruit and veggies and Kerry Gold butter. Ah…Kerry Gold…a beacon of hope in a sea of brand confusion.
Gaffe #3: The Checkout
As I kept filling my cart I no longer felt like a newbie. Seeing the lower prices for similar items took away some of the sting of my stupidity and I began to feel accomplished. In fact I had planned to brag to my husband that I was the queen of the good deal.
And then I headed for the cash register.
As my items were headed down the conveyor belt, I realized the cashier was just piling up my purchase. There was no bagging. There was no bagger. Was Timmy off work today? I looked over to see a woman who had pulled over to the shoulder to package her own groceries in a bag she brought with her. Oh okay. I looked around in a panic and saw some plastic bags, and grabbed them with such flair that the guy behind me must have thought I had done this a thousand times.
That was until I too pulled over to the shoulder to bag up my stuff. I had only grabbed and purchased two plastics so I had to make it work. But I never took physics, and with the same concentration and effort that it likely took Newton to figure out why the apple fell on his head, I tried to determine how to get these groceries home unscathed. What is the force exerted against a bunch of bananas by a jug of V-8 juice? Should the eggs go on top even though the grapes underneath were no match for them? The cashier checked out a half a dozen people in the amount of time it took me to put the contents of my purchase in two bags.
Of course I started dropping things in my haste to exit, and as I bent over to pick them up, my last-day-before-laundry underwear breached the top of my too-small capris. When I put on the granny panties this morning, the last thing on my mind was that I would be sharing them with Aldi’s afternoon clientele. It was the last straw.
I slunk out of the store, defeated in the 30 minutes I spent inside, and glared at the two women who were joyfully exchanging their carts at the corral, one handing the other a quarter.
Then I dropped my keys as I tried to open my car door.
You know, that never would have happened at Jewel.