Woman comparing brand items at a grocery store

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As a mom of three children, groceries are a pretty big expense in my budget. And at a time when grocery prices are still up 1.1% from a year ago, I try to do what I can to save money on food. You probably do the same, whether by seeking out supermarket sales or loading up on bulk purchases for items you use often. But another tactic for saving money on groceries may be to shop at Aldi.

Aldi is known for its competitive prices. And I’ve found that buying produce at Aldi is generally cheaper than buying it anywhere else — including Costco. But Aldi also isn’t your average grocery store. And there are certain nuances you need to adjust to if you’re going to shop there regularly. With that in mind, here are a few ground rules I stick to when I do my Aldi shopping.

1. Always have a backup plan

Food shopping was something I used to do on a whim without advanced planning, and that used to cost me a lot of money. I’ve now gotten into the habit of planning out meals rather than randomly grabbing items off of the supermarket shelves in the hopes that everything will magically come together and result in dinner.

But because Aldi’s inventory tends to be both limited and inconsistent, I can’t assume I’ll be able to complete my shopping list with an Aldi run. So I always go in with a backup plan. If my first meal doesn’t work out due to a missing ingredient or two, I simply move down the list and go to my next meal. I suggest doing the same so you don’t end up with a collection of ingredients that don’t work with one another.

2. Always check the dates

I’ve gotten my fair share of fresh products at Aldi. But Aldi doesn’t get a fresh shipment of every single product every week like other supermarkets do. So when I’m buying an item I know I’ve seen in the store for weeks on end, I make a point to check the expiration date.

This is a good practice for grocery shopping in general. But it’s an important one in the context of a store where inventory isn’t always refreshed regularly.

3. Never buy products specifically for the kids

The reason Aldi is able to offer such competitive prices is that it stocks lesser-known brands that aren’t heavily marketed. Usually, this isn’t a problem for me. I don’t care if I’m buying no-name pasta — it’s going to take on the taste of whatever sauce I pour over it. But Aldi’s off-brands become more of an issue in the context of items I’m buying for my kids.

My children are pretty picky eaters to begin with. So if I bring home bread that tastes even a teeny bit different than the bread I usually buy, it’s going to be a problem. The same holds true for things like snacks and dairy products.

So as a general rule, I really only buy things like fruits and vegetables for my kids at Aldi. For all non-produce items, I only buy things with myself and my husband in mind. It’s a good way to avoid throwing out money.

If you’ve never shopped at Aldi before, it pays to give it a try. But do be mindful of these tips so that your first Aldi experience ends up being a positive one.

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The Ascent does not cover all offers on the market. Editorial content from The Ascent is separate from The Motley Fool editorial content and is created by a different analyst team.Maurie Backman has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has positions in and recommends Costco Wholesale. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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