This week a reader asked me why, if I am The Frugal Girl, I don’t shop for groceries at the store that has “Always Low Prices!” as its slogan. That’s certainly a fair question, given that Walmart has a reputation for being a money-saving place to shop.
I rarely set foot in Walmart (usually only on vacation, when I have to get by without my beloved Aldi!), and it’s not because of some strong commitment to ethical shopping, though I understand the downsides of their business model. No, I avoid shopping at Walmart mostly because I don’t like shopping at Walmart, and because I can save more money on my grocery bill by employing other frugal strategies.
Here are a few things I dislike about Walmart.
- The store is enormous. I know that this is one of its selling points (you can buy motor oil and cilantro at the same store! Woo!) but I loathe the size of Walmart’s stores. If you’re buying orange juice and then remember you want some bar soap too, you have to trek all the way across the store to do so. This is no big deal if you shop by yourself, I guess, but when I have all four kids with me, the last thing I want to do is traipse around a huge store. Aldi and most other grocery stores are much less overwhelming in size.
- It’s really, really busy. I hate shopping with crowds, I hate waiting in long lines at the register, and I hate having to park a half mile from the store (again, I don’t hate walking, but walking through crowded parking lots with my 4 kids makes me very nervous, as other drivers are less than careful sometimes). At Aldi and Weis, and I can always find a close parking place, the aisles are not crowded, and I hardly ever have to wait in the check-out line for more than a few minutes.
- The prices aren’t overwhelmingly cheap. Of course, items are less expensive than they’d be at a nice grocery chain, but Walmart’s prices are not nearly as low as Aldi’s prices are. And even at a regular grocery store I can often find deals that beat Walmart’s deals simply by buying the items that are on loss-leader or similar sales. I know Walmart offers a price-matching policy, where they’ll give you the sale price on an identical item if you bring in the flyer from a local grocery store, but this is a major hassle both for me and for the cashier and I am not remotely tempted to incorporate this into my weekly shopping trip.
I suppose you could say that both my dislike of Walmart and my love for Aldi basically stems from the fact that I prefer to keep things simple and low-key.
Walmart is huge and hectic, whereas Aldi is small and simple.
I like that there is one brand of milk at Aldi, one jumbo pack of toilet paper, one brand of butter, and so on. Because Aldi stocks a limited number of items, I don’t have to stand there calculating pi to the 20th place in order to find the best deal on toilet paper…I just buy the multi-pack and move on.
And because they stock a limited variety of items, their store is delightfully small. If I get to the end of the store and remember I forgot something in the first aisle, it’s no big deal. You can only get so far away from the first aisle in such a small store!
I know I said I don’t avoid Walmart on ethical grounds, but I do feel more comfortable supporting Aldi than I do supporting Walmart. Aldi’s pared-down business plan allows them to hire fewer employees, which means they can pay them fairly well.
Also, their money-saving model causes them to be more environmentally friendly than most stores…they stock only foods that sell well so that they don’t have to waste food (this, of course, earns them points with me!), they employ energy-saving measures in their stores, and they don’t give disposable bags away (they sell paper bags, which encourages people to bring their own bags. I bring cloth ones with me each week).
P.S. I would be remiss if I ended this post without acknowledging that my avoidance of Walmart comes from a place of privilege. I don’t live in an upscale area (it’s not that kind of privilege!), but I happen to live in what you might call grocery shopping heaven…there are two Walmarts nearby, of course, but there are also about 10 other grocery stores within 5 miles of my house, which means that I have the luxury of choosing exactly where I want to shop. I know not everyone has the plethora of choices I do, and that in many places, Walmart is the only place to shop.
So, what do you think of shopping at Walmart? Love it? Hate it?