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This trip was an excellent opportunity to try out my new grocery list technique – explained below.

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As mentioned in last week’s post, I’m doing a blog partnership with the value grocery chain Aldi.  I’d never shopped at Aldi until this month, but it’s been a really eye-opening experience, especially as I work hard to whittle down our grocery budget.  

 

This Sunday, I decided to try a different Aldi, just to see what another neighboring store had to offer.  This store was a little closer, slightly larger, and carried a few more products.

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While I was there, I noticed two Aldi-specific lines that definitely included more healthier options – the Fit & Active line and the SimplyNature line.  Many of the products that I naturally gravitated to were from SimplyNature. 

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Hey, Mommas – I spotted these squeezy packs for kiddos.  They were only $1.99 for 4!  Henry isn’t into these anymore, so we didn’t test them out, but I wanted to point it out because the ones at my other grocery store are $1 a pop.

 

This store had way more dried fruit and nuts, as well as dry beans.

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A few Aldi Shopping Tips:

 

Bring a quarter – it costs a quarter to get a cart.  You get the quarter back when you’ve returned the cart.

Bring your own bags – paper bags cost $0.06 each.

Pay attention to the store hours – Aldi is definitely not open 24 hours a day.  I was there at 6 PM on Sunday, and they practically closed the doors on me!

You can only pay with cash, debit, or EBT card – no checks or credit cards accepted.

You are responsible for bagging your own groceries.

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All of these ‘rules’ help drive down costs and keep Aldi cheap.

 

Alright – so here’s what I bought this week.

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(Prices and total won’t neatly add up because we bought multiples of some things, plus tax – but you get the gist.)

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So – onto my grocery list idea.  I’m a huge fan of grocery lists and have tried numerous list techniques over the years.  Why are lists so important?  Well, of course, lists help you remember everything you need to purchase, but they’re also great for reducing impulse purchases and keeping your cart on the healthier side.  There’s even a little section about grocery lists in the Healthy Tipping Point book.  My favorite list tip from my book is to write one or two “freebie” spaces on your list so you can still have the satisfaction/thrill of impulse purchases without torpedoing your overall list.  I usually use my freebies for interesting stir-fry sauces!

 

The other day, I was reading the blog Large Families On Purpose.  One of my absolute favorite things is to read blogs written by people with entirely different life experiences/beliefs than my own.  I love this aspect of the blog world because otherwise I would never, ever get to have a ‘conversation’ with these people; I learn so much, and I’m not the kind of person who is bothered by opposing views (as long as they aren’t attacking others, I guess).  Anyway, Erika is a very conservative and religious mom with nine kids, and I think she is probably the most organized person that I have ever met.  When I stumbled upon her post about “Charts and Lists That Save My Sanity,” all I could think was, “YOU’RE A GENIUS!!!”

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You see, instead of writing out a list every week with everything she needs to buy (“milk, eggs, bread, cereal…” <— time consuming AND you can easily forgot to list out certain foods), she created a master document on her computer with all of her weekly and monthly purchases.  She keeps a bunch of copies of her list in a file in her kitchen, and before each shopping trip, she pulls out the list and highlights everything they need to purchase.  At the store, she can simply look at the list and, if the item isn’t highlighted, there is enough at home. 

 

I created a list for our family and tested out the technique during my trip.  Instead of highlighting items that I needed, I crossed out ones that I didn’t (I don’t own a highlighter, go figure).   Here’s our {gluten-free and vegetarian} Every Week Grocery List.

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(Here’s a PDF of the image above, if you’re interested).

 

Since we’re on the subject of shopping more efficiently and saving $$, I’d  love to hear some of your tips and tricks for couponing, skimping, and savings.  It’s challenging to reduce costs when you’re eating a whole food/cleaner diet – I know.  I’m willing to pay more overall, but trimming a few bucks from the ol’ budget is always nice. 

 

Here are some other tricks that I’ve been implementing to save cash, besides shopping at multiple stores and using a list:

 

1.  Stop buying so many convenience foods.  We got REALLY into ‘healthy convenience’ foods after Henry was born.  You know – pre-cooked lentils, pre-sliced veggies, etc.  These foods definitely served their purpose during the newborn months, but now I have a little more flexibility in the kitchen and need to make more things from scratch – there’s a big price difference!  I think buying these items are fine – in moderation.  Even switching them out for ‘from scratch’ items every other trip will make a big difference in the bottom line at the end of the year.

 

2.  Plant a garden.  We’re attempting to grow our own vegetables this summer.  I’m trying out a ‘tower’ garden – which definitely has an upfront cost – but I also want to find a space in the backyard to {cheaply} plant food, too.  We both have serious brown thumbs, so…. We’ll see.  At the very least, I’m sure I can keep herbs alive.  Heck, my mint bush singlehandedly fueled my Mojito habit throughout all of Summer 2013.  You think I’m joking, but I’m not. 

 

3.  Keep it simple.  This has always been a big one for me – I hate complicated recipes with 20 ingredients because it always ends up costing MORE to eat in than eat out! 

 

4.  Join a CSA {Community Supported Agriculture}:  If our garden doesn’t work out (and let’s be real, I will probably kill everything), there’s always a CSA.  This page does a great job of explaining (and linking to) a variety of CSAs across the country.  We’ve actually become friendly with an organic farmer – a real, live farmer! <—That my inner Big City girl freaking out – and we’re going to join his CSA.  SO excited.

 

5. Don’t Toss Food:  Henry is king of “let’s eat half this banana.”  Instead of throwing away his gnawed-on fruit, I trim off the bite marks, slice up the banana, and put it in the freezer for smoothies later.  We also have a shelf in the fridge that is designated “This Fruit’s About to Go-Oh-Oh-Oh-Oh-Oh-Oh!” (sung to Ke$ha’s song “Blow”).  All produce that it about to go off gets put on that shelf, and then everyone knows to eat it first.

 

How do you do grocery lists?  What tips do you have for saving at the grocery store?

{ 37 comments }

 

Leave a Comment

  • Sara @ LovingOnTheRun February 25, 2014, 8:31 am

    I’ve seen a couple reviews of Aldi now and I realize I MUST go! It is a bit far away from me thats why I have been putting it off. We are on a really tight budget so it looks like the prices there would help with that!

    Reply
  • Mandi | No Apathy Allowed February 25, 2014, 8:48 am

    That’s so interesting that Aldi is spreading their stores in the US! It definitely sounds like they have taken their German business model and transferred it directly to America — bagging your own groceries and being closed (all day) on Sundays are standard for all supermarkets in Germany. I typically don’t shop at Aldi here because they don’t always carry the products I’m looking for, but once in awhile it’s worth the trip for surprise products from Trader Joe’s (since they’re owned by the same company)!

    When trying to cut down my food budget, I notice that buying whole foods rather than packaged foods makes all the difference. Sometimes the costs of convenience are really high! But since I have very little time during the week to be preparing healthy meals, I spend a little extra time on Sundays preparing meals for the week. Then I don’t have to resort to paying an arm and a leg for convenience foods, but still save time during the work week!

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  • Stephanie @ The Good Stuff February 25, 2014, 9:03 am

    I love your idea about having a special spot for things that need to be eaten soon! We’ve gotten very good about not letting food go to waste and I’m very contentious about eating things in order of necessity, but my husband doesn’t always know off the top of his head what should be eaten/served to the kids first the way I do and he’ll often just reach for whatever. If we had a designated spot it would be easy for both of us to just grab those things that need to be used up!

    So simple and effective! Thanks for the idea!

    Reply
  • Ali February 25, 2014, 9:28 am

    The healthy convenience foods still get me. I agree that after the baby was born, that was more enticing than before. It’s not that hard to chop veggies, but it sure is nice when they are chopped for you! You are definitely paying a premium for that though. Great tips!

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  • Eleonora February 25, 2014, 9:30 am

    A very random question: do you tend to buy in-season produce? It’s one of my “guidelines” to keep a low grocery budget, and I was wondering about watermelon and cantaloupe: they’re not in season where I live, so that just caught my eye!

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    • Caitlin February 25, 2014, 10:47 am

      I try to but I’m definitely not a stickler. It would help reduce costs more though, I bet!

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  • Devonshire February 25, 2014, 9:44 am

    Love the ‘master list’ idea. I’m definitely gonna try that. I was so floored last week when i spent $100 on groceries for two people. Most of it was produce (not organic either!), some organic chicken and 2 dozen organic eggs, plus some isle items. But whoever said eating healthy doesn’t have to be expensive is well…i don’t want to use the word ‘liar’ but, yea. ::sigh:: I wish more grocery stores would have coupons for produce and meats. Great post though! Thanks for sharing!

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  • Liana@RunToMunch February 25, 2014, 9:44 am

    I don’t have kids so it might be easier for me, but i just look at the circular and see what’s on sale and plan my meals from there.

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  • Ali February 25, 2014, 9:54 am

    I know you mentioned in your last Aldi’s post that you stick with the dirty dozen for organics, but you’ve been buying organic bananas? I always thought regular bananas were fine since they have a thick skin that you don’t eat. Do you buy organic due to production issues or are they similarly priced?

    Reply
    • Caitlin February 25, 2014, 10:47 am

      I don’t really know why I buy organic bananas. LOL I do remember reading once about major production issues with bananas so that’s probably why I grab them. Also we eat a LOT of bananas.

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      • Mary February 25, 2014, 3:49 pm

        I wrestle with the organic banana issue too. I really like when bananas are purchased by the grocer at a fair price (i.e. Whole Foods’ “whole/fair trade” label). I try to purchase either fair trade or organic.

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  • Celia February 25, 2014, 9:56 am

    Thanks for this! I am always trying to be more thrifty with my grocery shopping but I tend to fail at that.

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  • Jackie February 25, 2014, 10:00 am

    Great tips I can’t wait to try them!

    Reply
  • Laura@SneakersandSpatulas February 25, 2014, 10:43 am

    I stock up when certain items are on sale (shelf stable pantry items or stuff that can be frozen) to last for about a month. The other week I came home with 4 boxes of Kashi and the husband thought I was nuts for buying so much but it will last me for a month and it was 4/$10! I also plan our menu for the week by looking whats on sale for the week or thinking of what we already have to cook with.

    Also, remember the BOGO or 2/$5 or whatever deals normally don’t require you to buy 2 or 4 or whatever the amount is. The item is normally that sale price so you can just buy what you want instead of a ton of an item. Except the HT buy 2 get 3 free deals-those explicitly state you must get all 5 items to get the sale pricing.

    Reply
  • Alexa February 25, 2014, 10:58 am

    You’re convincing me more and more to swing by the new Aldi by our house. My mom shops there all the time in Wisconsin (she gets huge bunches of fresh cilantro for $.99!), so I’ll have to check it out. The one thing I stop at Harris Teeter especially for, Udi’s Gluten Free Harvest Crunch muffins. I can only find them there, and I love them. Harris Teeter is just so dang over priced though! Comparing the four pack of yogurt I get at target there this weekend, it was $1.01 more at Harris Teeter!!

    Reply
  • Joanna February 25, 2014, 11:21 am

    Does anyone know if Aldi accepts coupons? I don’t spend a ton of time couponing but I do try to find the lowest price between Aldi and my other grocery stores around. I think even if you don’t have time to coupon, making sure to buy things when they are on sale is important to help saving money. PLUS there are so many great money saving apps that don’t require coupons like savingstar, checkout 51 and Target cartwheel. You just have to link your saving card to the app (like walgreens card) or take a picture of your receipt with your smartphone and it gives you money. Then once you reach a certain amount of money back they will send you a check. Its pretty awesome and easy! There is also Ibotta and Favado apps that help save money too!

    Reply
    • Leah February 25, 2014, 7:22 pm

      Aldi does not accept coupons. Most of the products are aldi brands and the prices often beat deals I found at other stores with coupons.

      Reply
  • Nastasia February 25, 2014, 11:26 am

    I spend between $60 and $75 a week, it’s just me and my husband but that includes all 3 meals (I make a large dinner and my husband takes leftovers at work) and we go out very rarely. I’ve talked about it quite a bit on my blog since I’m doing a meal planning series, but I follow these rules to save money (at least most of the time!).
    1) I buy at lot of things in bulk at Costco. We eat meat so we get a lot for the freezer, but we also get things like: crushed tomatoes, chicken stock/broth, 25 lbs bag of rice, baking items (flour, chocolate chips…), tortilla chips ($3 for a 3lb bag!), frozen fruit for smoothies, cheese, almonds….
    2) Have a meal plan! I use pepperplate on my phone and computer, I store all my recipes there (and keep adding new ones to keep things varied), and on Sundays I just create my meal plan for the week and it then creates your shopping list. I just cross out all the items I already have in my pantry and just buy what I need. That way you never waste any of your food and you never have to wonder what to cook at night.
    3) As little convenience food as possible. We don’t keep any sweets in the house, pretty much our only “treat” was chips ahoy cookies (that was $5 each week) and we have now replaced these with homemade cookies for a lot less money. It could work for things like bread as well. I also try to stay away from TJ’s as much as possible as I get way too tempted by all their snacks and finger foods in the freezer section :)
    Sorry for the super long comment!

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  • Stephanie @ Whole Health Dork February 25, 2014, 11:40 am

    Thanks for the second part to this. It’s been really informative and interesting to see that your approach is similar to ours! I was psyched that we had such a well-stocked pantry this past week that I only had to spend $42 on perishables ($66 altogether to include the bison meat I hadn’t intended on buying, but was on sale so I stocked up on it). That was my best trip ever! All fresh fruits, vegetables, and some dairy!

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  • ELLE February 25, 2014, 11:45 am

    I’ve been shopping at Aldi for a while now…well, I started shopping there a few years ago, stopped, and now that we’re really working on sticking to our budget, I shop there every weekend. When I first started shopping there, I saw what others were pointing out–dirty stores, no interesting products. Now that I’ve gone back, I’m really impressed by the Simply Nature line and some of their other products. I love the Simply Nature Raspberry Lemonade Fruit Twist–I actually used it as fuel during my long run this weekend since I didn’t have any HoneyStingers–so much cheaper!

    I maximize our budget by buying as much as possible at Aldi and a local chain that is mostly produce. I then buy everything else at Kroger (usually deli meat, produce I couldn’t find, special products like Ezekial muffins). I think we’ve reduced our grocery spend by about 30% since doing this. We also go to Costco 1x/month where I get our chicken and usually a big bag of Salmon fillets and frozen fruit for my smoothies.

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  • Jaclyn February 25, 2014, 11:55 am

    One couponing tip that has worked well for me: I bought a mini accordion file at Target and labeled the dividers with months of the year (January, February, March, etc.). Every week I clip coupons from my favorite sources (Wegmans and Target mailings and the Sunday paper) and slip them into the accordion file based on the expiration date. So, a coupon that expires 3/31/14 would go into the March section, for example. Then before I go to the market or to Target, I look at the current month’s section to see if there is anything in there that I want to use. (I only use coupons for items that we’d buy anyway – so, Greek yogurt YES, Doritos NO – to save money and calories.) I move those coupons to the front or I stick them in my wallet. At the end of the month, I chuck any expired coupons that are left in the file. It’s a pretty good system that has helped me actually use the coupons instead of leaving them laying around my house! :-)

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    • Caitlin February 25, 2014, 1:07 pm

      This is an awesome idea – i always forgot to use my coupons before they expire.

      Reply
  • Aishah @ Coffee, Love, Health February 25, 2014, 12:15 pm

    You really make me want to check this place out. We are a very big family (my parents and my five other siblings) so I know grocery shopping must have been stressful on my parents considering they had so many mouths to feed on a tight budget. I never realized how much you can cut costs if you grocery shop wisely. I think I am much more alert to all of this now that I am older and want to have a family of my own (hopefullyyyyyy!). I want to live comfortably without worrying about cutting out things I love, like food! lol You shared some great tips. I know my parents saved by shopping at COSTCO and buying in bulk, but it seems there are other options (like Aldi) available now to provide even more options. Thank you for sharing!

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  • Elizabeth {Positively Healthy} February 25, 2014, 12:25 pm

    I do the same thing with her idea of a master list. It cuts time and also lets me zoom through the store able to get those items and then lets me go back through again to look at more specific items! Great list! I love learning about other ways people shop!

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  • Kelly February 25, 2014, 12:40 pm

    All such good advice! I swear between me and Keith our grocery bill is our second largest bill AFTER our mortgage and there are only 2 of us! When Trey starts eating real food we’re going to be in trouble! Ha! The most expensive thing we buy are meats. We do the free range, no hormones, organic meats and it is pricey!! Worth it (and not something I am willing to compromise on) but goodness!

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  • Rebecca February 25, 2014, 1:46 pm

    We plan ahead with meals and buy what we need for each week’s dinner. (Or, my parents do. Heh.) We also check what we’re running low on and write that down, and we do grab the stuff that’s on sale if we need it. This last weekend, my dad came home with boxes of frozen dinners/mini pizzas–not the healthiest things, but they were on sale and they’ll last us at least a couple weeks depending on who eats them and how often. (Probably lunches for me and Mom.)
    My parents’ main trick is to write down everything they need in the order of how they’ll go through the store, so they’re not running back and forth from section to section. I’m sure plenty of other people do it too, just thought I’d mention. :)
    We do coupons for things we know we need or might want, and we put them in an envelope and grab the ones we need when we’re buying those items. Obvs we don’t use expired coupons, but we use coupons! And I don’t know about other places, but at CashWise, if you spend more than like $25 you can get their specified item free with their store coupon. A lot of times we grab that because it’s something we’ll eat or use for baking or something. Our church also does a Sunday where we can bring things to donate to the food shelf, so I’m sure some of the freebies or things people bought that they realize they didn’t actually need (forgot you already had one at home or whatever) get brought for that.

    I buy those squeezable fruit things for myself! LOL. They’re good, and they’re easy! (Though ours are just applesauce, not like fruit in general. And they’re not necessarily organic.) I’ve tried a couple of the flavors and I really prefer the regular apple to like apple strawberry, but I tend to buy either multiple four-packs of multiple flavors to try, or I buy the like 8 or 10-pack (whatever it is) at once because I go through them pretty quickly! I don’t buy SimplyNature (not even sure if we have that brand in our stores), so the tops are totally different (smaller probably), and they might be a different size, but I like them!

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  • Phoebe February 25, 2014, 3:52 pm

    omg you just made my day with: We also have a shelf in the fridge that is designated “This Fruit’s About to Go-Oh-Oh-Oh-Oh-Oh-Oh!” (sung to Ke$ha’s song “Blow”).
    LOVE IT. :D

    Reply
  • Melissa February 25, 2014, 4:08 pm

    One of my biggest “tips” for saving money at the grocery store is to try to shop the “weekly ad” when possible. (We typically split our shopping between Publix and Whole Foods) It doesn’t mean that we won’t buy something that’s not on sale, but we will definitely meal-plan around the various specials throughout the store or use the times that something is on sale to “splurge” on it.

    Also, for items that we are “brand-sensitive” about, we use the sales as a time to stock up on things that are shelf-stable. We’ve found that the sales tend to cycle 4/6/8 weeks, so if it’s something we know we use, we go ahead and buy it then even if we are not out of it.

    I’ll use the occasional coupon here or there (maybe 3-5 per trip) but I would say the majority of my savings come from shopping the ads/sales.

    Reply
  • Michelle @ A Healthy Mrs February 25, 2014, 4:29 pm

    I love the idea of a master grocery list! We are definitely creatures of habit, so we tend to buy the same things a lot of the time — this would work so well for us!

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  • Jen February 25, 2014, 4:32 pm

    Caitlin, what a great review! Some really good tips here. And thank you for the link to the charts and lists. Always making a list before shopping and taking the extra time to do a little setup for the week on Sundays makes a huge difference in my budget. I have also trained myself to NOT buy lunch out when I’m at work – I save that for once or twice a month and keep it under ten bucks.

    Reply
  • Margaret February 25, 2014, 6:12 pm

    I don’t know that gardening ever really “saves” money and I say this as some one who grew up in a house with an .5 acre “garden.” (At that size its ridiculous to call it a garden but its what my dad did while my brother and I were in school since he was a SAHD.) In CA where I grew up my dad was able to grow probably eighty precent of the produce that we ate and this was before organic was common in grocery stores. However my hometown has a huge organic farmers market that we could buy our produce at if Dad didn’t grow it. My dad figured out that we probably didn’t lose money on the garden but once you factored in the cost of preparing soil, building beds, seeds, water, fertilizer, his time, etc. we didn’t really save any money. In my experience with a garden about the same size as dad’s in OR is that he is right. Its even worse for me because I am a lawyer so my time is actually worth a lot. I figure the time I spend gardening is for my mental health but it would make more sense for me to pay someone to do it and for me to bill more hours. Sad but true. I choose what I grow based on several things but the most economical use of my space is a big one. Its a better deal for me to grow my salad greens, spinach, and herbs than it is for me to grow broccoli. I think that I probably save the most with the herbs and I like having them fresh the most.

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  • Natalie Wolfe February 25, 2014, 11:50 pm

    Love the grocery list idea! Also, have you purchased your tower garden yet?? My husband and I love ours! I got fresh from my balcony kale into my smoothies for 4 months straight! The produce grows back so much faster than in the ground. You will love yours. Let me know if you need to buy one–I’m a Juice Plus rep :)

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    • Caitlin February 26, 2014, 7:53 am

      Yes we have! We assembled it last night.

      Reply
  • Laura February 25, 2014, 11:52 pm

    I’m so glad you were able to partner with Aldi. It’s interesting to read about your experience with the store. It’s also cute that dark chocolate was on both of your lists of purchases there so far. :)

    I read this Slate article about Aldi back in December (http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2013/12/02/aldi_grocery_store_best_in_america_related_to_trader_joe_s.html), and I’ve wanted to go to Aldi ever since. Alas, they don’t have any stores in Oregon. That’s OK, we have something similar called WinCo (lots of bulk foods, bag your own groceries, etc.) Anyway, the article has a bit of the Aldi/Trader Joe history, which I found really interesting.

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  • Astrid February 26, 2014, 9:38 am

    It is so funy to read and see all the differences between the USA and Germany, all shops are closed on Sundays! Some times through the year, there are special “Shopping Sunday” but more for clothing stores etc.
    Also, shops do generally not open 24hrs. Some supermarkets are open till 20.00hr or 22hrs, mostly in bigger cities. Also, here is no-one bag packing for you.

    I think only tank stations are open 24hrs and they do carry some sweets and drinks. In my small town they close at 22hrs :-)

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  • Sara March 5, 2014, 8:31 am

    Late commenting, but… (I have been off from work and forget to read at home! Bad!) My dad has had a list like this for YEARS. Since we got our first computer in the 90s. He and my mom shop at the same grocery store, so it’s organized by aisle. Isn’t that cool? My mom circles what they need and my dad sticks to the list and buys it! I remember when I was a kid, he always said “Stick to the list!” :-) Kept mom from yelling :-) I don’t know why I haven’t done this for my own family.

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