Saving Money on Food in Germany – A Reader Shares Some Insights
Recently, one of my readers commented on my post about saving money on food at Aldi and he and I had an interesting discussion about prices of food in Germany and here in the states and how comparable they were. Since Aldi is a German company, I found the topic fascinating.
Sebastian was kind enough to send me the letter below, which gives a ton of detail on food costs in Germany and how to eat inexpensively at either Aldi or LIDL, which he states is similar to Aldi. Note that I have added US prices to give a comparison to the Euro prices listed in the letter.
My American friends can use his meal plans as well to save money. He is single and thus his plans are for one person, but just times it by the number of people in your family if you have more.
I got the list of the food prices from this food price comparison by Cheapism. Your article from June, 1 (In-Depth Study Proves that Aldi Is Cheaper than Walmart or Kroger) was about this food price comparison. Here is the direct link to the prices of the 37 food items:
According to this Cheapism price comparison, the prices were taken from stores in Columbus (Ohio).
I am pretty sure that we here in Germany don’t know how much money we need for food. There was and still is a huge discussion here in Germany how much money a family, living completely on social benefits, need for food per month. The social benefits system in Germany granted the following standard rates for food and non alcoholic beverages (Data for 2015):
Adults: €141.65 per month or €4.65 per day [$153.41 USD per month or $5.04 per day]
14-17 years old: €136.88 or €4.50 [$148.24 per month or $4.87 per day]
6-13 years old: €107.27 or €3.53 [$116.17 per month or $3.82 per day]
0-5 years old: €86.96 or €2.86 [$94.18 per month or $3.10 per day]
Most people in Germany would say, that it isn’t possible to life with such little money per day for food. The minister of finance of the city of Berlin published a cooking book for low cost meals to prove that it’s possible to live on even lower daily amounts. The public in Germany was so angry about his thrifty meal plans that the minister had to resign.
I don’t know how much money I spend for food. I am a single, I don’t cook that much, I often eat with an elderly couple in my neighborhood. I shop mostly on a daily basis, and I often buy groceries for this elderly couple, too. I mostly shop at ALDI or LIDL (that’s another discount store). And I try to avoid name brand products. In my opinion it’s mostly a waste of money to buy name brand products.
I have tried to make an extremely cheap meal plan for one person:
Breakast for €0.46 [$0.50 USD]:
- 167g yoghurt €0.15
- 40g granola €0.06
- 1 tiny roll €0.06
- 10g margarine €0.01
- 15g strawberry jam €0.03
- 15g cream cheese €0.04
- 1 glass milk 200ml €0.11
Lunch for €0.84 [$0.91 USD]:
- 1 serving instant mashed potatoes €0.05
- 200ml milk €0.11
- 10g margarine €0.01
- grated nutmeg powder €0.03
- 1 bratwurst €0.32
- 1/2 cucumber €0.20
- 1/2 sachet instant dressing €0.04
- 1 tablespoon oil €0.01
- 1 glass 250ml apple spritzer €0.07
Snacks for €0.30 [$0.32 USD]:
- 1 banana €0.18
- 1 apple €0.12
Dinner for €0.41 [$0.44 USD]:
- 2 slices of dark rhy wholemeal bread €0.11
- 10g margarine €0.01
- 1 slice of cold cuts €0.08
- 15g cheese spread €0.05
- 150g carrots €0.07
- 1/2 sachet instant dressing €0.03
- 1 tablespoon oil €0.01
- 2 glass tea €0.04
- sugar €0.01
Total: €2.01 [$2.18 USD]
It’s obviously possible to spend much less for food than the designated €4.65 [$5.04 USD].
That’s maybe the reason why some families living completely on social benefits are still able to spend €150 for a pair of fancy Nike sneakers. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with that, but I am wondering how they are able to manage that.
Prices for a few hundred of basic food items are extremely similar in all German grocery chains, mostly exactly the same. All grocery chains adjust the prices for the store brand products exactly to the prices, that can be found at Aldi.
Indeed Aldi is only the 4th biggest food retailer in Germany, but it’s the most competitive, and it’s always the first one when it comes to price changes. All other grocery chains adjust their prices within 3 days.
Different from the U.S., it’s nearly impossible to save money by shopping at another grocery store, that’s true for most items, but mostly different for produce or meat. The traditional grocery stores in Germany (Edeka or Rewe) have mostly large service counters for meat, sausages and cheese.
Meat on sale there is mostly cheaper than the regular prices at Aldi or other discount grocery stores. But produce prices are mostly better at discount stores than at the traditional grocery stores.
The biggest advantage of Aldi or Lidl is the quality of their products, they are mostly better than the store brand products at all other discount or traditional grocery chains. The products are also often better than much more expensive name brand products.
According to the price comparison by Cheapism, here are some striking price differences between Germany and the U.S.:
All dairy products with the exception of milk, when it’s a gallon for less than $2, seem to be very expensive in the U.S. Especially yoghurt and cheese are expensive. Prices for Yoghurt in the U.S. is about double the prices in Germany. Prices for cheese seem at least 50% higher. The same for whipped cream, sour cream or coffee creamer.
12 eggs for less than $1 is a pretty good price. In Germany 10 cage free eggs cost always €0.99 and 10 free-range eggs cost always €1.39. Sometimes there are XXL weeks at Lidl, then you can get 10+2 eggs for €0.99, but that’s very rare.
The prices for flour seem pretty high in the U.S. 5lb of flour would cost €0.73 in Germany compared to $1.49 at Aldi in the U.S. Maybe the differences can be explained by subsidies by the European Union? The higher flour prices seem to lead to higher prices for products that are made out of flour, noodles for example. 500g of store brand dried pasta of all shapes cost always €0.49. Sometimes you can get 500g+20% for €0.49 at those XXL weeks at Lidl. The prices for noodles in the U.S. seems more than double those prices.
Chicken, the U.S. has really good sales for chicken breast filets and all other chicken parts. It’s probably nearly impossible to find 1lb chicken breasts filets for less than €2.50 in Germany. But at Edeka they have very often sales for chicken drumsticks for €0.15 or €0.17 per 100g (€0.68 – €0.77 for 1lb).
Cereals, 1kg or 2.2lb store brand corn flakes cost €1.89 in Germany. Almost all other cereals cost €1.89 for 750g (26.5oz). That seems alot lower than in the U.S. That’s astonishing because in Germany cereals (Kelloggs) is still seen as very American. Similar to these processed cheese slices, they stand typically for America, but are astonishing expensive in the U.S.
Bananas are alot cheaper in the U.S. The European Union has introduced a tariff on bananas from South America to protect Bananas from the Canarian Islands, very stupid. At discount stores bananas normally cost between €0.99 and €1.19 per kg in Germany (€0.45 – €0.54 per lb). At traditional grocery stores bananas are even more expensive.
Apples and especially apple sauce seems way cheaper in Germany. When I remember correctly apple sauce was probably 3 times more expensive in the U.S. I guess apple sauce it not that common in America?
4lb sugar would cost €1.18 in Germany, price at Aldi in the U.S. $1.79?, that’s a lot more, that’s maybe the reason why most sweets are more expensive in the U.S. than in Germany. Chocolate seems also expensive in the U.S. with the exception of the Lindt chocolate products. Those seem very similar priced to here in Germany.
16 of those coffee capsules cost €2.79 in Germany, at Aldi in the U.S. 12 capsules cost $4.99?
Most canned products seem very good prices at Aldi in the U.S. Maybe a little bit cheaper than in Germany.
All products made from tomatoes seem cheaper in the U.S. than in Germany.
Store brand soft drinks seem very similar priced in both countries. But products from the Coca-Cola company are significantly cheaper in the U.S. The most common price for a 1.25-liter bottle of Coke cost €0.89 or €0.71 per liter in Germany. There are often sales for Coca Cola products. The lowest possible price is probably between €0.50 and €0.55 per liter.
Unbelievable expensive in the U.S. are trash bags. Maybe I was just not able to find a good deal for trash bags in the U.S. 40 trash bags (about 50 liter) cost about $4.99? That would mean $0.12 per trash bag. We use normally 25 liter trash bags in Germany (everything is smaller in Germany 😉 A roll with 30 of those trash bags cost €0.55 everywhere. That’s less than €0.02 per bag, or less than €0.04 for two trash bags.
The total of those 26 food items that I could compare to the prices from Cheapism would come to €36.09 at discount stores in Germany, and probably €37-38 at traditional grocery stores, because bananas and probably apples are normally more expensive at traditional grocery stores. The 26 items would cost $50.66 at Aldi in Ohio. or $62.28 at Walmart. That’s the reason why I was surprised that you need only $150 for food per week.
I think it’s important to know how to cook and avoid using ready-made meals. I also think that the standard rates in Germany that are designated for food for families living on social benefits is maybe too high. It’s sad, but many of those families have not enough incentives to leave a life on social benefits. In a family of 4 with only one earner, the earner must get an hourly wage of more than €15 to get an higher net income than if the family would life completely on social benefits.
Here is a website, where you can easily look for almost every price at Aldi and other grocery stores in Germany:
In Germany there are normally no food price differences between urban and rural areas. The density of grocery stores is extremely high, people would immediately choose another grocery store if they could get the same product a little bit cheaper. That’s also the main reason why the traditional grocery stores can’t charge more for a comparable product than the discount stores. Most people shop groceries more on a daily instead of a weekly basis, and they often go [to] several different grocery stores, because those store brand products often taste different from store to store.
Grocery shopping in Germany is probably easier than in the U.S. but also a lot more boring. The stores normally all have the same prices, couponing is completely unknown over here, and there are also no buy one get one free offers. I would name the food prices in Germany reasonable. It’s nearly impossible to make a bargain, but it’s also very unlikely that you get overcharged.
And of course the main reason why food prices in Germany seem at the moment a lot cheaper is the current exchange rate between Euro and USD.
I want to thank Sebastian for taking time out of his busy schedule to share in detail shopping in Germany, how it differs from the US and the differences between the two. It does sound like things are somewhat comparable, but some things are more here and others are more there.
My family is able to eat on less than $150/week, but it requires a lot of creativity and we do tend to eat at least one meal out a week. One thing I do is planning out my meals. If you’ve read my book What’s For Dinner?, which is free if you subscribe to my mailing list, you know that I plan out my meals two weeks at a time and I revamp leftovers into new meals.
I suspect part of the reason I’m able to feed my family for that has to do with shopping a week at a time. What are your experiences? How much does it cost you to feed your family? Where are you from? What tips can you offer others?