The week in house maintenance

It was house maintenance week this week. I took a couple of days off to do some de-cluttering and get some people in.

Hard rubbish got rid of two old mattresses, three former recycle bins, a big plank of wood, an old fan and two disused old bicycles. Amusingly, between putting stuff out/booking the collection and having it picked up, one bike disappeared, then came back, then the second went.

On Tuesday I got my ducts cleaned. (Note: This is not a euphemism.)

On Wednesday it was the pest controllers, as part of my self-declared War On Cockroaches. The guy sprayed inside and out, and we evacuated for a while to let the fumes dissipate — into the city for some lunch, a walk around, and some photography.

Princes Bridge and the Southbank footbridge, Yarra River, Melbourne

Of course, the most exciting news this week in the ‘hood has been the opening of the new Aldi store in downtown Bentleigh (in the old IGA site). Wednesday was opening day, and it was packed with people hunting down $10 kettles and toasters, and $89 Android tablets.

$89 at Aldi. Should I or shouldn't I?I must admit I was tempted by the latter. But in the end I decided not to buy it, for three reasons: [1] the check-out queues were really long, [2] although it’s cheap, a review reckoned this model of tablet has poor Wifi reception (and in fact the reviewer ended up returning it due to poor battery life), and perhaps most importantly, [3] I’d just spent days de-cluttering the house, and buying something I didn’t really need would be a backward step,

And after all, there’ll be other cheap tablets. Wait a few months and there’ll be a better one for the same price.

Aldi product reviews

So, in my quest to become a cheapskate, I’ve tried a few Aldi products.

Having pretty-much restricted myself to Aldi products made in Australia (food miles, though it’s something of a generalisation), and ruled-out some categories I’ve been warned about (fresh fruit and veg, meat), here’s what I’ve found so far:

The Weetbix clone — I’m a Weetbix snob. I have in the past rejected Vita Brits for being un-Weetbix-like. The Aldi version is close, but… not the same, somehow. The consistency is different. I’ve gone back to buying real Weetbix, which when on-sale isn’t too much more expensive than the Aldi version.

Light milkas I noted previously, the Aldi milk is a fair bit cheaper than other brands. I’m not that keen on 2 litre milk bottles; they’re especially awkward for pouring small amounts, unlike the 1 litre cartons. But in any case I’ve started buying the Safeway brand milk as it’s more convenient than trying to get to Aldi every week. (An article a couple of months ago noted that milk prices are slowly dropping.)

Yoghurt (plain) — there’s something not quite right about this. It seems too watery. Will go back to the Jalna etc. Not much price difference anyway.

Homestyle mixed grain bread — Great, close enough to Helga’s, though the first loaf I bought included about 4 slices that had a noticeable hole in them, and it’s worth hunting around in the rack to find one with the latest possible expiry date. Other than that no complaints. Slices are a good size for jaffles.

The Sultana Bran clone — the “bran” isn’t really bran, it’s small flakes of wheat. So probably not as healthy. This isn’t a staple in our house, so just buying the real stuff when it’s on sale (and the price isn’t much different) is probably sufficient.

Long life juice — seems about the same to me, though the flavours are limited.

Tomato paste — fine, does the job, and unlike the Leggos stuff, it’s in a clearly recyclable glass jar. Not available in reduced-salt though.

Passata — great.

Recycled toilet paper — seems a little thinner and slightly more ragged than the Safe brand, but works fine. The savings aren’t compelling on this one, mind you, at about 6 cents difference per roll.

Muesli — good. Tasty.

Diced peaches in juice — good, yummy.

Hillcrest nut (Muesli-ish) bars — not that brilliant, at least not compared to the Carmans or Be Natural (a Kelloggs brand) meusli bars. I’ll wait for those to be on sale.

Bramwells Honey — sameish as the name brands.

As for non-grocery items, some cool cheap stuff shows up from time to time. But I’m very wary of Aldi’s consumer electronics, which seem to have a very mixed track record. Fine, they’ll replace anything that breaks down, but I’d rather stick to name brands and avoid the hassle in the first place. (My Pioneer DV-344 DVD player is still going strong after six years, for instance.)

See also: More reviews and a whole web site dedicated to the topic

Related: Woolworths to revamp its house brands

Never pay retail

Costco at Docklands in Melbourne opens today at 8am. I’ll be very interested to hear how it goes, but I’m not going to be rushing in to cough up my $60 to join up and start doing my shopping there.

For one thing I’ve realised that if one is prepared to be brand-agnostic, keep an eye on the specials, and (moderately) stock up when possible, it would appear that there’s no real reason to ever pay retail price on many groceries. Perhaps it’s due to the newish competition from Aldi, but it seems like brand names of most staples are heavily discounted at either Coles or Safeway most weeks of the year.

Take, for example, bread of the Helga’s, Noble Rise and Aldi’s Baker’s Taste range. In my book, all acceptable for lunches, toast, jaffles etc. The Aldi product sells for $2.99, so let’s assume for the sake of argument that $3 is a reasonable amount to pay.

Helga’s and Noble Rise retail for about $4.50 per loaf, but regularly on special for about $3 (or often $6 for two — chuck one in the freezer) at Coles or Safeway. This week that deal is on offer at Coles for Helga’s.

So while one could go and pay $4.50 for a loaf of nice-ish bread, with a little forward planning and watching the specials, it doesn’t seem like you’d need to pay more than $3 — 33% cheaper than the “regular” retail price.

I don’t get the catalogues in the junk mail at home anymore, but happily they’re all online: Coles; Safeway/Woolworths; Aldi. IGA has a web site, but hasn’t got specials on it.

Mind you, most of the online catalogues don’t appear until the week they’re valid, whereas the paper ones seem to get distributed a few days earlier, which would help with forward planning.

It’ll be interesting to see how the prices at Costco stack up.