The Evil Corporate Giant: How I Hate to Love You

Another post which I feel requires a disclaimer at the top. Let me just say that I think Aldi and Lidl (Aldi in particular) are brilliant. My parents shopped at both of them years before their popularity explosion with middle class, middle income families (for whom the discovery is still sufficiently recent to provoke a heartwarming childlike giddiness – aw, bless!), and so do I.

However, I confess quite openly (as is becoming my way when blogging) that I do the majority of my household shopping at Tesco. The reason is, quite simply, the Clubcard. I am eternally indebted to my friend Sarah for educating me on how to get the best out of my Clubcard. (If you are already a convert, feel free to stop reading.) If you shop at Tesco and do not have one you need to sign up right now. If things are even more dire and you are one of those people who have signed up, get your vouchers through and simply use them for face value towards your grocery shopping, then you run the risk of me snatching them out of your hand at the till and shouting “Nooooooo! It’s such a waste!!”

The way it works, in brief, is that you sign up for your Clubcard and then you get a point for every pound you spend (sometimes more, depending on offers) and these points are translated into vouchers. Four times a year the vouchers are posted to you. In my case I usually get around £25 each time, which also takes into account any money Alex or I have spent on fuel. This is the bit where people often go wrong, thinking “Great! £25 off my food bill.” Stop right there, though: go online and look at the ways you can get more for your vouchers. I believe you can get all kinds of things through Tesco Direct for double the value, and sometimes you can get double the value on clothes in-store too.

BUT: the best value is for days out (from which there are loads and loads to choose, all over the UK and at various venues beyond) or meals out, because these give you FOUR TIMES the value of your vouchers. You simply choose what you want, click on it to put it in your basket, then input the voucher codes.

Now, if a meal out or fun family day somewhere is definitely not on the cards within three months of receiving your vouchers and you need to buy a washing machine then OK, go ahead and use double the value to put towards it. If you are genuinely on the breadline, then fine, make a straight swap for food and I promise I won’t hassle you (though in this case I would shop at Lidl or Aldi and save the vouchers). If, however, there is a chance (and I think in most families there would be) that within that three month period you might really fancy dinner at Prezzo or a trip to Woburn Safari Park (or any number of other restaurants or fab days out) for free, then for goodness’ sake hang on to them. Just make sure you exchange them in good time. Restaurant tokens are generally emailed through within about half an hour these days, but days out tokens still come by post and take a few days.

To give you an idea, here is a list of exciting, fun, interesting and often educational places we have visited over the years as a family, for free, for doing nothing more than shopping at Tesco:

  • Wicksteed Park (multiple times)
  • Cadbury World
  • Flambards in Cornwall
  • Warwick Castle
  • Devon’s Crealy
  • Kent’s Cavern in Devon
  • Thinktank in Birmingham
  • Black Country Living Museum
  • Conkers in Derbyshire
  • Diggerland in Kent
  • Ripley’s Believe It or Not
  • Park Asterix (while on holiday in France)
  • Activity World in Peterborough (multiple times; watch out for the 7-year-old skinheads, though: intimidating)
  • Woburn Safari Park (Clubcard was having a sale so we got 5 times the vouchers’ value!)
  • Duxford Imperial War Museum
  • Britain at War Experience
  • Vedettes de Paris boat excursion (we ordered these, but ended up not using them so Tesco just recredited our account)

Meals out have usually been at Pizza Express, Prezzo and Chimichanga, with us only having to shell out for drinks and tip.

You can’t lose, really: if it’s great, which it almost always has been for us, then wonderful. If it’s not so good, you don’t end up berating yourself for having spent a ton of money. Warwick Castle and Woburn are particularly satisfying to visit ‘on the Clubcard’ because they cost a fortune.

Perhaps the best use of our Clubcard points, however, was setting up an automatic conversion to Virgin air miles when we knew that four years down the line we hoped to travel to Orlando. Again, this was quick and easy to do online. We did miss the days out (though there are plenty of free places we love to visit), but the points kept on ticking away and, when the time came, although dates were tricky and Alex had to spend a long time on the phone to an operator, we ended up with an incredible deal that saved £1500 on our flights AND included a free return seat for Little Daughter (who was just under two at the time and would otherwise have had to sit on my lap – I don’t mean we were contemplating leaving here there …). There were even enough points left over for Alex and I to fly to Edinburgh, on one of Little Red’s last trips, for our joint 40th birthday celebration weekend. After that, with the points exhausted and no further flights on the horizon, I switched our Clucbard points right back and we’re now getting the vouchers again.

On a weekly basis, I have no doubt I would save some money if I shopped solely at Lidl or Aldi, though I am not sure how much as I can now manage a week’s shop at Tesco, for a family of five (including washing powder, toothpaste etc) for £60. At a generous estimate, though, say I saved £15 … would I really put that weekly £15 into a savings account and refuse to touch it until it had grown into a £1500 holiday fund? Or would it more likely be guzzled up by a school trip or unwelcome car repair? You have to remember that I have had years of being crap with money. We’re currently having a particularly lean month because, as a self-employed music teacher, my income tails off around April and doesn’t pick up again until September, but I’ve got £40 of Pizza Express vouchers and £80 of generic Days Out vouchers in the kitchen for when we get really fed up. The fuel thing is good too: if I time it right I can get 20p per litre off a full tank of diesel, which amounts to a saving of around £10.

My ideal would be to buy about half my weekly shop from Tesco, some bits from Lidl and other bits from Aldi (which, maddeningly, is 11 miles away and involves shuffling in traffic for quite a while), but I am not sufficiently time-rich to manage this. So for now I continue to be in league with the evil corporate giant. Soulless it may be, and unfashionable it definitely is, but it works for me.

4 thoughts on “The Evil Corporate Giant: How I Hate to Love You”

  1. I agree with all of that but a word of caution; one of the Mums at school shops entirely at Tesco because she’s ‘addicted’ to the vouchers. I know you’ve touched on this, but shopping for vouchers is very obviously a false economy….. Also, the cheapest Tesco food can be rubbish. Somehow, the German supermarkets seem to achieve mostly good quality as well as excellent prices – probably because the shops aren’t pretty, and they haven’t got coffee shops, loos etc. Perhaps the ultimate middle class thing to do is go to Lidls and then top up at Waitrose (guilty!).

    1. Thanks for the comment. I think I covered your first point by saying that I’m just not good at putting the money saved to one side. This way, even when we’re broke we can still have the occasional treat. If you CAN put that extra money away (however much or little it might be), and save it week on week, then fantastic! Regarding the second point: some Lidl stuff is cheaper AND better than the cheap Tesco food, but the main point about Lidl and Aldi is the ‘like brands, only cheaper’ thing – hence the middle class appeal. Their Mars bar equivalents are as nice as, and cheaper than, real Mars bars and the Tesco equivalents … but when we’re broke they’re not as cheap as the Tesco value Penguin equivalents (which are £1.09 for 18). That’s just one example of very many.

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