Greetings, Aldi shopper!
If you’re new to the world of Aldi, you definitely want to keep reading. Aldi is not your typical grocery store, and if you go unprepared on your first trip, you’ll feel flustered and frustrated and may never want to return. I don’t want that! Shopping at Aldi is a wonderful way to save money without having to worry about coupons, and once you have a few basics down, it’s a breeze to shop there. The key is knowing what to expect.
Tip #1: Bring your own bags
Aldi does not provide paper or plastic disposable shopping bags like most grocery stores. They do have them available at the register, but they will cost you a few cents each. While not much, we’re here to save money! Bring re-usable bags with you when you go. Any bags will do, but I like to have at least one large insulated cooler bag and then a couple of large regular bags. I store them in the back of my van so I don’t have to worry about forgetting them, because believe me, I would forget!
Another option is to use the boxes that you’ll find scattered throughout the store. You’ll quickly discover that Aldi has little interest in “shelf zoning.” The food is displayed in the unit boxes that they’re shipped in, and once they’re empty they’re free for the taking because that means less cleanup for the employees. You can typically find a big pile of these boxes on the bagging counter in addition to the random ones that have not yet been collected from the shelves.
Tip #2: Bring a quarter
Another thing Aldi does not provide is free shopping carts. Say what!? Well, they’re technically free, but you have to insert a quarter to unlock them from the cart caddy, and then when you return the cart after you’re done shopping you get your quarter back. The reason Aldi is set up this way is so they can keep costs down. If everyone returns their cart to the caddy, they don’t have to pay someone to go fetch them throughout the day. Like my bags, I keep a couple of quarters in my van so that I’ll always have one when I go. After I get my quarter back, I just toss it in the change compartment to use the next time. I also have a little quarter carrier on my keychain that a friend got for me. I love it!
Tip #3: Bring a debit or credit card, EBT card, or cash
No no checks, and no WIC vouchers. Aldi now accepts credit cards, though! Previously, you could only use a debit card and you had to run it as debit, with your pin. Those days are gone, and you are now free to use credit cards at Aldi (or, like I do, run your debit card as credit). As of Fall 2017, Aldi also now accepts contactless payment methods such as Apple Pay and Android Pay!
Tip #4: Do NOT bring coupons
Aldi doesn’t take them, but that’s okay. The vast majority of the items they stock are house brands and don’t have coupons anyway. You do come across the occasional name brand, but you won’t be able to use your coupons on them. I think you’ll find that the prices at Aldi are low enough that you end up saving just as much without them, not to mention the savings on fresh items (meat, produce, dairy) for which you can seldom find coupons.
I realize that sometimes there are amazing coupon match-ups out there that allow you to get things for pennies or even free. Go for it! If you find a great deal on toothpaste at a major grocery or drugstore, buy that item there. Aldi will not ban you for your lack of loyalty. 😉
TIP #5: Be prepared to bag your own groceries
Remember that bagging counter I mentioned in Tip #1? It’s exactly what it sounds like: one big, long counter where you go to bag your items. Yes, it’s true. Not only do you have to bring your own bags, you also have to do your own bagging.
Aldi checkout is quick, and it’s also a little bit scary. Those cashiers are lightning fast and will haphazardly chuck your items into your cart in a way that will make Type-A folks everywhere cringe in terror. DON’T PANIC. Once you’ve paid, you can wheel your cart over to the spacious bagging counter and put everything in your bags exactly the way you want it. Short term pain, long term gain, right?
Bonus tip: When you’re loading your groceries onto the belt to check out, start with the largest and heaviest items and end with things like bread and eggs.
Tip #6: Keep it simple
This is not the time to shop for the ingredients for that exotic international recipe you’ve been dying to try. Aldi has all of the staples you’ll need, and they even have a lot of extras, but they are not fancy. They don’t pretend to be. If your grocery list is filled with complicated ingredients, you’ll probably be disappointed. With that said, I can usually do 95% of my grocery shopping at Aldi (if not more), and I make all kinds of different recipes. Don’t confuse “simple” with “boring.” When you’re browsing the recipes here, ingredients that may not be available at Aldi are typically noted in the post. Keep in mind that some ingredients (e.g. produce, holiday) may only be available seasonally.
TIP #7: EMBRACE THE OFF BRAND
As I said in Tip #4, most of what Aldi stocks are their house brands. As you can see above, they have a ton of them (plus a gluten-free line, liveGfree). My experience with them has been that most are on par with any major brand out there. There are always going to be personal preferences and exceptions, of course. For instance, their Cheerios are noticeably grainier than the General Mills version, so I buy those at Sam’s; however, their Honey Bunches of Oats are just as good as the name brand, so I get those at Aldi.
It’s all a matter of trial and error. The main thing is to be open-minded. If you’re a big name brand loyalist for more than a handful of things, Aldi isn’t the store for you. On the other hand, if you have your favorites but are willing to try the Aldi version, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how well they compare. Aldi stands behind their products and offers a double guarantee if you’re not satisfied.
That’s about it! You’re now fully prepared to embark on your first Aldi adventure. Still curious? Check out Aldi’s official first-time shopper guide here for more lowdown on why they do things the way they do. For an idea of what to expect price-wise, check out the I Heart Aldi Price Book!