Attention, First-Time Aldi Shoppers: Here’s Everything You Need to Know

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Edwin Vidal shops at a new Aldi location in St. Petersburg, Fla., on August 18, 2017. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder

I’ve sworn by Trader Joe’s ever since I realized it was cheaper than Winn-Dixie. After cutting down my grocery bill by making the switch, I found it hard to believe that I could save any more money on groceries.

People swore to me Aldi was cheaper, but I wasn’t so sure about shopping there. I heard rumors that intimidated me, like that it’s usually packed and you can’t buy the brand names you would usually find at your grocery store.

My mom finally convinced me to go — and I was shocked that I was able to save even more on my groceries. I saved nearly $40 and bought even more items than I usually do — and they were all of high quality!

If you’ve been hesitant to take a trip to Aldi, it’s time. If you’re intimidated like I was, don’t be.

We’ve compiled 10 great tips for anyone looking to shop at Aldi stores for the first time:

1. Head in Early

People walk in and out of an Aldi store in St. Petersburg, Fla.

People shop at a new Aldi store in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Aug. 18, 2017. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder

Considering Aldi is rapidly expanding in the U.S., it’s not uncommon to find the place packed.

To avoid getting lost in a sea of like-minded frugal shoppers, consider heading in early to get your grocery shopping done. But keep in mind that Aldi’s operating hours differ from conventional grocery store hours — it opens a bit later than you may be used to. Typical opening time is at 9 a.m., and hours may vary by location on the weekends.

2. Bring a Quarter

Donna Jenkins inserts a quarter to get a cart at a new Aldi in St. Petersburg, Fla. Each cart has a slot where you insert a quarter deposit to unlock it from the corral. But you get your quarter back when you return your cart.

Donna Jenkins inserts a quarter to get a cart at an Aldi in St. Petersburg, Fla. Each cart has a slot where you insert a quarter deposit to unlock it from the corral. You get your quarter back when you return the cart. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder

To use a cart, you’ll have to have a quarter. Each cart has a slot where you insert a quarter deposit to unlock it from the corral.

But don’t worry! You’ll get it back after you return the cart.

The idea behind this is that you have to put the cart back in the corral to get your 25 cents back. (Trust me, it’s impossible to pull the coin out of there.)

The quarter system helps keep labor costs low. Aldi doesn’t have to hire someone to gather carts from the parking lot, and shoppers have an incentive to return carts to the corral. Because most shoppers are willing to return their carts to get their money back, the system remains efficient — and the parking lot remains tidy.

3. Better Bring Your Own Bags Too

Reusable shopping bags for sale at an Aldi store.

At Aldi, you provide your own bags. You can also buy reusable grocery bags from the store. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder

Aldi has low prices because it’s a no-frills kind of store. And it takes the no-frills concept quite seriously.

To keep costs and prices down, it doesn’t provide free bags. So make sure to bring your own!

If you forget to bring bags, you can buy paper or plastic ones for about 5 to 10 cents each, or you can just load your groceries directly into the cart without bags.

4. Look For Empty Boxes

Empty boxes are pictured on a shelf in an Aldi store.

Keep an eye out for empty boxes on shelves around the store. Aldi encourages shoppers to use them for groceries.
Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder

If you forget your reusable bags and don’t want to fork over your nickels for them, here’s a little hack that’ll come in handy.

Lizabeth Cole, director of public relations/communications at The Penny Hoarder, likes to keep an eye out for empty boxes on shelves around the store. When she forgets her bags, she uses them to carry her groceries to her car.

5. Be Ready to Bag Your Own Groceries

Cara Bridge and her son Camden Bridge, 3, both of St. Petersburg, Fla., bag their groceries after checking out. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder

At the grocery store, you may be used to having a nice employee ask you, “Paper or plastic?”

Well, not at Aldi.

This might be the main thing that shocks Aldi first-timers: The responsibility of bagging groceries falls on you.

This may seem a little weird at first, but it’s another way the grocery chain keeps costs low.

Instead of paying someone to bag your groceries for you, Aldi lets you do it yourself. A little extra effort will save you in the long run, so try not to fret too much about it.

6. Make a List

Cara Bridge and her son Camden Bridge, 3, shop for frozen foods at Aldi.

Cara Bridge and her son Camden Bridge, 3, shop for frozen foods at Aldi. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder

Aldi’s low prices are pretty astounding.

While you’re shopping, you may want to grab literally everything you see. It’s all cheaper than usual, so you should stock up, right?!

Actually, no.

A big grocery shopping mistake is heading to a store without a list. When you don’t know ahead of time what you’re looking for, you may be tempted to grab things you don’t need.

Considering the temptation to buy one of everything at Aldi, it’s even more important to create a list ahead of time so you don’t break your budget.

7. Don’t Shy Away From Unfamiliar Brands

The snack and beverage aisle at an Aldi location in St. Petersburg, Fla., on August 18, 2017.

The snack and beverage aisle at an Aldi in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Aug. 18, 2017. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder

When you shop at Aldi, chances are you won’t see your favorite brand of cereal or crackers. Instead, you’ll find Aldi’s own brands, like Millville.

Around 90% of brands Aldi stores carry are its own. Recently, the grocer started carrying a limited selection of national brands to attract those who are loyal to brand names but want to complete their grocery shopping at Aldi.

That doesn’t mean you should only purchase items with those familiar brand names, though. You should seriously consider trying Aldi’s in-house products!

While you may be skeptical at first (“But this isn’t my favorite brand. How do I know if it’s any good?”), let this ease your mind: The Millville brand is actually made by the nation’s leading food producers.

Additionally, Aldi claims that all Millville products meet or exceed the quality of national brands. If you don’t like an item, Aldi’s double guarantee lets you return the product, get your money back and have it replaced for free.

With a satisfaction program like that, there’s no harm in trying something new!

8. Scope Out That Cheese Bin

The cheese bin at the new Aldi in St. Petersburg, Fla., has a great selection, including various types of goat cheese.

The cheese bin at the new Aldi in St. Petersburg, Fla. has plenty of options, including various types of goat cheese. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder

Do you love cheese? Of course you do. Cheese is amazing.

When I asked around at The Penny Hoarder about the quality of Aldi’s cheese, I started quite a discussion on how great it is.

“[To be honest] I was fairly impressed with their selection,” said staff writer Lisa McGreevy. “It was more than just American and mild cheddar.”

Jennifer McCarthy, director of video at The Penny Hoarder, is a serious fan of Aldi’s selection of goat cheese. She describes its honey version as a “creamy little log from heaven.”

Other Penny Hoarders love creating low-cost cheese boards and plates from Aldi’s selection. Pair it with the store’s cheap gluten-free crackers or olives, and you’ve got yourself quite the appetizer!

9. Don’t Bother Bringing Coupons

An Aldi flyer is posted at the entrance of an Aldi store in St. Petersburg, Fla.

An Aldi flyer posted at the entrance of an Aldi in St. Petersburg, Fla. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder

Aldi’s prices are already enchantingly low, so you should stack coupons and get everything for nearly nothing, right?

Wrong!

Aldi doesn’t accept coupons. Sometimes fake ones circulate Facebook — but don’t fall for them.

Blogger Kasey Trenum writes that Aldi offers low prices for items like meat, produce and seasonal supplies, which coupons often don’t cover anyway. But with its super-low prices, it doesn’t matter much that Aldi doesn’t offer coupons. A coupon wouldn’t help much.

10. Yes, You Can Bring Your Cart to the Parking Lot

Sally Nicodemus unloads her groceries into the trunk of her car at an Aldi location in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Sally Nicodemus unloads her groceries into the trunk of her car at an Aldi in St. Petersburg, Fla. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder

Someone asked me the other day if you can bring your Aldi cart into the parking lot.

After a brief chuckle, I replied, “Yes, you can.”

The question makes sense, though. For a store that doesn’t have someone around to make sure carts go back into the corral, an alarm going off to keep you from leaving it in the middle of the parking lot would be handy.

But, no, the quarter system doesn’t activate a secret lock that prevents you from taking your cartful of groceries to your car. Aldi cuts a lot of costs, but not that many costs.

Bag your own groceries, cart them out to your car, take it back to the cart corral and get your quarter back. It may seem like extra work, but when you look at your receipt and see just how much money you saved, it’s worth it.

Kelly Smith is a junior writer and engagement specialist at The Penny Hoarder. Catch her on Twitter at @keywordkelly.

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