A quarter for a cart. That’s hard for many shoppers who are new to Aldi to grasp, both as a concept and a reality – you’ve got to dig up an actual coin to even use a shopping cart. (Who even carries coins these days?)
That’s one of the reasons you have to plan to go to Aldi. It’s not a drop-in-and-meander-the-aisles-with-your-regular-shopping-list kind of store.
There’s a strategy to shop Aldi to find the kinds of deals and gotta-haves that inspire Facebook groups of thousands gushing about what they scored on their Aldi excursions. And don’t fret, you do get your quarter back once you return the cart to the corral. (For the record, Aldi says not having to pay staffers chase carts helps keep prices low. So digging up a quarter isn’t such a bad deal to save you some dough.)
And it was the low prices that turned me into an avid Aldi shopper six years ago and why my anti-shopping dad ventured into an Aldi store nearly two years ago, even if he fumbled the whole cart thing at first.
Aside from taking a quarter, which I always keep handy in my car solely for Aldi, here’s what you need to know before you get to the parking lot.
As I mentioned, Aldi isn’t your average supermarket. It’s smaller, leaner and greener.
Aside from needing that quarter, which is not a foreign concept with many stores in European countries also renting carts, you should wrap your head around this: You’re going to bag your own stuff – as if you’re at Costco, Sam’s Club or doing self-checkout.
And there are no free bags. You should bring your own. Bags cost up to 10 cents each and stores also sell reusable bags and often have boxes available to take your groceries home in. Hey, it’s not a bad idea to be in the habit of keeping reusable bags in the car or even put an extra laundry basket or crates for easier transports.
Oh, and don’t expect to call a store to ask about inventory or hours. Aldi stores don’t have phone numbers. You read that right. This can make it more difficult to score a limited deal without having to drive around to multiple stores.
“Rather than hire extra staff to answer phones and retrieve carts, our employees stay focused on serving our shoppers in stores,” the company said in frequently asked questions on its website. “This saves us money, but more importantly we pass those savings on to our customers.”
There are currently over 2,000 Aldi stores across 37 states, with new locations concentrated in Arizona, California, Florida and the Northeast. The company says it’s on track to become the third-largest grocery retailer by store count by the end of 2022.
Forget coupon clipping. Since 90% of items are store or private label brands, Aldi doesn’t accept coupons except in very rare cases when it has a grand opening or remodeling store-specific coupon. This is a win since couponing can be a lot of work and the prices are already low.
When a new Aldi opened a mile from me last month, I actually put the prices to the test. I loaded up the cart with essentials from produce (spinach, clementines, apples, pineapple and potatoes), dairy (coffee creamer, milk and eggs), chicken, a bottle of Aldi’s white Sangria and a Two-Tier Lazy Susan Turntable in the Aldi Finds aisle for $5.99. All of that for $50.
Store brands, which have grown popular in recent years, often cost less and many taste the same as the name-brand items. Aldi carries some brand items and often they are right next to the store version.
Last month, a 15.4-ounce box of Honey Nut Cheerios cost $3.49 compared to $1.89 for the Aldi brand Millville Honey Nut Crispy Oats that was 19.5 ounces.
I’ve started doing blind taste tests with my family to see if anyone can notice a difference – some Aldi fans have talked in Facebook groups about doing the taste tests with ketchup, too. No one could tell the difference between real Corn Flakes and Aldi’s version but in a surprise twist, some liked Aldi’s Thin Wheat better than the name-brand Wheat Thins.
Low prices are why Martha Childers-Bauers has been making weekly shopping trips for more than 15 years after an Aldi opened near her in Avon, Ohio. The mother of five says her family does 90% of their grocery shopping at Aldi with produce, dairy and meats being common purchases.
“We would not be eating as much,” Childers-Bauers said frankly about how Aldi’s low prices help her family. “We’re very budget conscious; we have to be careful how much we spend. Aldi has broadened our palate, and we are able to try new things.”
When Petra Unander, of Palm City, Florida, sees the stickers, she stocks up. She said she recently found pizzas marked down to a dollar that she threw in the freezer.
Unander, who has lived in America since 1991, is the biggest Aldi fan I’ve ever met and estimates she does 90% of her shopping at Aldi, and it’s an added bonus when she’s able to get German coffee, candies and wine that remind her of home.
She says she has converted many friends who were unfamiliar with the retailer into loyal Aldi shoppers.
“You just got to give it a try,” she tells them. “People are so set in their ways and in their routines, but once they try it then they’ll return.”
I took advantage of this guarantee once when I didn’t like a jar of tomato sauce. I got a different kind of sauce and my money back.
Low prices aren’t just for produce, dairy and $2.95 wine under the Aldi Winking Owl brand.
There’s also a special Aldi Finds aisle (or aisles) filled with limited and seasonal deals.
For Stefanie Fleming, of St. Petersburg, Florida, this is the “Aisle of Shame.”
“There’s nothing at all shameful about shopping at Aldi, but the Aisle(s) of Shame are the center aisles with the good stuff,” she said laughing. “It’s all of the items you never knew you needed or wanted.”
The aisle has its own cult following like the store with blogs like Fleming’s Aldi Aisle of Shame blog at Aisleofshame.com where she highlights the deals from Aldi’s weekly ad. There also are several Facebook groups where shoppers share their finds. Fleming started hers in 2019 and it has quickly grown from 300,000 last July to nearly 678,000 members last week.
Among the most popular items have been pineapple corers, a teal furniture cabinet for $69.99, toys, air fryers and clothes like pajamas with wine glasses on them and dresses. In April, there was an $89 foldable exercise bike and $9.99 women’s dress shoes that many say are comparable to $145 Rothy’s.
My best finds have been for my niece from $6.99 potty training books (cheaper than Amazon’s $8.74), children’s clothes including Minnie Mouse and Frozen outfits marked down to $2.45 each. And you can’t go wrong with buying 100 ounces of bubble solution for 75 cents on clearance from $3.99.
“If you see something and you want it, you have to buy it immediately,” Fleming said, adding it’s possible popular items could return several months later. “You need to act fast.”
► Retailers dropping masks: Aldi, McDonald’s, Home Depot, Costco and more no longer require masks for vaccinated customers. See the list.
Food and drinks not in the Aldi Finds aisle also have a tendency to sell out regularly and go viral.
The store sells Kirkwood Breaded Chicken Fillets that shoppers say mirror the taste of Chick-fil-A’s fillets. The Aldi Red Bag Chicken Facebook group, which formed in May 2020, has more than 20,000 members who share recipes and commiserate about difficulty finding a bag.
Mandy Allen, of Fort Madison, Iowa, shops at Aldi regularly, and her “adult Capri Sun” using Aldi ingredients has made her an online celebrity.
Allen created concoctions using a bottle of peach wine, a bottle of pineapple wine and two bags of frozen fruit. She didn’t use the Winking Owl wine but another Aldi brand, Burlwood Cellars Pacific Fruit Vineyards, with bottles costing $3.99.
“Literally, I just dumped a bottle of wine in the bag, sealed it back up and slit a hole in it with the scissors and poked a straw in,” she said.
Then she shared the drinks on the Aldi Aisle of Shame Community Facebook page. And voila, viral drink.
Shopping carts: Don’t forget you’ll need a quarter to use a shopping cart at Aldi, but you’ll get it back – as long as you return the cart to the corral. Some shoppers choose to pay it forward and give their carts – with the coin still in it – to others.
Payment: Aldi accepts cash, credit cards, most debit cards and food stamps but not checks.
Coupons: For some bargain-savvy shoppers, it may feel strange that Aldi doesn’t take manufacturer coupons, but 90% of products store brands. Sometimes when a new or remodeled store opens, there are special store-specific coupons.
Bags: Bring your own reusable bags or pay 7 cents for paper bags and 10 cents for plastic. Stores often have extra boxes that you can use. Customers bag their groceries on the long counter at the front of the store.
Size and selection: Aldi stores are smaller than your average grocery store and carry the most commonly purchased grocery items, many through its private label brands. Stores don’t have deli departments.
Prices: The company estimates shoppers save up to 50% on many items compared to the cost of like items at other stores.
Double guarantee: If you’re not 100% satisfied with a product, bring it back and Aldi will replace the product and also refund your money.
Phone numbers: Stores do not have numbers but frequently asked questions and store location information is available at Aldi.us.
Store hours: Aldi’s hours were trimmed early in the pandemic with many locations opening at 9 a.m. and closing by 8 or 9 p.m. daily. The majority of stores continue to open at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays and reserve the first hour of business for vulnerable shoppers, including seniors and expectant mothers. There are no plans to extend store hours at this time, Kate Kirkpatrick, Aldi director of communications, told USA TODAY.
Staffing: Aldi cashiers sit down while checking out customers. Why? Kirkpatrick said it’s for ergonomics and efficiency. “We’ve found our cashiers are more comfortable and safe while scanning seated,” she said, adding it makes for “an efficient and speedy checkout experience.”