The Beginner’s Guide to ALDI

ALDI for beginners

Last week, I shared a post about my early ALDI-shopping roots, how I recently rediscovered the store, and why I am quickly becoming a shameless ALDI evangelist. 

But though I recommend that anyone – on any budget – give ALDI a shot, I know that the first visit or two can be overwhelming. Navigating unfamiliar brands and an unusual checkout process might intimidate all but the most adventurous shopper without a little advance preparation.

So I’ve created this beginner’s guide to help you make the most of your Aldi shopping experience. Enjoy!

1. Check ads and make a plan.

Like most supermarkets, ALDI publishes its weekly sales fliers online. But while you might be accustomed to getting acquainted with your neighborhood’s flyer when you get to the store, I strongly recommend looking at the ALDI flyer ahead of time, especially on your first few visits.

First of all, there isn’t much of an entryway at ALDI stores where you to stand around and browse sales. And secondly, because of the unfamiliar layout and since the special buys change often, you might miss some fantastic deals if you don’t plan ahead.

2. Bring a quarter.

One of the ways ALDI keeps prices down is through its shopping cart system – you stick a quarter in a slot to get a cart, and then return the cart at the end of your shopping trip to get your quarter back. I keep one in the car and a couple in my purse at all times so I won’t be unprepared!

If somebody offers you a cart while you’re getting out of your car, just give them your quarter. And don’t forget to retrieve your quarter at the end of the trip!

3. Bring your own bags (or be prepared to buy them and/or scrounge for boxes)

15 years ago, when I first started shopping at ALDI, nobody in my area carried canvas shopping bags yet. So my sister instructed me to gather empty cartons and cardboard trays as I shopped, and I’d use those to get my purchases home.

Now that I have a stash of reusable bags, I just bring those – but scrounging for boxes is definitely still an option! If you forget your bags and don’t see any empty cartons, no need to panic: you can buy bags for a few cents each. Or, I suppose you could just push the cart out to your car and unload it directly into your trunk!

4. Keep an open mind.

When you first walk in to ALDI, the first thing you spy will likely be a display of brightly-colored bags of chips with unfamiliar packaging and logos. “Real” food comes later, so just walk on – but keep those eyes peeled for great deals on snack goodies.

I usually pick up a bag of pistachios within the first 15 feet or so of the front door, and the wine is right in that area, too. Just about halfway down that first aisle, you’ll find fantastic prices on baking goods and pantry staples. Cereal is a little further down on the right. Walk slowly and look around.

Keep in mind you aren’t shopping at ALDI for the ambiance. My store is bright and clean, but it’s not fancy. If you need an “experience”, save that money and spring for a latte or lunch later.

5. Take your time.

Between the unfamiliar packaging and new brand names, it pays to walk slowly. Remember that at ALDI, options are limited by design. So if you walk too fast, you could easily blow right past the canned goods or cereal. The store is small, so even if you walk at a snail’s pace, you aren’t likely to take anywhere near as long as you would at a superstore.

6. Don’t be afraid to circle back.

Since ALDI is laid out differently from many grocery stores, you may find yourself compelled to go against the flow and return to that first aisle again, or make several loops around the other aisles. Just plan for some wandering and don’t worry about it. Everybody else is just paying attention to their shopping and they aren’t going to notice that you’ve wandered down aisle 3 four times.

7. Read labels.

Yes, when you see a box of granola bars for $1.29, you might wonder if they’re made of sawdust. So take a few moments to flip boxes around and read those labels. Many times, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised to see that the ingredients are comparable to, or sometimes even healthier than, major brands.

8. Start small.

If the idea of replacing your usual grocery store trip with ALDI is too overwhelming right at the beginning, give yourself some specific parameters for the first few trips.

For example, on one of my first trips when I started regularly shopping ALDI again, I went there for the sole purpose of buying food for an upcoming party. So I focused on chips, crackers, wine, soda, nuts, and gourmet cheeses. Other times, I’ve shopped with baking supplies or a holiday dinner in mind.

Limiting your shopping list on the first few ventures out will make it easier to check things off the list and walk out feeling successful.

9. Try something new.

ALDI’s low prices and special buys make it possible to try things you might never have cooked before. Case in point: I recently bought a frozen lobster there on a whim, and had a lot of fun cooking it. Sure, the regular grocery store has frozen lobster, but with the huge selection (and high prices) in the seafood department there, it never would have occurred to me to buy one. Sometimes when there are fewer options, it forces you to be more creative with what’s available!

Remember that ALDI has a fantastic guarantee – if you don’t like something, you can return it for a replacement AND a refund. So there’s really no risk in trying something unfamiliar.

10. Be prepared for the check-out line.

Cashiers at ALDI work incredibly fast, so don’t be caught off guard. Load up your purchases on the conveyor belt and get your money ready! (Keep in mind that Aldi accepts cash, debit cards and EBT cards, but not credit cards.) If you need to purchase bags, you’ll find them below the conveyor belt.

As the cashier scans your purchases, he or she will load them into an empty cart at the end of the aisle. You’ll then give the cashier your empty cart and push the full one over to a counter at the front of the store, where you’ll do your own bagging/boxing.

Don’t be intimidated by this! I have found that because I’m not rushed – and, let’s face it, because I’m older than 16 and have quite a bit of experience unloading groceries at home – I can do a much better job bagging my own groceries than the average teen bagger at the traditional supermarket.

Like any other new activity, there’s a bit of a learning curve when you first start shopping ALDI. If you choose to look at it as a fun, brain-challenging adventure rather than a chore, you can actually have a lot of fun getting accustomed to this new way of shopping. And after those first couple of visits, when you realize you can buy a very large portion of your family’s food at ALDI and save a ton of money in the process, you’ll be glad you stuck it out.

**If you’re looking for more resources on shopping ALDI, two of my favorite bloggers cover shopping there extensively! Kristen at The Frugal Girl is a long-time ALDI fan whose posts helped inspire me to give it another shot, and Amy Clark of MomAdvice.com writes a column called ALDI Queen with recipes and shopping tips. 

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