I have no problem admitting ignorance and coming clean when I realize I’ve been living under a rock. This happened last year when I learned that you can make easy microwave popcorn out of kernels and a paper bag and then shared that knowledge over on my Facebook page (everyone’s like, “How did you NOT know that?”).

Or the year before, when I realized the wooden device you use to pull a pizza out of the hot oven is a pizza peel instead of a pizza thingy. (DUH.) Or years ago, when I realized “paradigm” is actually not pronounced…okay, never mind.

In the same vein, I realized earlier this year that everyone but me shops at Aldi. Ridiculous. So I packed up my reusable grocery bags and a quarter, and I made my way to the local Aldi Food Market, about 10 minutes away.

It was a complete and total success. I spent half the money AND half the time that I usually would for a grocery store run. BLOWN. AWAY.

My friends are all, “I told you so!”

And I’m like, “I knoooooowwwwww.” Sigh.

Which brings me to a point. If it weren’t for posts like this that helped open my eyes, along with friends continuously telling me, “GO TO ALDI!!!” I never would’ve.

Aldi isn’t your typical grocery store experience, so you need a little prepping before just deciding to head out all willie-nillie for your weekly haul. I’m not a fan of surprises at the store (or during check-out), so here’s your head’s up!

How To Shop At Aldi

1. BRING A QUARTER.
Everyone told me this. Know why? You need a quarter to unlock a shopping cart and actually use it in the store. I usually have one in my purse all the time, but savvy Aldi shoppers keep a special “Aldi quarter” hidden away in the car. Once you’re done shopping, you get your quarter back as soon as you re-lock the cart back in its place.

How To Shop At Aldi - 10 Helpful Tips!

This keeps extra costs down since employees don’t need to spend time wrangling carts from the parking lot. You’ll also notice a common practice of handing your cart over to another shopper in the parking lot when you’re done, and then taking their quarter directly—or paying it forward by refusing their quarter!

2. EXPECT STORE BRAND.
But know that it mysteriously looks like name brand packaging. Cereal, frozen pizza, ketchup…it all looks oddly familiar until you realize the character on the package is a panda instead of a penguin. (You get my drift.) We’re not name brand food buyers anyway, so that doesn’t bother me in the slightest. Plus, many store brand items—at Aldi and other markets—are actually the same product marketed as a name brand item. You’re just paying for the fancy logo. Food for thought, people.

3. ORGANIC FOOD.
There are SO many different options for organic packaged food, as well as labels for organic produce, too. This surprised me! Affordable organic food? I’ll take it.

4. PRODUCE VARIETY.
Not only is the produce very affordable ($1.29 for a huge bundle of green onions) and good looking, there’s a large variety from which to pick. It’s not local, nor is it seasonal for Maryland, but that’s okay.

How To Shop At Aldi: 10 Helpful Tips!

I can go to farmers’ markets for local and seasonal goods, or use what we grow on our homestead. Aldi had everything from eggplant to Brussels sprouts, mangoes to kiwi fruit. It’s not a big store, and the fruit and veggie isle takes up an eighth of it. Easy.

5. NO FRILLS.
There are no frills at Aldi, just like with having to put your own cart away.

How To Shop At Aldi: 10 Helpful Tips!

Most of the items are displayed in or on the cardboard flats in which they arrived, and not necessarily in a sensible order throughout the store isles. It takes a little while to get used to this, and I missed things here and there during my first few shopping trips.

Which brings me to another point: just because my Aldi carries a certain product, doesn’t mean your Aldi will carry the same exact thing. Also? You might find a favorite brand of imported crackers one week, and then never see them again. Think of those surprises as fun! (Not a drag.)

6. BAG YOUR OWN GROCERIES.
The checkout person will ring you up, and then promptly put your products back into a new cart un-bagged. There’s a bagging station adjacent to the registers where you can fill your own reusable grocery bags, extra boxes they sometimes have laying around, or you can buy paper ($0.06 each) or plastic ($0.10 each) bags instead.

7. NO CREDIT CARDS OR CHECKS.
It’s cash or debit cards only at Aldi. Another reason they’re able to save us money.

Psssst: I’ve just edited this (it’s Feb. 26, 2016) to add that apparently some Aldi stores are now taking credit cards — in Maryland, anyway. So, proceed with the plastic…at your own risk!

8. LOTS OF CHOCOLATE.
If you’re a chocoholic, especially of the German variety, then Aldi is for you. I haven’t bought any (except for semi-sweet morsels), but I did notice rows and rows of unique chocolate bars, many of which are not domestic.

9. Aldi AND TRADER JOE’S ARE RELATED.
It’s true. Trader Joe has a brother. He’s even better. I can’t make this stuff up. (Okay, so maybe this isn’t a “tip” per say, but it’s still valuable insight to obtain before stepping foot inside.)

10. HALF THE COST; HALF THE TIME.
On my first visit, I spent $117 on a full set of groceries (a mix of organic things and not) for my family of four. The same amount of groceries at one of the other stores I frequent (there are several) would have easily cost $200 or more. Also? I was in and out in an HOUR, and that included bagging my own groceries. Granted, the weather wasn’t great the day of my maiden voyage, but going to the grocery store on at Saturday morning at 10 AM is usually a death sentence. That day? A breeze. And so has every other trip since then.

What are your favorite Aldi tips?

 

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