ALDI 101: How To Shop At Aldi
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ALDI 101 continues! For those of you who are just tuning in, I am taking a mini-break from recipe posting to share a 3-part series with you about one of my favorite places – ALDI! After my first post yesterday on Why I Shop At Aldi, we are continuing today with How To Shop At Aldi. Then be sure to tune in tomorrow too for What To Buy At Aldi.
As I mentioned yesterday, I do about 50% of my grocery shopping at Aldi and am a huge fan of the store. But without a doubt, there are a few quirks that differentiate Aldi from traditional grocery stores. So I thought it would be fun to do a little “how to” post about the entire shopping experience there — from planning your trip, to arriving, to finding your way around, to checking out, and then leaving with your bags and boxes of affordable Aldi goodness.
For those of you who have never set foot in an Aldi before, I really hope this will inspire you to give it a try. (And then you totally have to report back and tell me how it goes!!) For those of you who haven’t been in years, or even those of you who go regularly, hopefully there will be a tidbit or two in here that you didn’t know that will make your shopping experience all the more Aldi-tastic. :)
Again, this series is not sponsored, endorsed, or in any way associated with the store. This is just something I wanted to do for fun to hopefully start a conversation about even more affordable grocery shopping, and share with you some of the reasons I really like shopping at Aldi!
Planning Your Trip To Aldi: Store Hours & Weekly Ads
I mentioned yesterday that one important thing to note when planning a trip to Aldi is that they are not a 24/7 grocery store. They are only open during peak business hours, which in the US is typically 9am-8pm Monday-Saturday, and 10am-7pm on Sundays. So pencil that into your schedule!
Weekly Ads & Specials
Weekly ads are one of my favorite things about Aldi. In contrast to most grocery stores that publish their weekly ads the day they go into effect, Aldi always publishes their weekly ads and specials 2 weeks in advance every Wednesday. And the specials are always amazing!
The weekly ads are usually condensed to a simple 4-page flyer, which can be found on their website, on their cool new app (where you can also find stores and create grocery lists), or you can even sign up to have the weekly special offers emailed to you. Then of course, once you are actually in the store, the current weekly ad flyer is available for you to pick up right as you walk in the door. And the upcoming week’s ad is posted in the window as you are leaving.
In addition to the weekly ad, don’t forget to check out these amazing specials which are posted on their website and marked in the store:
- Special Buys — Every week, Aldi has a section in the middle of the store called “Special Buys”. The special buy items are usually all over the map — from food, to housewares to everything in between! Often they are mostly grouped around a theme, like the SuperBowl or Valentine’s or next week, for example, is apparently an Italian Pasta theme with everything from fresh pastas and sauces, to fancy olive oils, to stainless steel pasta pots, etc. They are totally worth checking out, as I have found all sorts of random things there over the years. And when those items go on clearance, they are even cheaper!
- Fresh Meat Special Buys — Every Wednesday, Aldi publishes a fresh meat special buy, which is usually an amazing deal. (This week is an entire pot roast set with veggies for $7.99!) These are advertised online and in stores, but be forewarned — they usually disappear quickly.
- New Low Prices – Aldi also has an entire page on their website that they update whenever prices drop on certain items. It’s practically like another great weekly ad in and of itself.
Or You Can Skip The Planning…
…and be spontaneous and just show up to see what’s in the store that week! Again, the weekly flyers are always available just inside the door, so at minimum, be sure to grab one when you arrive.
Arriving At Aldi: Carts, Bags & Boxes
One of the important distinctions about shopping at Aldi is that they do not provide you free bags or carts to carry your groceries. As I said yesterday, Aldi was green before “green” was cool. ;)
You can either bring your own reusable shopping bags to use when you grocery shop, or you can use Aldi’s carts, bags or boxes.
Aldi always has a large section of carts housed just outside the front entrance, and they are technically free to use — but you have to pay a quarter to release a cart, and then your quarter is returned once you turn it back in. Or you can be a “quarter angel” and leave your quarter in the cart to surprise the customer coming after you. :)
This may go without saying, but just in case you’re iffy about releasing the cart, there is usually a tiny box up by each handle where the chains are connected. Just pop your quarter into the slot and pull. Then you’re ready to go!
Another option instead of (or in addition to) a grocery cart is to grab one of the cardboard boxes throughout the store where items are displayed, and then use it to help carry your groceries. Trust me — you are totally allowed to take the boxes (provided they are empty or at least mostly empty). In fact, Aldi encourages it because then there is less for the checkers to clean up around the store.
Sometimes people also leave leftover boxes in the bagging area near the register. So if you end up needing an extra bag or box when you’re checking out, be sure to peek ahead and see if there are any boxes you can take for free.
Aldi also provides plastic and paper grocery bags that you can buy to take your groceries home. But heads up — if you go in expecting to buy a bag, they are only available at the checkout (not at the entrance). So you need to find a way to carry your groceries until the checkout. But once you do reach the checkout, they are generally located just underneath the grocery checkout belt where you lay your groceries. You can choose paper or plastic, and they are each a few cents.
You can also reuse old Aldi paper or plastic bags that you have bought on a prior shopping trip. Just be sure to tell your cashier that, otherwise they will charge you for them again.
Finding Your Way Around Aldi: Store Layout, Pallets & Labels
One of my favorite things about Aldi is that the stores are all laid out very similarly. In fact, I can’t speak to many other cities around the world, but at least in Kansas City, our Aldi stores are practically identical. (Although you cannot legally sell alcohol in grocery stores in Kansas, so the wines/beers/etc. are only available in Missouri.)
In general, Aldi stores basically have three long aisles. When you first walk in, there should be a place to pick up the weekly ad. Then typically there are a few of the specialty items just inside the door as a preview. Then the aisle are comprised of the following sections:
- Frozen Foods
- Pantry Items
- Snacks and Sweets
- Refrigerated Meats
- Household Items
- Pet Food
- Special Buys (you can’t miss it — this is usually a section in the middle of the store with all sorts of random items from the Weekly Ad!)
I will go into more detail about the specific items in the store in tomorrow’s What To Buy At Aldi post.
But in general, know that 95% of the items in the store are the Aldi brand. And typically there is only one (or maybe two) options for any one specific product. So for example, there is only one type of baking soda. You don’t get the option of 5 different brands and packaging. This helps keeps the prices low and focuses the store’s inventory.
Pallets & Labels
The other thing about Aldi is that they are unapologetically “no frills”. They don’t invest in tons of fancy signs and displays, and the money they save there helps keep your prices low! Case in point: the way their food is displayed. Unless it is in the refrigerators or freezers, all of the items are generally store in cardboard boxes on pallets.
And the price for each item will either be clearly printed on labels above or below it. I love it because you don’t have to squint down at teeny tiny labels to see the price on each item. The pallets (which now happen to be tres popular on Pinterest) also help for easy stocking for the employees.
Checking Out At Aldi: Lines, Paying, Cart Swap, Bagging
Ok, I feel like the first thing I should say about the check up lines is that they move FAST. So don’t be dismayed if you walk up and there are a few people in front of you with full carts. The cashiers at Aldi are super-crazy-unbelievably-ninja fast, and (fun fact!) nearly every item in the store has two barcodes on the packaging. So when they go through the two-sided scanner, they pretty much always scan the first time. (Brilliant, Aldi!!)
But a few important things to know about keeping up your end of the speedy checkout process.
- You are responsible for unloading all of your items onto the checkout belt. Don’t leave them in bags or boxes. Unpack every single one for speedy scanning.
- If you plan to purchase a paper or plastic bag, go ahead and pull them out and set them on the checkout belt along with your groceries. Or at least, hold them up so that the cashier can see them.
How To Pay
You have three options for paying — cash, credit, debit or EBT card. (Edited: ALDI now accepts credit cards — yay!)
The Cart Swap
While you are paying, the cashier might surprise you by doing the Aldi Cart Swap. You might not even notice — often it happens so quickly!
When the cashiers are scanning your items, they will usually place them in a cart that is already waiting there at the end of the checkout (not the cart you have been using). So once you have paid, you have a cart full of groceries waiting for you. Rather than hold up the line and wait for you to unload the cart so that it can be reloaded with groceries of the person behind you (remember, things are moving quickly!), the checker will just do a cart swap and send you and the grocery-loaded cart to the bagging station. And then they will sub in your cart as the replacement, which you leave behind.
Sometimes this can work a little differently, depending on whether or not you have tons of groceries, or whether you had a cart to begin with. But in general, the idea is that you are not supposed to hold up the line by leisurely bagging your groceries right by the check out. Thus…
Aldi customers are encouraged to bag their groceries in the bagging area just beyond the checkout. It’s nothing fancy — usually just a long counter, and sometimes there are a few extra cardboard boxes or bags there that you can use. The idea is just that you can take your time bagging groceries however you would like there, while the checkout line can continue to move uninterrupted.
And voila! You now have your groceries, you’ve saved a lot of $$$, and you are ready to go home and cook some recipes from Gimme Some Oven!!! Ok, ok, or you can go home and enjoy your groceries however you’d like. ;)
On your way out of the store, be sure to check out the flyer for the next week’s ad which is posted on the doors as you leave, as well as being available in a print flyer that you can take home.
Also don’t forget to turn in your cart. There are no cart bays in the parking lot, so the hope is that you will return it right where you found it.
Then you can say hasta la vista, bebe — until next time!
Tomorrow the final post will be What To Buy At Aldi. Then don’t forget to check out yesterday’s post on Why I Shop At Aldi.
What are some of your tips for shopping at Aldi?