5 Tips for Shopping at Aldi Without Losing Your Mind

Learn our tricks for shopping at Aldi, the sometimes-confusing grocery store.

With 2,000 stores across 36 states, and plans to have 2,500 locations by next year, Aldi is the third-largest U.S. grocer by store count. That wide geographic reach means that chances are good you've seen a few in your neighborhood or when traveling to other cities. Even if the Aldi logo looks familiar, venturing into the no-frills German discount grocery chain can still be intimidating, especially if you've heard tales about mysterious coin requirements and super-speedy bagging protocols. If you're ready to take the plunge into this bargain-hunter's paradise, these tips will help you make the most of an Aldi shopping trip:

Bag Up

Here's how you visit a traditional grocery store: "Hey, there's a grocery store, I think I'll shop right now." Here's how you visit Aldi: "Am I really ready for this?" You need to do a little planning ahead for an Aldi visit, and that starts with the bag situation. Because the store does not give away bags (although they are available for purchase for just a few cents), you'll need to make sure you have enough reusable bags to carry your entire cartful. And if you plan to buy frozen goods or fresh meats, it might be good to have a few insulated bags in the trunk, too. It may not seem like a big deal now, but you'll see the value of good bagging when you get back home and start carrying everything inside.

Get Your Quarter Ready

That precious, sometime-elusive quarter is the iconic moment in every Aldi visit. You must insert a quarter into the slot on one of their specially designed grocery carts, which releases it from "cart jail." When you're done packing up your car with your purchases, you need to take your cart all the way back to that corral at the entrance of the store in order have your quarter returned. Giving shoppers a financial inventive to return carts reinforces the behavior those orderly Germans want from you (and think about it, do you ever see a loose cart in an Aldi parking lot?). That boost from customer-driven labor allows the stores to staff lean, with only about two or three people working at an Aldi store on the customer side at any given shift.

Linger in the "Aisle of Dreams"

In each store, there's a section called Aldi Finds. True Aldi-heads often go there first, because it's the perfect place to get a treasure-hunting fix. Nicknamed by many shoppers as the "Aisle of Dreams," the section has a rotating selection of seasonal items, deep-clearance selections, and anything and everything else, from sporting goods to power tools to clothing. Stories abound of great deals that have been snagged in the aisle and of deep regrets about the bargains not taken home.

Don't Expect To Get Your Steps In

While a visit to a fancypants grocery store might require some sturdy walking shoes and a strong constitution, you can make it through an Aldi in fewer steps than it probably takes you to walk around the block. That's because an average Aldi store often is just one-tenth the size of a major superstore grocery chain, we're talking about the kind with the sushi bar, cheese monger, and massive floral displays. There are only four or five aisles in an average Aldi, so even if you stop to look at every item, you won't be covering much ground.

Look Lively at Checkout

This is not the time to peruse the latest celebrity gossip magazines (especially since Aldi doesn't sell them). Instead, you need to spring into action as soon as you can possibly begin unloading your cart, because speed is a valuable commodity for shoppers and checkout staff alike, which you'll realize when you see how fast the Aldi employees scan items. As soon as the last person is handed a receipt, get rolling to maneuver your unloaded and now-empty cart into place beside the checker. Be ready to pay the moment you hear your total, and then to move speedily right over to the bagging area. From there, you'll take all your loose items and put them into the bags you so brilliantly remembered to bring.

Congratulate Yourself

Don't be surprised if you're suddenly bagged up and out the door in a fraction of the time it takes you to shop at your regular supermarket. And prepare to be even more surprised at how much money you managed to save, too. As you walk your cart back to the corral and prepare to have your quarter returned to you, you can congratulate yourself on your first successful Aldi run. Today, you are a true bargain hunter!

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