Learn the ins and outs of how to shop at ALDI, the international discount grocery chain, to save money on your family’s grocery bill.
When it comes to budgeting, many families single biggest struggle is grocery spending. You try to save money by meal planning, you make lists, you try to eat in instead of eating out, but no matter what you do, you always seem to be over budget when it comes to food. So I reached out to my Instagram followers for their best tips and tricks to save money on groceries… and one store kept popping up over and over again: ALDI! And since it had been well over a decade since I visited one myself – I asked for all their best tips on how to shop at ALDI to save money on groceries.
20+ Dos & Don’ts for How to Shop at ALDI
For those who aren’t familiar, ALDI is a German, family-owned discount supermarket chain. It’s been in Germany since 1913, and opened its first store in the US in 1976… so it’s been around a long time.
But it operates a little differently than many of the supermarkets you might be accustomed to here in the US. While many of their practices are common in German supermarkets, they are largely unique to ALDI in other countries. This includes no frills stores, a heavy presence of their own brands, and other cost-cutting measures like small footprints, no bags and cart rentals!
But before I delve into the dos and don’ts of how to shop at ALDI, there’s also a lot of rumor that surrounds the store, and it’s relationship with Trader Joe’s due to a complicated corporate history that all goes back to a family feud over cigarettes.
A Brief History of ALDI
So I know I’m a finance nerd – but this is the kind of stuff I love and makes finance more entertaining than soaps and reality TV combined!
In 1946, two brothers, Karl and Theo Albrecht, took over their mother’s store which had been in operation since 1913. They expanded operation across Germany, Europe and beyond.
In 1960, the two brothers separated the business into two separate groups: Aldi Süd and Aldi Nord. The reason for the split? They couldn’t agree on whether or not to sell cigarettes. In 1962, they started using the name ALDI, an abbreviation for Albrecht (their last name) Diskont.
Since 1966, the two groups have been legally and financially separate; however, they often negotiate with brands and contractors as a single entity for leverage.
Aldi Süd first expanded to the US in 1976, opening its first store in Iowa. It now operates more than 1,600 stores in 35 states here in the US. Aldi Nord also has a US presence, but not as ALDI. In 1979, it acquired Trader Joe’s, and continues to operate all 474 Trader Joe’s stores in the US.
15 Dos for How to Shop at ALDI
Now that you better understand what ALDI is, where it came from, and it’s semi-relation to Trader Joe’s, here are my followers tips for how to make the most of shopping there!
Bring Your Own Bags
ALDI is all about delivering goods to customers at the lowest cost possible. They do this by keeping the cost of operations low – which includes charging for bags. You can skip this charge by bringing your own.
Bag Your Own Groceries
They also don’t bag your groceries for you. There is, however, a counter at the front of the store once you get through the checkout line. Pull your cart up, and bag your groceries there, before walking out and returning your cart.
Bring a Quarter for Your Cart
This is another way they keep operating costs low. To release a cart from the line, you have to insert a quarter. And when you return your cart, you get your quarter back. You’ll be impressed by and appreciate the neat and tidy parking lot, with no loose carts too.
If You Want, Buy It… It Might Not Be There Next Time
ALDI has frequent weekly specials, that are temporary in nature. These include branded products, seasonal offerings, and even discounts on regular product offerings. But they go fast, and are limited stock.
You Won’t Find Everything There
Another way ALDI keeps costs low? They keep their footprint small. And they don’t offer everything you would find in a larger supermarket. Many followers recommend starting at ALDI, stocking up on basics, and then finishing your list and finding specialty items at your local supermarket.
Great for Basics & Pantry Staples
ALDI has great deals on basics. On my trip, there was bread for $0.89 as a weekly special. They also offer great prices on canned goods, baking goods (flour, sugar, spices). Some areas also have great dairy prices – though that wasn’t the case here in Connecticut.
Great Specialty Snack Offerings
Over 90% of the products in ALDI stores are exclusive ALDI brands. Within these brands, they offer awesome organic snack and gluten-free offerings, at price points significantly below comparable branded products.
Buy Dairy and Eggs
Many followers raved about the ultra-low prices on dairy and eggs, especially organic dairy. At our local ALDI here in Connecticut, however, the dairy prices were much higher than at Costco, and comparable to my local supermarket.
Buy Gourmet Cheeses
You might expect a store with German origins to have great cheese – and you aren’t mistaken. ALDI has a great assortment of imported, specialty and gourmet cheeses, sure to impress on any charcuterie board.
Best Deals on Produce
Many followers raved about the awesome deals on produce – organic and otherwise – at their ALDI. The prices cannot be beaten. Though others warned produce frequently has a short shelf life, so beware on stocking up.
Go Early for Best Deals
Really awesome deals sell out fast. If you want to be sure to catch them go early. I can attest to this – on my trip, they had bananas for $0.44 a pound. There was a completely empty pallet except for one box of broken bananas left… at 10AM.
Buy ALDI Diapers
According to one follower, ALDI brand diapers are comparable in quality to Wal-Mart or Target for over 30% less per diaper.
Shop ALDI with Instacart
ALDI now offers online ordering with same-day delivery via Instacart. It’s a great way to shop their low prices on the staples you need, without the hassle of having to go to multiple stores to complete your grocery list.
Be Flexible with Your List
As previously mentioned, ALDI keeps prices so competitive by offering 90% of their own exclusive brands. You won’t find your favorite brands – but you will likely find an ALDI brand alternative. And they guarantee their quality – if you are not satisfied, they will not only replace the product, but they will also refund your money via their “Twice as Nice” guarantee.
Price Compare with Your Regular Store(s)
Do what I did. Go with your regular grocery list, and price compare vs. your regular store and brands. Then decide for yourself whether the cost savings and the extra trip is worth the stop.
8 Don’ts for Shopping at ALDI
While the overwhelming response to shopping at ALDI was definitely positive, there were also plenty of words of caution. And after my own trip, I would echo many of these.
Don’t Buy Fresh Meats
While many were fans of ALDI’s frozen produce and meat offerings, several warned of bad experiences buying fresh meat at ALDI. At our local store, I noticed there was a very limited fresh organic offering. Also, while the prices were affordable, the quality was definitely inferior. The ground beef looked a funny, lighter pink color – and on closer inspection, I realized it was because the fat content was so high. It was a 73/27 blend vs. most store offerings of 80/20 or 85/15.
Don’t Expect Produce to Last Long
As many followers raved about the produce and organic produce prices, nearly as many warned that it doesn’t last long and has limited shelf life. Several also recommended inspecting produce boxes carefully before making your selections, and washing produce immediately, as sometimes, it comes with bugs.
Don’t Assume It’s Less Expensive for Everything
There are definite deals to be had at ALDI. You will find most of them on their exclusive brands, because that’s where they make their money. But not everything is cheaper than your local supermarket, and my own cost comparison found most of what I buy to be comparable or cheaper at Costco.
Don’t Expect Everything to Be There
You won’t be able to do your full week’s shopping at ALDI. The store is small, offerings are limited, and I’m fairly certain our local store had no cleaning products or personal care items. Be prepared to shop more than one store.
Don’t Fall for the Weekly Specials
While you can save big shopping at ALDI, don’t be deterred from your list by the allure of the Weekly Specials. It’s not a deal if you don’t actually need it and won’t use it.
Don’t Be Turned Off By No-Name Brands
Remember, more than 90% of the products at ALDI are their exclusive, brands, not name brands. But many of these offerings are great deals, high quality, with organic, gluten-free and gourmet products. Some of the brands are also the same as you will find at Trader Joe’s.
One follower who used to work for General Mills shared that many of ALDI’s brands are actually made by major consumer brands, just under the ALDI exclusive brand label.
Don’t Go Down the Seasonal Aisle
If you’ve saved money on groceries, you may give it all back if you head down the seasonal aisle. ALDI made major headlines last year with its wine advent calendar, that literally sold out overnight. But again, if it’s not on your list, and you don’t need it, it’s not a deal and just will steer you off budget.
Don’t Rush to Judge
Having read these dos and don’ts of how to shop at ALDI, go in knowing what to expect. You’ll find a store with limited product assortment, slightly larger than a convenience store and significantly smaller than a supermarket. You can save a lot of money, but do your research and be open to trying off-brand options to do it.
Do you shop at ALDI? What are your favorite things to buy there? Be sure to also check out my ALDI vs. Costco Price Comparison to see how it stacks up to my favorite discount membership store.
For more tips to Save on Groceries, check out 25+ Ways to Save $500, including 7 Ways to Save on Groceries and How to Save Money by Meal Planning. You can find all of these and more on my Save on Groceries board on Pinterest.