You've been shopping at Aldi all wrong

There's no doubt that Aldi is a one-of-a-kind store with a fascinating story. As is the case with all unique establishments, though, the shopping experience at Aldi can be a bit different from your average supermarket. From the all-around jam-packed feel of each location to the slimmed-down staff that just opens up the boxes and loads them right onto the shelves, there's no doubt that shopping at Aldi can be a bit off-kilter if you don't go in with a strategy.

As any Aldi veteran will tell you, there are shopping tips and then there are Aldi shopping tips, with the latter incorporating factors like the self-return carts, the hidden "departments" located throughout each store, and bagging your own groceries. But, of course, developing this knowledge can take time. So, to give you a head start on your next shopping foray, we've compiled these elite tips that can help make your next Aldi adventure a smashing success.

Get a key-quarter holder

Ah, the self-returning carts. They're an iconic part of the Aldi experience. In a world of credit cards and Apple Pay, where cash has become virtually unnecessary in most places, that initial walk from the car to your local Aldi door still brings with it the requirement to somehow dig up a quarter in your purse. Or your wallet? Maybe check under the driver's seat?

And that's the problem, right? If you're trying to be a serious Aldi shopper, you're going to need a full-size cart to haul away your goodies. But if you can't find a quarter, you can end up out of luck. That's why getting an Aldi quarter holder for your key chain can be the right move. It guarantees that as long as you have your keys with you, you won't have to be that one customer carrying way too many things around in your arms. Plus, having this nifty doohickey dangling from your keys is the perfect way to send the signal to everyone around you that you mean business.

Know the best day of the week to shop

The truth is, the modern world's shift away from the typical nine to five, Monday through Friday work week has made shopping at specific times of the day in order to avoid the crowds less important — unless you're shopping on the Sunday before Christmas or the Saturday before the Super Bowl, or course. That doesn't mean there aren't other reasons to plan your Aldi trips around a certain day of the week, though. In fact, there's one factor that affects this choice in particular. Restocking.

Aldi typically restocks their Aldi Finds section in most of their markets on Wednesdays with literally dozens of new products hitting the shelves all at once. It's the best time to both check what new specialty items have been introduced to the mix, as well as what other things have been discounted and are on the way out. It can be a great time to nab a deal!

Do the math

Another thing that any Aldi shopper should always keep in mind is that not all prices are equal. While Aldi has a well-established reputation for providing quality products at very affordable prices, that doesn't mean every single item in your local Aldi is going to be a clearance-level steal.

For one thing, it's important to remember that Aldi portions are much harder to judge than you might think. They often provide products in smaller quantities, but at the same time, their simpler packaging model can also make it hard to tell how different they really are from comparable items in other stores. The point here is that between the size and packaging differences, it can be hard to easily judge how much of a deal you're getting. Sometimes it can be a steep discount and other times the savings add up to just a few cents — or none at all. You're going to want to keep that calculator app handy and be ready to do some quick price checking on a case by case basis if you want to be able to find the best deals.

Make it your primary store

Let's tie together all of the dots here. While the size and often disheveled appearance of an Aldi may suggest an operation focused on a limited selection of chintzy products, the plain truth of the matter is that Aldi's impressive selection, health-conscious production methods, and affordable pricing positions them to truly be a one-stop shop for your grocery and household needs. It's not a place where you should only go to get a few things before heading off to other "bigger, better stores" where the prices will be through the roof.

Sure, you may need to make a quick trip to other stores here and there to fill in the gaps, but from fresh produce to spices, office supplies, seasonal items, and even dog food, Aldi has got you covered. So you can feel free to stop resisting that inevitable tug that all Aldis emit and just steer into the skid.

Get the right reusable shopping bags

A quarter isn't the only thing you need to bring when you head to Aldi — you have to bring your own bags, too.  

Obviously reusable shopping bags at any store can be nice, but at Aldi you definitely want to BYOB (bring your own bags) or you're literally going to pay for the mistake, as they don't provide free bags. While any reusable shopping bags will do the job, what you really want is shopping bags that hook right onto the cart. Since one of the ways Aldi keeps the prices so low is by not having anyone bag your groceries, you're going to need to do the bagging yourself. If you can pop some already opened shopping bags right onto the rim of your cart once you've emptied it onto the belt, it can make the whole process as easy as pie! Now, the cashier is loading your bags just by throwing your items back in the cart.

Don't skip the specialty and seasonal items

Most Aldi customers know that the supermarket chain is always stocked with a plentiful supply of grocery store staples. But what many newbie shoppers often fail to notice is that they also have a small, oft overlooked specialty section, called Aldi Finds (sometimes referred to as Special Buys). One of the reasons it gets less attention is because it often looks like it's filled with random paraphernalia that has nothing to do with your shopping visit.

But that randomness is exactly why you need to be checking it out on a regular basis! The Aldi Finds section is actually chock full of products that are impressively priced and can range from limited-time food items to gift ideas, back to school specials, and even seasonal decorations. Be careful, though. You typically can't depend on any one item being there on a regular basis, so make sure you check the aisle every time you're shopping to see what new things have been cycled in. And if you find something you love… stock up!

Don't believe the rumors about the fruits and veggies

One thing we've heard from a lot of different folks is the fact that Aldi may have some great prices but because of the sometimes disheveled open boxes and small selection in the produce section, it doesn't come across as the kind of place where you should get things like fruits and veggies. But if you push past that initial impression you'll find that the presentation of an Aldi isn't an indicator of a lack of quality. It's simply a direct result of the desire to keep those prices so darn low.

Yes, they tend to stock less overall variety in their produce section, but that comes from a deliberate attempt to not have anything perishable go bad on a regular basis — they're just stocking what people are buying. A lot of people tend to avoid the fresh produce at Aldi like it's Walmart quality, but the truth is, it's just a different, yet well-structured approach to providing fresh fruits and veggies. Those who've tried it say it's good quality, so don't be afraid to add them onto your list.

Don't fall for the meat myths, either

While we're on the subject of commonly avoided areas, another section that doesn't get a lot of love is the Aldi meats department. But once again, the pared-down, simplistic look of an Aldi meat case doesn't automatically imply low quality — and neither do the low prices. If anything, Aldi meats can more than hold their own against other, larger stores that have a reputation for quality.

From their bacon to their whole chickens and everything in between, the meat at Aldi tends to be carefully sourced and well-labeled, so that you can feel confident with what you're getting. There are also quite a few options throughout the store, including things like Gianelli turkey sausage and even convenient individually wrapped salmon fillets. The best part is that all of these different products ring in at those famously low Aldi prices. Quality meat at an affordable price point? We call that one a win-win!

Separating the meats takes extra attention

While this is true for all meat shopping, at Aldi, in particular, you have to take a few extra steps to deal with your meat during the checkout process. As we've already mentioned, the cashier will throw it right back into the cart along with your fresh fruits and veggies after it's been added to your bill. Gross. Needless to say, this can be really unsanitary, so you're going to want to try to head things off in a couple of different ways.

First, most Aldis have plastic bags in the meat section. We suggest bagging up your meats with a second layer of protection before checking out. Also, try to sort through your groceries as you put them up on the conveyor belt. It can help to lump the meats together in one spot so that they'll generally be placed in close proximity to each other once they get into the cart.

Look for the Never Any! label on the meat

If you do decide to get your meat at Aldi (and we recommend it!) there is one more factor you may want to consider. While all the meat that Aldi provides tends to be well-sourced in general, there's one specific label that you're going to want to look for, especially if you're on the health-conscious track.

The Aldi Never Any! label is a great sign that the meat you're about to purchase and feed to your loved ones hasn't been over processed or overloaded with chemicals. The Never Any! seal indicates that the animal in question was raised on a vegetarian diet that did not include any steroids, antibiotics, or hormones. As a caution, the Never Any! label may imply a slight but natural bump in the overall price of the meat, but while it might cost a little bit more, it can be well worth it in the long run if it helps to keep those harmful chemicals out of your system!

Look for the Simply Natural label everywhere else

Aldi's commitment to providing healthier options for their customers doesn't stop at their Never Any! line of meats. The company has released several different health-related product lines and certifications that can help streamline your shopping experience. From their "live G free" gluten-free products to their "Earth Grown" line of vegetarian and vegan goodies, Aldi has their health food bases covered.

The best — and most prolific — label you'll see stamped on products all over your local store, though, is probably going to be their Simply Natural certification. This simple label indicates that a product is either organic or Non-GMO Project verified. It also means the product is devoid of artificial ingredients and preservatives. The basic goal with the Simply Natural label is to keep the extra ingredients and processing to a minimum. You can see the impressively long list of ingredients that are never allowed into Simply Natural products right here. It's a great label for any savvy shopper to keep an eye out for.

Check out their specialty cheeses

Another indicator to watch out for — one that isn't so much for the health nuts as for the gourmands — is the "Specially Selected" line of products. This label signifies quality, and we're not just talking about "better than Walmart" quality, either. We've already established that pretty much anything at Aldi is going to trump that! But with many of their gourmet items, and with the Specially Selected items, in particular, Aldi has decided to up the ante.

At the top of their list of elite foods is their dairy selection. While you can always pick up a cheap bag of pre-sliced cheddar or a block of some Colby-Jack cheese sticks, if you look a little bit closer, the Aldi specialty cheese section is a wonder to behold. From well-aged cheddar, deliciously ripe Asiago, mildly smooth brie, and specially selected Gouda to several different uniquely hand-crafted cheeses infused with a variety of different flavors, the Aldi gourmet cheeses are an absolute bargain. And we mean that literally. Coming in simplistic packaging and small sizes, these cheeses are incredibly well priced, making them the perfect option for assembling your next cheese platter …or maybe just to have on hand to go along with a glass of red wine at the end of a long day.

... and their gourmet chocolates

Aldi often frontloads their candies in the first part of the store, with the cheaper Hershey classics sported front and center on the shelves, and it's easy to walk right by since you can get those chocolate staples pretty much anywhere you go. But there's something else tucked away there next to the big name brands, and it's worth pausing to consider. We're talking about Aldi's higher-end chocolate selection.

While it's difficult to pin down exactly which chocolates you're going to have in any one store, they're worth nibbling on, either way, to see how they compare to that lowbrow Hershey bar sitting one shelf over. From their Choceur chocolates to their Moser Roth brand, these sweet treats are refined options with very low price tags. The dark chocolates, in particular, stand out when compared to most higher-priced alternatives and tend to impress even the pickiest of palates. The cherry — or cocoa bean —  on top of it all is that Aldi has expressed their goals to go above and beyond when it comes to getting either Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, or UTZ certified chocolate, so you can enjoy your dessert with a clean conscious!

Don't only buy food items

Most people associate Aldi with food. The whole store feels like a supermarket. But that doesn't mean they don't provide other products as well. The house and home section of the store is often lumped in with the Aldi Finds selections, but the products are amazing enough that they deserve their own mention. Once again, though, this area of the store is often more of a Wild West scenario, with a Black Friday overtoned "nab it if you see it" kind of mindset required.

From baking dishes and utensils to office furniture, tables, decor, and storage solutions, this section of Aldi never ceases to amaze. It feels small, but just like the size to contents ratio of Aldi in general, size doesn't really mean a thing here. The shelves are jam-packed! Once again, though, with so little space to work with, they often cycle things in and out on a regular basis. The trick here is to check the section regularly, find the things that you know you want to get, and then keep an eagle eye out for when they begin to be replaced. There's usually a golden window of time in which the items are discounted but not yet completely sold out, and that's when you want to pounce.

Load your bags at the car

Once you've gotten through the checkout — and if you're not already using your nifty cart-attached shopping bags — you may want to consider your options before you commit to muscling your way over to the counter in order to bag everything up. If it's busy in the store, if you have kids in tow, or if you just don't feel like handling everything twice, it may be a good idea to take your unbagged groceries right out to the car to load them up properly there. 

This tactic is admittedly a bit weather dependent, but if you're not dealing with thunderstorms or blizzards, it really can be a game-changer. The bagging and loading process, which is often uber stressful after a full-blown shopping trip, can become a bit of a more tranquil experience when done out in the sunshine rather than trying to squeeze it in in the middle of traffic right next to the busy supermarket exit.