I had heard about Aldi on the How to Money Podcast before I ever stepped foot in one. The hosts of my favorite frugally-savvy podcast, Joel and Matt, talk about Aldi and how it’s a smart budget move for them and for families.

Living in NYC, there was no Aldi. I would shop at Trader Joe’s or at our local bodega where we’d get cheap produce that was almost past its prime, but not quite. We got used to this, and missed it when we moved to the suburbs.

We did move to the suburbs, though, and found out that our new house was a three-minute drive to the local Aldi. We went for a shopping trip.

And we were surprised.

What is it like to shop at Aldi for the first time?

I was aware that Aldi was somewhat of a cheap store. I did not know how cheap it would be. I also was unfamiliar with what was offered at the store, what the shopping experience was like and so on. Here are my reflections on shopping at Aldi over several months.

The “experience”

Shopping at Aldi is not very fun. I say this because when I shop at Trader Joe’s it’s sometimes the most fun I have in my week: the staff are friendly, they ask me how I’m doing, the jazzy new products are great to look at and there are jokes on banners throughout the store.

Not at Aldi.

Aldi is no fun. It has no personality, besides being a grocery store with food. It feels kind of empty, and lacks soul. There are very few staff-people, and they don’t say hi. There are no jokes, no friendly signs and not many reasons you’d want to stay and hang out. My mission at Aldi is to buy food and leave as fast as possible.

Of course, this keeps your errands shorter, if you want to jet from the supermarket as quickly as possible. In fact, this type of speedy shopping experience gives me the time to do other things I need to do.

The shopping carts

Why do we need to talk about shopping carts? Because at Aldi, they are different.

Aldi is a budget store, so, my experience at Aldi every time starts with taking a quarter from the cup holder in my car, so that I can bring it over to the stack of shopping carts. I insert a quarter, and un-chain one of the grocery carts from the rest of them. Then, I begin to shop.

When I’m done shopping, I can’t leave the cart in the parking lot. There are no little shelters to collect them. I just realized now that this helps Aldi to avoid needing staff’s time spent collecting carts from the parking lot.

Instead, I put my bags of groceries in my trunk, and have to return my cart inside Aldi’s doors, where I get to pop out my quarter. Then, I keep my quarter for my next trip to Aldi.

The food and products

The thing with Aldi is that, much like Trader Joe’s, the analysis paralysis of larger stores like Shop Rite is gone. There is one type of banana. There is one type of peanut butter. There are regular baby carrots, and organic baby carrots. There is one brand of eggs.

The lack of options makes it easy to shop at Aldi, because if you want eggs, here they are. You don’t need to look through cage-free, organic, free range, 12-count, 6-count, 18-count and do math to figure out which one is a bang for the buck. You just buy the Aldi eggs.

So in this way, Aldi is like Trader Joe’s, but completely un-fun. Do I find what I need? Yes, usually (except today, Aldi was sold out of gluten-free pasta by the one brand they supply, which is Live G-Free).

I thought Aldi would be a lot smaller before I shopped there for the first time. I didn’t expect there to be “fancier foods,” like pomegranate seeds, or cauliflower pizza crust, or an array of hot sauces that I actually find interesting.

Overall, I could do all my shopping at Aldi. I just don’t want to.

The prices

$2.47 for a dozen eggs. $0.95 for a package of scallions. $2.19 for almond milk. $1.55 for a package of frozen butternut squash.

If these prices sound low, it’s because they are.

Aldi keeps prices low by doing all the things you’re seeing me write about: having the shopping carts chained up, having speedy cashiers (see below) and no welcoming decor.

Non-food products

Aside from food, Aldi has some other random stuff! I don’t know where it comes from. It kind of looks like reject items from other stores, but what do I know.

There might be things like small yard tools, or flip flops, or random toys for children. There’s not much rhyme or reason to the things in the non-food aisle, and I usually do not peruse it.

The sale aisle

Aldi also has a sale aisle, with prices even cheaper than the regular prices. In the sale aisle, there may be food products that are going out of season, or being discontinued, or are on dead stock (not being ordered again). These are my postulations about the sale aisle.

I usually don’t shop the sale aisle because I know what I need to buy, I buy it and I leave.

The cashiers

Dear Lord. It is although the cashiers at Aldi have all banded together to say, “We’re all going to work as fast as possible, not give anyone the time of day and check out as many customers per hour as we can, with no frills.”

Checking out at Aldi is almost a cardiovascular activity. The cashiers scan my items so fast. They do not help bag them. The cashier this morning did not say hi, and did now ask, “How are you?” If you want small talk in your check-out experience, you have to proactively speak, and the cashier may not care.

You are expected to load your groceries as fast as possible onto the conveyor belt, and the cashier will go beep-beep-beep, scanning them at a mile per minute and putting them (dumping them?) into your shopping cart, which you’re expected to bring to the end of the belt.

Will I stop shopping at Aldi?

I’ve read online that some people have sworn off shopping at Aldi, and some even claim to have Aldi anxiety.

Despite the fact that I don’t look forward to shopping at Aldi, I will probably keep going. Since we moved, Trader Joe’s is now a very unfortunate 12 minutes away, and it feels even farther. With Aldi being so close, we feel like we have few reasons not to shop there as our closest supermarket.

I also won’t stop shopping at Aldi because for things like milk and eggs, they taste the same as generic-brand milk and eggs from any other supermarket. Why pay more, to get the same thing?

The cheap prices at Aldi also help me try new foods. A new hot sauce to add to the ones already in my fridge, for only $2.99? Fine, I’ll try it. Medjool dates for $4.89? Mind if I do!

The only thing keeping me from shopping at Aldi is that it’s pretty un-fun for our toddler daughter. Going to Shop Rite just has so much more of an allure, and Trader Joe’s is creme de la creme in terms of “fun.”

Until she realizes that Aldi is a 0 on the scale of fun supermarket experiences, I’ll just have to keep going.