The Power of Cash

Those who don’t shop at Aldi are probably not familiar with their cash system. First, carts are lined up outside the store, connected by plastic and chains. You insert a quarter in the cart and the chain unlocks a cart. If you want your quarter back, you must return the cart and reconnect the chain. If you want bags they cost extra, and you can only pay with a debit card or cash.

One thing I have noticed is that Aldi’s parking lot is free of stray carts and everyone brings their own bags into the store. Why? I believe giving up a quarter is hard for people. If it was an extra quarter on their credit card bill many people would not even notice, but people will walk across the parking lot just to get their quarter back.

That’s the power of cash. Cash is real, you can touch it, smell it, and when you use it, it’s gone forever.

People treat cash differently and Aldi has figured that out. They have convinced the majority of their customers to return the carts to the correct location using pocket change.

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  1. Im so excitied we are getting our first Aldi in the DFW metroplex opening in a couple of weeks just three blocks away and its the first of many opening this spring!

  2. You are so right…. I am not a aldi shopper but I would walk my cart back into the store to get my money back.

  3. I wish we had an Aldi store! I have a feeling my son would run all around the parking lot to earn quarters for stray carts.

    I agree with you that cash is very powerful! This year since I switched to using cash for my weekly grocery and household budget, I’ve spent HUNDREDS less that I used to average.

  4. That is so true!! I am so guilty of this. At other grocery stores I will leave the cart because well I have two babies and it is a pain to walk over to the cart corrals but at Aldi I return the cart. We try to use cash for everything – it is still a learning process for us really. We are getting pretty good at it. I’m proud of us.

  5. Aldi is a European chain and this is how all large European grocery stores I’ve ever visited work. Plastic bags cost 5 Euro cents. No one buys them unless they have to. Instead they bring cloth bags, baskets or old plastic bags. Shoppers bag their own groceries, too. Cart return is 100 percent because everyone wants their coins back. One French bank I visited gave customers a keychain cart token as a freebie – same size as the coin needed for the cart coin-rental slot. (Hint, credit unions near Aldi stores…)

    It is true – we do value the things we have to pay for. I’ve only lived in military housing twice, and the second time I did I was shocked to discover that base residents (not all, but several people I knew) were running their heaters 24/7 with the windows open because they didn’t have to pay for heat. Then, when they discovered that they would eventually be billed for excess energy consumption, based on average consumption over a certain period of time, they opened the windows wider and cranked up the heat so that the base-wide baseline energy usage measurement would go up and they would have to pay less. (The irony? The base hadn’t even installed meters on their houses yet. They were wasting energy for no purpose whatsoever.)

    Free isn’t always good. Sometimes, free leads to wasteful behavior, which might be gratifying in the here and now but might also cause harm later on.

  6. I have heard great things about Aldi–I sure wish they’d get over here to the west coast.

  7. I have only had one trip to Aldi’s and I almost left my cart for someone else to get my quarter. I couldn’t figure out how to hook the carts back together. LOL (That’s what a master’s degree gets you in life, apparently.) A nice woman walking by showed us how to do it. *blush*

  8. Did you know that Aldi owns Trader Joes? My husband noticed when the same peppermint bark was at both. He googled and found out. Thought that was interesting.

  9. I ? Aldi. Because I rarely carry cash, I was so glad a few years ago when they finally starting taking debit cards, opening on Sundays, keeping later hours, etc. (Ours also takes Discover credit cards, not that I have one or would use it for groceries.)

    We have Save-A-Lot stores that use the same cart-rental system, as do some of our Deals and Dollar Tree stores. My husband and I wish ALL stores with carts would use them.

  10. We have Aldi’s here but I never knew what they were. I’ll have to take the time now to go have a peak. Thanks for the inspiration 🙂

  11. We are definitely Aldi converts and its biggest fans now. It is entirely due to Aldi and shopping sales at our other 4 food stores that I’ve been feeding a family of 4 for $65/week the last 3 years! And, one of the ways we’re surviving a layoff with no unemployment! LOL Our Aldi staff is fast & friendly. The store clean. If it’s not crowded, I can get in and out for our weekly shopping in under 30 minutes.

  12. I was also thinking about how this is all standard in Europe — only it takes more than a quarter equivalent to check out a cart!
    I love your comment on free leading to wastefulness. So true.

  13. I love Aldi! Whenever I see carts scattered around the parking lot, I go collect all of them just to get the quarters. 🙂 I need as many quarters as I can get since we use coin-operated laundry machines.

  14. It’s true what Nancy said. I live in Ireland and all the stores do that here…except the carts take a pound here which is equivalent to about $1.50 (all the more incentive!). One time I found a trolly (cart) that still had the pound in it and I felt SO rich!

    The “bring your own bag” thing has been another great habit to learn since moving here. Ireland is “green” in so many ways!

  15. LOL @ Emily! I would do that, too, but no one every leaves their carts out in the lot at any of the Aldi’s I’ve shopped. I did notice several times at Christmas-time, though, some people would return their carts but not lock them in, making them “free” for the next person in line. It may have just been forgetfulness, but it happened often enough that I think it was a “pay it forward” or random act of kindness sort of thing.

  16. This is so funny to read – writing from Germany, we have that system for years now and it does work. Not only with Aldi but ALL supermarkets, grocery stores and so on have that cart system and plastic bags cost at least a quarter here – also for the minimum of 10 years. The great thing is that there are no carts all over the parking lots and people use their own bags for shopping so that’s good for the environment. Wonderful that there is something good that you can learn from us :-).

  17. TheHappyHousewife says:

    Absolutely! Seth Godin wrote an article a few months ago advocating that Craig’s List start charging a dollar per listing. He argued that charging a dollar would keep all the spam and fraud off the popular site. I agree, free can lead to wasteful behavior and over consumption.

  18. I love Aldi! I always take my cart back but leave the quarter. The first time I visited Aldi I didn’t know about the quarter and had to lug the kids back to the car to get a quarter as I don’t carry change with me. (All change goes in my kids piggy banks in our house, except for the few I keep in the car.) I leave the quarter just encase someone else doesn’t have a quarter and hope that the person that uses the cart does the same. Of course, I am old enough to remember when everyone took the carts back to the store without the use of quarters.

  19. There’s one right around the corner from us. It’s very convenient to run in for a couple of items, especially produce. Sam’s is right across from it. I keep a couple of “green” bags in my car for when I run in for a few things. I don’t do my main shopping there though.

  20. Sorta wish we had an Aldi’s. But we don’t.

  21. Aldi is the BEST. I could wax poetic about all the wonderful things about that grocery store… 😀

  22. I remember being shocked seeing an Aldi’s on a drive between Rock Island, IL and Atlanta. I was used to them over in Germany but never shopped there because they are more expensive in Europe compared to the other local grocery stores. I would always bring a large tote bag into Walmart or Real back in Germany. Everything I bought had to fit into the bag otherwise I wouldn’t get the items.

  23. How does Aldi compare with the commissary? Are there certain things you go for? Is it closer to home than the commissary?

  24. I lived in Spain and that’s how the cart system was there as well. Another thing I liked about Spain was due to terrorists there was no parking across the entire front of a store so you didn’t about get run over trying to get in/out of the store!
    I saw a sign last weekend that said “Coming soon – Aldi” so I guess NE Columbia (SC) will finally get one! There is one south of town that I have heard saves families alot of money each month – I can’t wait to check it out!

  25. Emily Metzger says:

    I have never seen a stray cart, but I would definitely return any carts if there were. That’s probably why there are no stray carts.

  26. I haven’t been to Aldi’s in years. There just haven’t been any where I’ve lived. My mom & I shopped there regularly when I was young (late 70’s/early 80’s). I heard a rumor that we are getting one in my city. But this is a hotbed for rumors because people are so hungry (no pun intended) for more shopping/dining/entertainment options. So, as always, it is hurry up and wait. It certainly would be nice to have one.

  27. I wish we had Aldi’s here in Dallas. I’ve heard several frugal bloggers talk about it.

  28. I agree there are no stray carts at our Aldi, but the parking lot is disgusting. People throw all kinds of trash, food, and even diapers (which is especially gross!) on the ground! I always tell my kids, don’t step there, or don’t step on that, etc! And at our Aldi, sometimes people will come inside and borrow a quarter from the cashiers for the carts!

  29. Our town is getting an Aldi and we are so excited!

  30. I read this blog last night and just today at Target my 5 year old asked me if I had to buy my shopping cart that I was using. I thought he was pretty clever. I went on to tell him about the Aldi store that charges and returns quarters for carts. Thanks for providing some fun facts to share with my son.

  31. I’m the exact opposite. Cash doesn’t seem real to me. With debit or credit card the amount I spend is sent through the mail, I have to open it and look at the total for the month. If I spend cash once it’s gone, I don’t see the numbers again, especially not the monthly total. I tried cash only once and I spent a ton more than when I use credit/debit. But I’m a freak that way.

    I do love Aldi, even when I have to dig a quarter out of the bottom of my diaper bag for the cart.

  32. Just moved to Germany 2 months ago and the local Aldi is my favorite grocery store. It has been a challenge to make sure I always have bags in my car, Euro’s to pay for my groceries and coins to put in the cart. And bagging your own groceries…whew! You have to be fast!! But I love the coin system when getting a cart and have thought more than once that all stores in the States should be using this system also. It would certainly save businesses a ton of money by saving man hours gathering stray carts in the parking lot!

  33. I’m an american living in the netherlands and thats all we have here. All the stores make you plunk a coin in and you have to bring your own bags or buy one for around 10 cents. You also have to bag all your groceries yourself here.

    Aldi is everywhere here but thats because it’s based in Germany. I love going there because once and awhile they will sell american products like items from Trader Joes and thats always nice to see:)

  34. Our first experience with Aldi was in Germany. My husband was getting a cart while I got our daughter out of the car. He walked up and pulled the cart. It wouldn’t budge. He tried several times and still it wouldn’t budge. We were both shocked that the carts were locked up… finally a sweet German person insturcted us on how to retrieve the cart. That was definately a memory that we will keep with us forever. I do not live near an Aldi now, but do love to shop there when I travel.

  35. All the grocery stores in Belgium (that I’ve ever been too) have this cart/bag system. The bring your own bag thing is a more recent thing in their effort to be green, just like paying for the number of trash bags you put out. (you pay per bag you purchase and use) You’d be amazed what you can fit inside a trash bag if you have to pay per piece. 🙂 But the grocery cart system really works! When my mom came to visit, she religiously returned the carts to the entrance. 🙂

  36. Aldi is everywhere in the UK so I am so glad that it is now just down the road from me. Also every store in the UK has the cash to get a cart but in the UK it is a pound which is like a buck fifty here so you really want to take the cart back for that!!

  37. I love this post! Such a great testimony of the power of cash 🙂 Thank you!

  38. Katena Dyser says:

    WE dont have one or I have not been here long enough to notice ft lewis wa. But i carry my own bags and turned my walmart inside out just so u can see the blue. peopel looked at me like I was crazy because I had my own bags.

  39. angie b says:

    A lot of the grocery stores in Canada are the same way. When my dh was still in the AF, we were stationed there and we always had a loonie (dollar coin) and a quarter in the change holder so that I would be able to get a cart. The one store (the one you had to have the loonie for) also required you to buy the bags or bring your own so I was well prepared when Aldi opened within 2 miles of my house now. We shop there a lot especially for milk since it’s usually 50-60 cents cheaper than the grocery store and a couple of miles closer.

  40. It costs £1 here in the UK for your trolley, so that’s about a dollar fifty!

    Running around an Aussie airport collecting abandoned trolleys with my cousin when I was about eleven we made about twenty Australian dollars, if you do see an abandoned trolley – get the kids to collect it – whatever they collect they keep – good motivation.

  41. Michaela says:

    A little late, but none the less greetings from Germany. Aldi started after in the early 1960s, lead by two brothers, Karl and Theo Albrecht. That’s why it is called ALDI: AL(brecht) DI(scount). The first stores where rather small but you could get anything you needed for your family life. My mother sent me shopping when I was a kid because the cashiers where legendary: They made almost no mistakes although there where no price tags on the products, and you could rely on the bill – important for a child of nine. The clou was: no unneeded decisions. Every sort of product existed only in one type – the cheapest but best. In other words, a good price-performance ratio.

    I still do most of my shopping there. In the meantime they got cash points and bar codes but they still act as if they had to feed a family. No nice painted shops and decorations but everything functional and clean. The cashiers are paid by how fast they are. The desks where the cashiers drop the already scanned products are small, so the customers have to be fast and put their shoppings in the cart. Everyone is fast out and can do more meaningful things than shopping groceries. And, as I’ve heard, you can even try some German/European products there 🙂

    Thank you so far for your wonderful blog – I enjoy it and feel inspired.


  1. […] The Power of Cash @ The Happy Housewife is completely and utterly true. After reading Total Money Makeover, I tried it and I really function better on a cash system! […]

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