Photo: Jonathan Weiss (Shutterstock)
Aldi’s coin-hungry shopping carts are iconic. Frequent shoppers often have a designated “Aldi quarter” in their car or in a special pocket, because the store requires a quarter to release each cart from the corral. (You get the quarter back when you return the cart.)
So what happens if you show up and don’t have a quarter for the cart? The internet is full of Aldi quarter hacks, which often involve jamming other objects like keys into the quarter slot. But if you’re unlucky, the object may get stuck. Even if everything goes according to plan, there’s also the fact that carts get swapped at the register. If you have to unload all your groceries from one cart into another because your car keys are in the wrong cart now, you’ll just slow down the line and annoy everybody around you.
The reason for the quarter, Aldi explains on their website, is just to get people to return their frickin’ carts. The carts are chained together when they’re in the corral. Pop a quarter in to release the lock, and it pops back out when you re-attach the chain upon returning it. As a result, people return the cart to get their quarter back, and Aldi doesn’t have to designate an employee to rounding up carts.
How to get a free quarter for the shopping cart at Aldi
So if you don’t have a quarter, how do you get a cart without one? It turns out that’s the wrong question to ask: You can get a free quarter for the cart if you—drumroll, please—ask. Everywhere online where people share their quarter hacks or complain about losing their quarter, employees pipe up to say store policy allows them to give out free quarters—up to five dollars’ worth per shift, according to one.
(We’ve reached out to Aldi to confirm whether this is an official policy, but they also have a cost-savings policy of not answering the phone. The robot who answers their email says my question “will be forwarded to the appropriate team for further review.” We’ll update if we hear back.)
But it makes sense, honestly. For just 25 cents, the company gets your business, and you get to buy a whole cartful of groceries instead of just the items you can carry. And they still don’t have to send anybody out there to deal with wayward carts.
By the way, there is another easy, ethical way, so long as you are polite about it: Ask a shopper who has just unloaded their groceries if you can have their cart. Some people are very attached to their Aldi Quarter and want to make sure they get it back, but others don’t care and will gladly hand the cart over. (Perhaps they even got the cart without investing their own quarter and are happy to pay it forward.) Just don’t be the person who offers to return somebody’s cart as if you’re doing them a favor, and then abscond with the quarter before they realize what you’ve done.