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15 things to know before your first trip to Lidl

15 things to know before your first trip to Lidl
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All year long,‘s Michael Timmermann is sharing quick and easy ways to save money as part of our Michael Saves series. Check in every Monday as he puts new and familiar savings strategies to the test. Sign up for our newsletter to have these stories delivered to your inbox!

If you’ve noticed a drop in the price you pay for groceries lately, a supermarket chain with German roots may be one of the reasons why — and we’re not talking about Aldi.

Lidl, a grocer known for high quality and low prices, has opened 45 stores in six East Coast states this year.

RELATED: 9 things to know before your first trip to Costco

Inside Lidl: How the discount grocery store can save you money

Although it only has a few dozen stores in the U.S. at this point, traditional supermarkets are worried because Lidl says it may be able to cut your grocery bill in half.

These are some of the ultra-low sale prices for mid-November 2017:

  • Sweet potatoes: $0.49/pound
  • Family pack of chicken breasts: $1.59/pound
  • Sliced cheese: $0.62/package
  • Take and bake pizza: $4.84/each
  • Large eggs: $0.28/dozen

Lidl spokesperson Will Harwood told that when Lidl opens a store, competitors in the area drop their prices by as much as 30% — what he calls the “Lidl Effect.”

So, even if you don’t shop at Lidl, having one nearby could be saving you money.

Money expert Clark Howard has visited Lidl overseas (the company has 10,000 locations in Europe) and described the stores as “exceptional” — so I just had to hit the road to see it for myself!

Here’s what I learned on my first trip to the Lidl supermarket in Culpeper, Virginia:

1. Grab a cart, but keep your quarter

When I walked up to the store, I reached into my pocket for a quarter to grab a shopping cart. However, that isn’t necessary. Lidl’s U.S. stores don’t require shoppers to deposit a quarter to use a shopping cart.

2. Save money on “Fresh Deals” 

The first thing I saw inside the store was the sign for the “Fresh 5” specials in the produce department, but Lidl confirmed to that it’s changing the promotion for the better.

Going forward, there will be six or more “Fresh Deals” available for a full week, from Thursday to Wednesday.

3. Orange signs highlight other markdowns 

Lidl has bright orange signs throughout the store to highlight additional price reductions. This large meat lovers pizza is only $4.84  — 50% off its original price.

4. Look above an item to find the price 

Speaking of prices, shoppers may not know where to look at first. Unlike most stores that list prices below the item, Lidl’s price tags are directly above the item.

5. Store brands dominate 

Even though there are some brand names mixed in, about 90% of Lidl’s products are from its own brand, which the company says matches the quality of the big national brands.

Lidl’s peanut butter is displayed directly next to Jif in packaging that’s very similar:

Jif vs. Lidl peanut butter

6. Preferred Selection is Lidl’s premium house brand

When you see the Preferred Selection label, you’re getting Lidl’s premium house brand. The product line is inspired by European culinary traditions and offers seasonal favorites.

Preferred selection cakes

7. Baked goods are fresh out of the oven

Breads and pastries are baked fresh throughout the day at Lidl. I picked up a loaf of bread for $2.99 and used the self-service machine to slice it.

Check out this short video to see how it works:

[anvplayer video=”4228613″]

8. Like to buy organic? Think green!

If you like to buy organic items, look for products in green boxes with the word “organic” printed on them. Lidl displays items in cardboard boxes to reduce the time it takes associates to stock the store.

Organic milk at Lidl

9. Get a deal on foods near the “best by” date

Want an even better deal? Items that are near the “best by” date will feature orange stickers with an extra discount, like these 30% off packages of chicken legs.

chicken legs

10. Print your own labels to save time at checkout

There are screens throughout the store that will let you search for items, weigh them and print a label. This step is entirely optional, but it could save you time at the checkout.

Print label

11. Stop by the free sample station

You won’t be able to fill up on samples like you can at Costco, but Lidl does have a station to let you taste a featured item from one of its house brands.

12. Find “Lidl Surprises” in the middle of the store

You can find a lot more than just groceries at Lidl. The “Lidl Surprises” section in the middle aisle offers a selection of non-food products like toys, seasonal decor, kitchen appliances and clothing.

This section reminded me of the treasure hunt experience at T.J. Maxx or Marshalls. Grab it before it’s gone!

Lidl Surprises

13. Color guide and point system for easy wine buying

Lidl is trying to make it easier for you to pick a bottle of wine that you’ll love. It has a 100-point rating system, as well as color coding to help you find wines by taste — such as “fresh and fruity” and “ripe and rich.”

This $2.89 bottle of sweet red wine appears to be a hot seller. It has a 93 score, which is outstanding on Lidl’s scale.

Lidl sweet red wine

14. Bring your own bags and bag your own groceries

To keep the line moving fast at checkout, Lidl customers need to bag their own groceries. You can save money by bringing your own bags, but they’re also available for purchase for about 10 cents apiece.

Lidl checkout bring your own bags

15. Download the app for exclusive savings

When I went to pay, I noticed a prompt to enter loyalty club information. That’s where the MyLidl app comes in. You can download it for exclusive coupons, plus the latest sale ads and store openings.

Details on upcoming grand openings can also be found on Lidl’s website.

Final thought

Lidl’s modern and clean store made a good first impression. Each location is about 20,000 square feet and has only six aisles, so I found that it was easy to navigate as a newbie.

If you’re planning your first trip, this map of the store layout may be helpful:

Despite the fact that Lidl stores are smaller than traditional grocery stores, I think I could probably find all of the items on a typical shopping list — unless I had a recipe that called for a specific brand.

If you’ve shopped at Lidl, what’s your review? Tell us about it on Facebook, Twitter or in the comments below.

Check out more from our Michael Saves series: