A perk of military life is access to the military commissaries. As a lifelong military dependent, I’ve spent my whole life shopping in the commissary. I have fond memories of the old commissary at Peterson AFB when I would get a donut and a Frutopia (who remembers that flashback?) as a treat while out with my mom. These days, I have more of a get-in-and-out-as-fast-as-you-can mentality.
- Know how the commissary works. While the listed price of an item may be lower than your local grocery store, the commissary doesn’t run regular sales like grocery stores (but they do have sales). A 2 for $4 sale at Kroger on boxed crackers will be cheaper overall than a listed price of $2.25 per box at the commissary. You can access the current prices and sales for your commissary here. You do have to log in. The commissary charges a surcharge in place of sales tax. Nominally, this is to offset the overhead of operating the stores, but you do pay more than the total of the straight ticket prices. Also, cashiers work for wages. Baggers work for tips. If you have a bagger, you need to tip them. Everyone has a different strategy. I tip $5 per bagger, and I tip both even if only one helps me out to my car.
- Avoid shopping on pay day weekends. This is huge stereotype but is really true. Many families (both active duty and veterans) choose to shop at pay day to stretch their budgets (that’s a soap box speech for another time and place). Going around pay days will have huge lines and limited stock. If you can avoid the commissary during pay day, do.
- Shop at odd hours. Lately, I go to the commissary on my way home from work (so I get there after 4 or 5 pm). The place is empty compared to going during the day. Obviously, not every one can do this, but I find the trip goes more quickly in the afternoon and evenings.
- Know what to buy at the commissary and stock up on certain items. It’s super duper easy to get distracted by the fantastic prices, buy all the things, and spend over $200. Don’t buy into the “you save 40%” every time you shop. It may be worth your while to keep a rough price list of the things you buy often at different stores. Spices will always be cheaper at the commissary. Meat may be cheaper. Produce may be cheaper. A lot of prices (especially on fresh food) are determined regionally. North Carolina had really great produce prices in season; Colorado, not so much. I keep a mental list of what’s cheaper at the commissary and what’s cheaper at other stores. The commissary also does have the benefit of being a national and international chain, so they may carry food that you may not be able to find anywhere else in town.
Do you shop at the commissary? What are your favorite tips and tricks?