Thursday, July 31, 2014

Military Life: Best Tips for Shopping at the Commissary

I posted on Facebook yesterday for all my military friends to share their best tips for shopping at the commissary.  Know how many responded?  Zero.  Zilch. Nada.


Either no one shops there, or they don't know how to utilize the commissary... or they just don't care.

So, I am going to share with y'all all I have learned about the commissaries and how we as military peeps can benefit from them financially.

For my readers who have no idea what the commissary is, it is an on post/base grocery store for military families and vets.  Anyone who carries a military ID can shop there.  The commissaries are run by the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCa) and you can find one on any military installation anywhere in the world -- which is great for people in foreign countries who really want some good old American food once in a while... or for families in Hawaii who don't want to spend $7-9 on a gallon of milk at a local store!

The much debated topic concerning the commissary is:  do you really save money shopping there or is it better to go on the civilian side?  Well, the answer to me is, it depends where you are and what you are buying.  According to DeCa, military families can save up to 30% by shopping at the commissary were you pay no sales tax (however, there is a 5% surcharge -- and even this I question a little because when I look at my receipt from my recent visit, it looks more like a 3% surcharge, not 5) and you get items at cost.

Sure, sometimes you can get stuff a little cheaper at Wal-Mart.  Like produce -- but seriously, is anyone impressed by the quality of Wal-mart produce lately?  And there are some things like toiletries, makeup and other non-food items that are WAY more reasonably priced somewhere else than at the commissary.  However, our commissary recently posted a sign that said they price matched... so there you go!

Ben and I decided to put the commissary vs civilian grocery store(local NOT Wal-mart) to the test this last month to see if we really saved or if it was just a bunch of hype.  We went and bought the same items at each store.  Turns out, that we actually saved almost... are you ready for this?  We saved almost $100 by buying at the commissary.  No kidding!  We even thought we were getting specials and deals, when in fact, there wasn't much a deal about it in the end.

Now, here are a few tips on how YOU can save at the commissary too:

1. Register for a Commissary Rewards Card:

Ask any register at the commissary for a Commissary Rewards Card and then pop home and register your card online.  It only takes a few minutes.  What is super cool about this card is that you can load your commissary coupons and savings on it so you aren't hauling around the paper ones.  Then at check out, they will scan your card and they will automatically be applied to your purchase.  How awesome is that?

2. Bring ALL your Other Coupons Too!!!

The commissary accepts manufacture coupons.  So bring them in!  They also have a bunch in the aisles you can collect as you shop along.  I assign one of my kids to be in charge of the coupons and he takes his job as coupon collector very seriously!

The commissary does NOT accept expired ones, BUT they do if they are overseas.

For rules and regulations of commissary coupons, click here.

3.  Check out the Commissary website often for deals!

Plan your shopping around what sales are going on.  You can always buy extra and freeze right?

4.  The Commissary has Case Lots Sales!!!

Yep, twice a year!  Rumor is, they are around May and September, so keep an eye out for more BULK savings!

5.  Shop During the Week BEFORE Payday:

This is the sneaky tip that a lot of people don't know about.  Prices in the commissary go down right BEFORE payday and they have the best deals.  Come payday, the prices go back up a little and the deals aren't as great.  When is pay day?  The official pay day for the military is the 1st and 15th of every month unless they land on a weekend or holiday, then it is the day before.  BUT if you bank with USAA, you get paid the day before!  So the commissary is usually hopping the last day of the month and the first day, and then again on the 14th and the 15th.  So if you plan your shopping BEFORE those days, you will get MORE savings and less traffic.  Seriously, we went the day before payday, yesterday, and there was hardly anyone in the store and the savings were GREAT!

6.  And PLEASE don't Forget:

Parking:  General Parking does NOT mean it's a general parking place!  It is a parking space for Generals and their spouses.  I have heard of people's vehicles getting towed for parking here.  Also, those pregnancy spaces are AWESOME, but some bases require you to have sticker to park there, so ask your OB/GYN office about that.  Here at Fort Sill we don't need one, but where we are going at Fort Campbell, you do!  When in doubt, just park somewhere else... I like to park in the back because I like the exercise... even pregnant.

Always bring your military ID.  No ID no food.  No nothing!  You can have guests with you, but YOU have to provide your card and pay out of your wallet.  If your family or friends want something they will have to pay you back BEFORE or AFTER you enter the store.  I actually asked the cashier about the policy and that's what she told me.

Bring some cash to tip the baggers.  Unlike the civilian world, the baggers are "volunteers" -- which means they don't get paid to bag and take them out to the car for you.  I usually tip $2.  But don't be afraid to tip up to $5 if the weather is terrible or you have a TON of groceries.  If you don't want to tip, then use the self-checkout lane (but I think they have a grocery limit on those lanes).

And don't forget to avoid the paydays!

Seriously, they aren't kidding when they say it's a zoo.  And if you have kids with you it's even worse!!  Better to pop over to Wal-Mart or Target if you have to.

Did I miss anything?  What are your best tips?


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Jenna said...

I have noticed the prices drop again about a week after pay day as well. Unfortunately here at Ft. Polk the savings are a toss up depending on what you are getting. That's even factoring the 16% sales tax out in town.

Cat said...

So true, Jenna! If you think about it, the week after payday is about the same time as the week before payday :) lol

Also, there are some things that ARE pricier at the commissary. Like Heavy Whipping cream! They wanted $7 for a pint the other day! Forget that, I'll pop over to Wal-Mart or Target. Chips, soda, and cookies are usually a little pricier too.

But things like deodorant and diapers are MUCH cheaper. And so are fish crackers, cheese, and yogurt.

I think you are right that it depends on the post and the state you are in. :)

Tara said...

Great tips! I think the key to saving is just to do a few runs like you did, comparing prices. We typically buy most of the same things on each shopping trip, so after a while you learn what products are cheaper where. Our commissary had pretty crappy produce for the first year we lived here, so the savings just weren't worth it. Luckily their quality has improved a ton lately!