Before I married a soldier I had no clue what a commissary was. It is a grocery store for military members. It is considered one of our military benefits. For some reason, many military members don't take advantage of this wonderful buying option.
When we lived overseas the commissary was a huge blessing. It allowed us to buy familiar foods for reasonable prices. (I can't tell you how soothing peanut butter and hot dogs and American cheese could be when you are feeling home sick!) Because of the fluctuating exchange rate, food from local stores could be quite expensive at times.
When we returned to the states we naturally continued to use the commissary. I was shocked to hear that many fellow military families shun the commissary completely. I am still baffled.
- The commissary doesn't charge taxes but does charge a 5% surcharge to cover expenses. Depending on the state this is likely cheaper than local sales taxes.
- The prices are almost always lower than non-military stores. At each of our stateside duty stations we have lived closer to a local grocery store than the commissary. We go there sometimes for milk or bread, things we need in a pinch when the commissary is closed. Rarely are the prices better. After our most recent move I actually made lists of food items we commonly buy and noted prices at each store I visited. The list of items that are cheaper at another store is quite short. I can buy a huge container of peanut butter at Sam's Club for a few cents less per unit than the same brand at the commissary. I do it because we eat a lot of peanut butter. Those giant bags of Malt-o-meal cereals are cheaper at Walmart but the commissary only carries the smaller bags. (Notice that these are bulk items!) For most common foods, including milk, eggs, bread, cheese, and meat, the commissary is a great deal.
- There are usually coupons available on the shelf for many items. There have been times when I came with no coupons and ended up saving $15 just from in-store coupons. There is also a rewards card (which I LOVE!) that allows you to go to the commissary website and add coupons to the card. You can then use these in the store without having to click and sort and print.
- The commissary offer many foreign products that you can't buy elsewhere. We appreciate this because we can buy an occasional treat to remind us of our time in Europe. I imagine for military spouses born in those countries this is a true comfort to have a taste of home.
I guess what baffles me the most are the people who claim to be so savvy, so skilled at saving money, running all over town with their coupon and sales fliers getting good deals. When they share their "deals" with me they are often the same price as the commissary. If they had used that coupon there they would have actually saved more. I usually get a disgusted response like "Ugh! The commissary gives me a headache! Why would I go there?!" Um, one stop shopping? Less gas usage? Great prices? Tons of coupons on the shelf?
I don't get it.
Normally I wouldn't care what other people did. What concerns me is that if this benefit isn't used it will be taken away. Many commissaries have cut their hours due to budget cuts and a few have been completely closed. If the commissary isn't being used congress just might cut the program all together. At our current commissary I most often see retirees. A few spouses who have been around as long as I have know the value of this wonderful service. But the younger crowd don't bother. I might say "their loss". But it isn't. I know the commissary helps keep those retirees off welfare. Someday that will be us. It would be great to utilize the commissary to continue feeding our large, ravenous family of locusts until they are all grown. And feed ourselves for the rest of our lives.
If you haven't been to the commissary in a while, check it out. Make an effort to take advantage of this valuable resource. It just might surprise you!