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6 Tips for Shopping at the Commissary

fort lee commissary

If you’re a member of a military family, you’ve probably shopped at a commissary. Commissaries are grocery stores operated by the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCa) and are found on military bases throughout the world. 

So is the commissary really less expensive in the long run than local grocery stores?  Items sold at the commissary are tax-free and priced at cost, plus a 5% surcharge. According to DeCa, the low-cost products sold at the commissary can save military families an average of 30% or more on their purchases when shopping regularly at the commissary.

For some families, commissary shopping leads to significant savings. For others, the savings may be negligible. However, if you head to the commissary armed with the following shopping tips, you may find yourself with more deals than you expected.

1. Register for a Commissary Rewards Card. 

The Commissary Rewards Card, which is available at all commissaries worldwide, allows you to redeem coupons electronically at checkout. Pick up a card at your local commissary, register it online, load coupons onto your account, and scan the card at the commissary checkout to use the coupons. New offers are posted on the website every two to three weeks so check periodically to find the latest deals.

2. Clip coupons. 

The commissary does accept manufacturer’s coupons that you can find as inserts in your Sunday newspaper as well as on various online couponing sites. Many commissaries even have a counter near the entrance of the store that’s stacked with coupons you’re welcome to sort through and take to use at checkout. You’ll also find tear-off coupons on the shelves within the aisles of the store so keep your eyes open while you shop. 

Commissaries will not accept expired coupons in the United States. However, military families stationed outside the United States can still use coupons past the printed expiration date.

The commissary has more rules and restrictions regarding coupons. Click here for a full list of their coupon policy.

3. Look for advertised sales. 

Before your shopping trip, visit the commissary website to find out what items are on sale. Incorporate those items into your meal planning, and if the sale items can be frozen, buy double and freeze for later.

4. Stay commissary connected. 

In our busy lives, it’s not always easy to remember to search for savings. Sign up for the Commissary Connection, a regular newsletter that shares the latest commissary news, savings, contests, promotions and more.

5. Stay tuned for case lot sales. 

The commissary holds case lot sales twice a year (in May and September), which allow military shoppers to buy in bulk (think Costco). When going to these sales, keep in mind that products are sold in large quantities, so if you don’t think you’ll use those large amounts or don’t have the storage in your house for it, think about splitting the cost with another military family.

Because of budget cuts, some case lot sales have been canceled, but check back at the commissary’s website for the status of future sales as well as sidewalk sales.

6. And don’t forget to…

Bring your military ID. No ID, no commissary shopping.

Have cash to tip the baggers. The kind baggers who walk your groceries out to your car work for tips only. Tips are optional, but it’s always nice to show them a little love. Plan to slip them somewhere around $2 to $5.

Avoid the commissary on payday if possible. Those are the busiest shopping days when aisles are packed, checkout lines are long, and frustrations are high. You’ll have a much happier shopping experience if you wait a day or two.

Want to learn more about the commissary? Click over to Commissary 101: How to Shop at the Commissary.

-- Heather Sweeney can be reached at Heather.Sweeney@monster.com.

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