Sign up for the Spouse & Family Newsletter

Popular Spouse Benefits Articles

Military Life 101

  • job fair
    Military Spouse Employment 101
    While the military will always throw a monkey wrench in any best-laid plans, your career doesn't have to be one of them.
  • (Photo: U.S. Department of Education)
    Military Spouse Education Help 101
    Good news for you: Being a military spouse can actually make some parts of going back to school easier.
  • (Photo: U.S. Navy)
    Military Life 101
    Military life has a lot of nuts and bolts. You know, the little things that make up just an ordinary day.
  • stack of one dollar bills
    Military Spouse and Family Benefits 101
    Don't know exactly how to get your military spouse and family benefits or want to know more about what they are? Read on.
  • Movers at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, load up a truck with household goods. Jose Ramirez/Air Force
    Military Spouse and Family Moves 101
    Whether you're an old pro or new to the military moving game, there's stuff to learn about PCSing. Here's our easy PCS 101 guide.
  • (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Sullivan Laramie)
    Military Family Deployment 101
    Preparing for deployment can seem like an uphill battle. But we've been there. Here's what you need to know.
  • Military family
    Military Family Life 101
    Military life is not easy, but we've got your back. From marriage to kids and parenting, we have the resources you need.

Veterans at the Commissary Would Cost Taxpayers More

Photo: U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Daniel Hughes

Dear Q&B,
If all veterans were allowed to use the commissary, wouldn't that help with the deficit that the commissary has?

Would-Be Shopper

Dear Would-Be,

Your logic is really spot on, except for one thing: You're assuming that the way the commissary operates is logical.

It's not.

If the commissary were like a normal grocery store, the more people who shopped there, the more money the store would make and the less taxpayer money it would need to stay open. When a normal store sets prices, it factors in operating costs so that at the end of the day it will have enough income to fund the business and make a little profit. Keeping the lights on and paying employees, for example, are things that are factored into the price charged for each item.

Commissary 101: How to Shop at the Commissary

But the commissary is not a normal grocery store. By law, it has to sell items at cost. That means what shoppers pay for any given item covers only the cost that the commissary had to pay to get that item, nothing else. A 5 percent surcharge on all purchases pays for building and technology upkeep.

So what does that mean for shoppers? It means the commissary actually operates at a bigger deficit when more people shop there. Like a recent report on the system points out, every time an additional shopper enters the store, the system loses extra money. That's because all of those shoppers must be supported by staff and infrastructure. All of the items they buy must be restocked on the shelf by an employee or a contractor. And since none of the purchases cover the cost of those people, their employment must be funded by taxpayers.

The commissary is not designed to be a for-profit business, or even a business that covers its own costs. It's designed to be a non-cash benefit for users. Right now, the commissary receives about $1.4 billion in taxpayer funding each year. The majority of that goes to pay employees.

If all non-retiree veterans were allowed to shop in the commissary, it would cost much more to run the stores, and that would cost taxpayers much more.

Team Q&B

-- Do you have a question about your benefits? Email the Questions and Benefits team at

Related Topics

Questions and Benefits Family and Spouse

Military News App by

Download the new News App for Android on Google Play or for Apple devices on iTunes!

Featured VA Loan Articles