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No Commissary? No Problem -- How to Save Money Without It

With commissaries stateside completely closed for the duration of the shutdown, this family is going to have to decide where to do our normal weekly grocery shopping.

If you’re anything like me, you don’t shop exclusively at the commissary, but you do get the bulk of your groceries there each week. You know that, overall, the commissary really is the best bang for your buck, especially when it comes to buying meat. That’s why yesterday you were at least tempted to join the throngs and stock up on ground beef before the closure.

Two hours before the Fort Campbell, Ky. commissary closed Oct. 1 this was a common site at meat coolers throughout the store. Two hours before the Fort Campbell, Ky. commissary closed Oct. 1 this was a common site at meat coolers throughout the store.

If the government shutdown lasts more than a few days you’re going to need to go somewhere to buy the staples to feed your family. And you probably have plenty of options. Wal-Mart? Safeway? Giant? Kroger? Harris Teeter? Publix? Fred Myers? Whole Foods? Super Target? WinnCo? Wegmans? Food Lion?

Depending where you live, the list could go on and on and on.

How do you know which stores have the best deals? How do you know where you’ll be able to get everything you need for the lowest price?

One of the nice things about the commissary is the simplicity of their sale and coupon structure. Prices changes once every two weeks, other than Manager’s Specials which are generally unannounced and may last only as long as the product is in stock. Only one coupon is permitted per item.

Other stores aren't that simple. On the one hand, that makes more work for you. On the other hand, a more complex sale and coupon structure means you can still get a good deal by paying attention and using coupons.

Four tips for saving money when you can't shop at the commissary:

(We know some of these are common sense, but we’re going to say them anyway.)

1. Pick a go-to store. There’s going to be one place where you regularly go to pick-up basic staples like milk and bread and do the bulk of your shopping. Where will that be? Many people find Wal-Mart to have the lowest overall prices. Others buy a membership to a wholesale store like Costco and use that for their basic shopping. If you have an Aldi or a Grocery Outlet nearby give those a try for the cheapest overall options.

2. Compare advertisements. Before hitting the store for the week, grab a local Sunday newspaper and compare grocery advertisements. Where is chicken the cheapest this week? What store has marked down chocolate chips? Here at Fort Campbell, Ky. there is a Wal-Mart, Aldi and Kroger all within a few miles of each other. By comparing each of those ads, hitting each of the stores and buying the non-sale items at Wal-Mart, I can make sure I’m getting the most for my money without driving all over town.

3. Learn to coupon. While you’ve got that local Sunday paper in your hot little hands, set aside the coupons. Those will come in handy at those civilian stores where the coupon policies are a little bit more complicated than at the commissary. For example, while a coupon may be worth a mere $.50 at the commissary, some stores double coupons, making it worth $1. And if that place also has a $1 off store coupon for that same item you could be looking at $2 in savings where you would’ve only saved $.50 at the commissary. It may take a little extra work, but by using coupons and savvy shopping, you should be able to knock prices down to commissary levels. Never couponed before? This is a great post to help you get started.

4. Use the internet. Coupons are available online, too – and sometimes they are even better than in the paper. And there are piles of websites out there telling you which coupons you need for which sales. While I won’t say this makes getting a Sunday paper unnecessary, it’s certainly a great supplement. Here are just a few of the ones that I have used in the past:

- Money Saving Mom. This site has a roundup of sales at pretty much every store in the country. Click on the logo for the store you want to visit and see what deals they have that match up with coupons.

- Southern Savers. This is an excellent website capturing sales and coupon match-ups for grocery chains found primarily in the South like Publix. They also have deals for other stores, though, including Aldi so make sure and check if the one you plan to use is included. Unlike Money Saving Mom which only posts the deals for which there are coupons, Southern Savers logs every sale at the store and matches coupons to the ones it can.

- Frugal Living Northwest. If you live in the Northwest portion of the country and shop places like Safeway, Fred Meyer or Albertsons, this is the site for you.

 

How do you make sure you find the best deals when you aren't shopping at the commissary?

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