There seems to be three types of military grocery shoppers out there -- those who are certain the commissary saves them money, those who think it's a wash, and those who find they save more by staying off base.
That's why we're doing a two part series on what the commissary means to you. In this Part One post, we're going to look at people for whom a commissary closure or cost increase would make a huge impact. In Part Two, we'll highlight readers who think keeping the commissary open stateside is wasteful or, to them, useless.
But we can't do this series without your help. So tell us in the comment section how a price increase or closure would impact you.Since a Defense Department official admitted in a recent hearing that, yes, the commissary budget cuts just might result in commissaries closing we've been thinking a lot about how our budgets would look without the savings offered by the commissary.
Even for those who find the commissary to be a savings, unless you actually live on base, immediately outside the gate or in a community with no other grocery store options (hello, Fort Irwin, Ca.!) going to the commissary can be a pain in the butt. That's likely why over 40 percent of our readers who took this poll said they won't be shopping at the commissary with blind loyalty -- it's going to have actually be worth the trip for them to go. Another 35 percent said any price increase is going to make shopping elsewhere a better choice.
Commissary officials have said that the new budget proposal, which looks to save $1 billion by 2017, would likely result in an average 20 percent price increase in the stores. Right now, commissary officials say, you are saving an average of 30 percent buying products at the commissary verses buying the same items at a civilian store.
In recent weeks we've been hearing from readers who say that a price increase is going to make a major dent in their personal budgets -- so major that they are going to have to do some serious shifting in order to stay afloat.
Emily Lewis, an Air Force spouse out of Dover Air Force Base, Del., said they already shop half at the commissary, half at Safeway. With one autistic child and another with food allergies, they have to be very careful with what goes in their shopping cart.
"I do this because if I shop 100% at Safeway our grocery bill is easily in excess of $900 a month. I know this because when we first got here, I was a snob and did just that. Shopping at the commissary saves us around $300 a month. It would really impact our family to lose the commissary and a price increase would be exactly the same."
Military wife Justien Cremins said for their family it's about the savings over time.
"I have four kids, so the grocery bill is always going to take a chunk of money for us. That 'little extra' savings adds up to a LOT of money in the long run. Sure, I could run off base and only make purchases when there is a sale on the things I need, but I'm going to end up spending extra on gas with all the extra trip to try to 'save' money. I honestly would have a lot of rethinking and shifting of expenditures to make finances work without the savings the commissary provides."
Pamela McElroy, an Air Force spouse at Fairchild Air Force Base, Wa., keeps a very careful budget for her family. The loss of the commissary plus the proposed cap on yearly pay raises would add a new worry for her family.
"A lot of the stuff we buy on base is almost double the price off base. We budget to the penny since we also have to deal with our youngest having Cystic Fibrosis," she said. "Money is tight for all of us these days -- now they want to jack up prices or just close the commissary and cut pay. Makes it harder for our men and women to concentrate on the mission."
The potential increase and closure doesn't just have an impact on military members with children or special needs. For Allie Lovette, a Marine Corps spouse at Camp Lejuene, N.C. who doesn't have children, the closure or price increase would still make a serious dent.
"We budget very carefully and already spend $75 a week at the commissary which is 10 percent of our budget. If prices went up 20 percent our budget would be greatly affected and we'd have a hard time having all our bills covered and trying to save for retirement and other needs," she said. "We also want to start a family soon so we know we have to account for that. A 20 percent increase at the commissary alone would raise our budget 5 percent which we don't make. There are stores nearby but the pricing would be the same and still kill our budget. We're super money conscious and even though it's a small thing it would have a big impact."
Disagree with these readers that changes to the commissary are a big deal? Tell us your story in the comment section and we might include it in Part II of our series!