A military family can save an average of 30 percent or more on groceries by consistently shopping at their commissary. Over the course of a year, that can add up to nearly $4,500 for a family of four, more than $2,800 for a couple and more than $1,500 for a single service member. Even with a short grocery list of basics like milk, cereal and eggs, shopping at the commissary can save you money - savings that can allow you to live more comfortably on your military paycheck.
What is the commissary?
Commissaries are grocery stores operated on military bases by the Defense Commissary Agency. Unlike commercial grocery stores, which operate to make a profit for their owners, commissaries are operated as a benefit to active and retired service members, members of the National Guard, the Reserve Component and their families.
Commissaries sell groceries "at cost," plus a five percent surcharge that covers the cost of building new commissaries and modernizing existing ones. The low-cost groceries at commissaries are offered as part of the military pay and benefits package. This benefit is not a new or recent innovation. Members of the U.S. military community have been shopping at commissaries since 1867.
The Defense Commissary Agency manages 245 commissaries around the world. Their most important attractions are low prices and their ability to offer military families stationed overseas a morale-boosting "taste of home" with popular and familiar American food and household products.
However, commissaries offer other appealing features, including:
- Standard floor plan - Regardless of their size, most commissaries have the same basic floor plan, making shopping more efficient when you travel or relocate.
- Tax-free shopping - Commissaries do not charge state or local sales tax.
- Limited access - Only service members, retirees and their families are allowed to use commissaries. Military IDs are checked at the register. Guests are usually allowed when accompanied by an authorized customer, but check with commissary management first.
- Priority checkout - Checkout lines are sometimes designated with "head of line" privileges at lunchtime for those in uniform.
- Multiple payment options - Commissaries accept cash, checks and most credit and debit cards. You may be asked to write the member's duty telephone number and rank on the check. Social Security numbers are no longer needed on personal checks.
- Selection - Top-quality name brands and popular local and regional items.
Making the most of commissary savings
Sticking to your monthly food budget will be easier if you follow these simple shopping tips:
- Avoid convenience stores - You'll pay more for the "convenience" of shopping there.
- Be proactive about saving money - Use coupons whenever possible.
- Buy in season - Take advantage of seasonal specials, when certain foods are discounted.
- Look for unadvertised sales - Commissaries have hundreds of items on sale every day. Look for the "Savings You've Earned" signs pointing out additional savings.
- Visit the DeCA website - Click on "Shopping" and then "Savings Aisle" to find a list of groceries and other items your commissary offers at a discount. While you're there, you will also be able to do the following:
- Find your nearest commissary - Use the "Locations" link to access your local commissary, find out what's new and check store hours.
- Visit the "links" page - You'll find links to commercial websites with commissary sales information, newsletters you can receive via email and much more.
- Sign up for the commissary newsletter - Sign up for Commissary Connection, a general newsletter with news about commissaries and links to additional savings, shopping sprees, contests, promotions and more.
These websites also offer discounted merchandise to service members and their families:
Access Commissary links to find more savings-savvy websites.