Extreme Couponing at the Commissary?

A question from a reader:

I just finished reading “Pick Another Checkout Lane, Honey.” I have to say I was so motivated by the saving that the Krazy Coupon Lady’s experienced. So my question is, Is saving that extreme only possible at civilian supermarkets, or can we really coupon and save that much at our own commissaries? Please help inquiring minds in Jax, FL would love to know?

I haven’t read the book, but I did see Joanie on the Extreme Couponing show so I have a pretty good idea of what she is saving on groceries.

The fast answer to this question is no, you can’t save that much at the commissary.


You can spend less at your commissary.

I have not shopped at every commissary or every civilian store, but it has been my experience that most regular priced items at the commissary are cheaper than civilian stores.

When it comes to sales, BOGO’s and double coupons, civilian grocery stores beat the commissary most of the time.

If you are familiar with the commissary coupon policy you know that they don’t double coupons and only occasionally offer BOGO’s. They do run sales every two weeks, but they don’t have penny items, register rewards or even coupons that print on your receipt.

Because civilian stores do offer these incentives it is possible to save more on your groceries… but saving more doesn’t mean spending less. Since this reader lives in Jacksonville, Florida I’ll compare a few items that are on sale this week at Publix with the same items at the commissary. I’ll throw some coupons in the mix too, although these coupons might not all be available in real life.

Ball Park Franks

  • Publix BOGO – Buy two for $4.49
  • Commissary- $1.29 each
  • Let’s assume we had a $1/2 coupon.
  • Your final price for 2 packs of Ball Park Franks is $3.49 at Publix.
  • Commissary final price $1.58.
  • On your receipt from Publix you would have saved $5.49 but on the commissary receipt you only saved $1.
  • You saved more at Publix, but spent less at the Commissary. Even if you shopped at a store that doubled coupons you would have paid less at the commissary.

Kraft Salad Dressing

  • Publix BOGO – Buy two for $3.39
  • Commissary Sale Price $1.60 each
  • Coupon $1/2
  • Publix Final Price $2.39 for two
  • Commissary Final Price $2.20 for two

If your store doubled you would spend less buying the salad dressing at Publix.

Bush’s Baked Beans

  • Publix 3/$5
  • Commissary $1.33 each or $3.99 for 3

Since this reader lives in Florida where they do not double coupons I think she will spend less overall shopping at the commissary. The commissary is almost always cheaper on produce, dairy, and meat unless you are comparing those items to loss leaders at a civilian store.

Just because she would spend less overall at the commissary doesn’t mean she shouldn’t shop the deals at her local stores. I recommend keeping a price book to make sure it is really a great deal. Keeping a price book will also keep track of prices on non sale items, you never know- your local store might be cheaper on a few things.

The fact is, there isn’t much extreme couponing going on at the commissary. Even if you have a coupon for every single item you probably aren’t going to walk out of there paying only a few dollars for a cart full of groceries. That doesn’t mean you can’t save by shopping there… you’ll just save more shopping at your local store.

The bottom line is that for many of these extreme couponers it isn’t about buying things they need, it is about the thrill of the deal. Most of them have admitted they LOVE finding deals and will do just about anything to get an item for free (or even get paid for buying it).

I don’t think it is wrong to want to save and find deals, but the bottom line is you need to buy groceries to feed your family. One hundred packs of free toilet paper, candy bars and sports drinks do not feed your family!

Stock up when there is a sale, keep a modest stock pile, search for the best deal, but in the end remember that you need to buy food to feed your family three meals a day. Vegetables, meat, milk, and other items that don’t often have available coupons are all items you need to consider in the final equation.

Many of the coupons today are for processed food which are not the healthiest and cheapest food for your family. You can often spend less on your groceries by preparing from scratch meals with whole foods. Whole foods that are often cheaper at the commissary.

So while there is nothing wrong with wanting to emulate all those extreme couponers out there, remember to think about your total monthly grocery bill instead of just the super coupon deals. Use the techniques taught by the extreme couponers to save on items you need at your local store, then do the rest of your shopping at the commissary.

Image source: Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn

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  1. Happy Housewife is correct. Knowing how to do the math is your ticket to saving real money, wherever you shop. The Commissary offers better pricing over time on most basic items any family will need. And there are no coupons for ground beef or 2% milk. Yes, the Commissary has a surcharge, but I think if you create a price book and track your expenses you will find that the Commissary offers the best overall savings.

    Coupons are great, and military families should be happy that the Commissary honors coupons and offers special military-only coupons.

    When you grocery shop, mental math (or your price book) is your friend. You should know how much you pay for milk, diapers, meat, cereal, TP, etc. each week…so you can take advantage of a great deal when you see it! I know that when my Commissary hikes the price of shredded cheese I will buy it at Costco that week…my experience shows that the Commissary price will drop two weeks later. Get into the habit of mentally tracking prices on the things you buy weekly. It’s good for your mental acuity AND your bank account.

  2. I have to say I disagree on this one. I have on MANY occasions gotten HUNDREDS of dollars of food at the commissary for PENNIES. I have even had to add candy to my cart at the end because the amount owed was in the negative. My best trip was $576 worth for .07 cents. Every trip doesn’t look like this, but it is possible. Commissary allows overage. That makes a HUGE difference. When you have a high dollar manufacturer coupon and use that on a great sale at the commissary, you can come out on top. You use the overage from those coupons to pay for your meats and milk and other items that do not have coupons. I am not talking about using your coupons illegally or anything here, like some have done on those shows. 2 years ago that was $3 schick coupon out off any schick disposable razors, no size restrictions. The commissary carries the 2 razor packs for .83 cents. Our commissary has a huge trial section. I was able to get 40 packs with plenty left on the shelf. I had ordered 40 of the coupons from a clipping site for .05 per coupon. This gave me all of the razor packs for free plus $86.80 in overage towards the rest of my bill. That covers your items that you do not have coupons for, like milk and meat, etc. I only spent $2 on the coupons, so I more than came out ahead. This is all legal and in the commissary coupon policy that states they allow overage towards the rest of your bill if a coupon amount exceeds the price of the product. The commissary gets back the full amount of the coupon plus a percentage from the retailer when they turn in the coupons. — So when you find a good coupon with overage, you stock up on your other items while you can. Oh, and my husband took the razors with him when he deployed to Afghanistan. =)

    • TheHappyHousewife says:

      I agree with you. You can find great deals at the commissary (and get stuff for free). But I think that on a weekly basis the civilian stores have deals where you can walk out with free or close to free items. These deals are not as common at the commissary.

    • Brandy- I agree too! We are stationed in Guam so the Commissary & NEX are our only options. I would say I pay about $50 max a week for groceries because our commissary gives overage, I dont know what I will do when the grocery stores at our next duty station don’t give overage… Oh wait, shop at the Commissary 😉 I LOVE IT! I’m really comfortable with it. I’m excited to learn to shop other places too but I definatly disagree that you can’t ******* Coupon at the commissary (Sorry I hate the word extreme 😉 )

  3. I also have to disagree with this one. If you are couponing extremely it is very possible to walk out of the Commissary paying a few cents for your groceries! Like the previous poster stated, it is all about knowing which items are going to give you overage each sales period and special ordering those items. The overage will cover your meat, dairy and produce items. Most recently I purchased 4 cases of of Nabisco snack cookies for .25 per package using .75/2 coupon which meant that I made .25 for every 2 packs I bought. There were 48 packages in each case so I received $6 in overage for each case or $24 which was enough to cover our milk for the week (we are a family of 6 and go through a gallon a day) and some fresh fruit and veggies. Most overages will be small, but every few months there will be something that gets you $1 or more. Special ordering is important though because you don’t want to clear the stock available for other shoppers. It is very easy to order items. all you need to know is the UPC number and case count and then visit the customer service counter at your Commissary. Some stores will even let you call in your order.

    I do agree that most of your Commissary savings comes from the lower cost of the items everyday. Our Commissary generally has name brand items for the price of store brand so after a coupon we get some awesome prices.

  4. I am a new Army wife and new to the commissary, and also new to couponing. My family eats super healthy with the majority of our grocery purchase being fresh fruits and veggies and meats and very little processed and junk food. I did a 40 item comparison between the commissary, local grocery store, and WalMart and found overall the commissary has better deals. I’ve been averaging 20%-25% additional savings when I add coupons. I still check the flyers of the local stores for better sale deals, especially when stacked with coupons. While I haven’t been able to master getting groceries for free, I’ve been able to drop our average monthly food bill by 40% between shopping at the commissary and introducing coupons. And this includes a mini stockpile (2-3 back items) when the prices are at their best.

  5. I just wanted to put a tip out there. I was in the commissary yesterday evening. Because of the holiday our commissary will be closed Monday (it’s usually closed on Mondays) AND Tuesday this week. Because of being closed 2 days, they were marking down all of their meat by 50%!!! I didn’t have time to wait for the guy to mark down everything, but I was able to stock up on pork. Just something to watch out for!!

  6. Don’t forget case lot sales! You have to be careful, but if you pay attention, I get some of my best deals there. I got cranberry juice last week for a $1 that sells for $3 everywhere else. I don’t shop the regular grocery store. I buy toiletries and things at Target and Walgreens but most of my food at the commissary. I spend about half of what my friends on the outside do. Best advice: no matter where you shop, know your prices!

  7. I find this article (and the comments) rather interesting. I’ve never managed to get into couponing (besides just picking up the coupons that are hanging on the shelf), but I’ve found that recently, prices for some staples (organic milk is the one i’ve seen it most often) are actually better (without any coupons) at our local grocery stores than at the commissary. This is in washington state, btw.

    This is a pretty new thing for our area, and I’m curious if maybe it has something to do with the fact that our area has had 3 commercial grocery stores that have had to close down due to losing money. My guess is that the local stores are keeping their margins insanely small (or even loss-leading) for the staples that people will be in frequently for, in order to keep customers from going to other stores. Since our commissary has a flat percentage that their prices are over the cost to them, their prices are ending up higher on those staples… ? I’m not sure if that’s right, but it’s my best guess, since for the past 2-3 months, I’ve found better prices on the organic milk and a few other items at my local stores.

    • TheHappyHousewife says:

      That is definitely a possibility. The local store might be losing money on many items to get people into the store to shop. When I lived in Maryland, Costco was always cheaper on butter and frozen fruit. So I stocked up once a month on a few things at Costco and then purchased the rest at the commissary.
      If you local store is cheaper than definitely shop there!

  8. We coupon at the commissary as well. The BX also stacks coupons. 1 mamafacture coupon and 1 military coupon. Our commissary is very small so we do not buy everything there but I try to look at prices there 1st.

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  10. I coupon at the comissary and something you should look out for are the “Military Only Coupons”. Sometimes these are much better than the coupons you can get elsewhere. For instance in the past couple of months there was a Dignoro’s pizza coupon for $3 off of two pizza. Dignoro’s are like 4.50 so that means you getting two pizzas for $6 which is a pretty awesome deal. Also I coupon I have found the last couple of times at the comissary is a “buy one get one free” on snicker’s bars. Who can resist a snickers bar for .25 cents??

  11. Marie Elene says:

    Enjoyed reading the different comments. I just did a commissary trip yesterday.(its less than an hour to get there, so it is worth the drive) I came ready coupons in hand and a mini list as to what I wanted and needed. As I walked around I was using the coupons I had plus coming across some that were hanging on display. When I reached the checkout, handed the cashier the coupons between the b1g1f and the regular ones. I had finished with a saving about twenty eight percent. I had 86 coupons and bought 190 items. I felt like I did pretty good, because some items with the coupon were free.
    I have found out, it is worth the work of clipping the coupons and the drive. Each trip is different but the effort pays off.
    Again thank you, stumbled on this site, definetly will stop by again.

  12. Do they double the coupon at the comissary ?

  13. A caution about using printable coupons at the commissary. They only allow ONE printable coupon. Not one per item, but ONE. For instance, if you have 2 $2 off Tide printable coupons, you can not buy 2 bottles and use 2 coupons, even though you can legally print 2. They say it helps cut down on coupon fraud, but it is a huge pain in the rear. They also made some changes a couple of years ago to shut down some of the more extreme couponers. You can read about it here. http://www.spousebuzz.com/blog/2014/02/commissary-shuts-down-extreme-couponing-abuse.html

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