Commissary Shopping Tips

I received this email from a military spouse the other day…

I’m a new military wife (married last June), so I don’t even know what a case lot sale is. Can you please explain it to me?
We aren’t active duty right now, but I have a feeling we may be in the near future. The closest commissary to us is 40 minutes away (Carlisle Barracks in PA), and we probably wouldn’t go there except that my in-laws live in the same town as the commissary, so we attempt to pack a cooler or 2 and stock up when we can for the two of us. However, after that service charge is added and I tip the baggers, sometimes I feel like I haven’t really benefited by shopping there even after the “discount” deals I find! I’m definitely a coupon clipper and don’t care about brand names, but I still feel like after those extra costs and the price of gas, I can normally just shop at a local grocery store for the same $ or sometimes less. Maybe I’d see most cost saving if I were buying for a family instead of just the two of us. Any tips for commissary shopping?

First of all, a case lot sale is basically when the commissary sells items in Costco quantity at commissary prices. Commissaries usually have two or three case lot sales a year. The best deals sell out quickly at many stores so it is good to go the first day or two. You can also use coupons at a case lot sale, which will increase your savings. Much of the food at the case lot sale is prepared food, like canned fruits and veggies, boxed drinks, cereals, and snacks. They also have cleaning items and cleaning products for sale too. The thing to remember is that these are all sold in large quantities, you cannot separate them. You could go in with another military spouse to purchase the items.

As far as the surcharge, I think it depends on where you live, if this cuts into your savings. Certain states charge a sales tax on their food, so if you live in one of those states the surcharge probably doesn’t make a difference. I live in Maryland, which does not charge sales tax on food. The 5% charge may make a difference for someone who is driving an hour each way to the commissary and has to factor in the cost of fuel.

Tipping the baggers is a controversial topic, so I want to chose my words carefully. I always tip the baggers, but I do think it is hard to determine a fair amount. There are several factors to consider; weather, number of bags, distance to the vehicle. The more bags I have the higher the tip, but I have never tipped more than $5.

Now down to the really important stuff. Is the commissary really cheaper? I would have to say yes, item for item, pound for pound the commissary is cheaper. I only shop at other grocery stores when I am getting things for free, or close to free. There will be times when using double coupons and bogos, you will be able to beat the commissary’s price, but unless all your shopping, including meat and produce, is done that way you will save money overall at the commissary.

Here are some tips for getting the best deals at the commissary

Do not shop on a payday weekend. These are the busiest shopping days at the commissary. It is almost impossible to walk down the aisles, not to mention figure out coupons if you shop during this time.

Take advantage of the tear off coupons. These are the coupons that are attached to the shelves. Many times these coupons match up with items that are already on sale. Combining sales and coupons this way can almost get you items for free. For example, last month there were many rip off coupons in the taco aisle, and all the Old El Paso items were on sale. I bought 3 jars of salsa, 4 boxes of shells, 4 cans of refried beans and 2 seasoning canisters for $6.

Plan your menus around the Commissary sales. The Commissary rotates its sale items every two weeks, starting on Thursdays. I usually try to post the sales at the Grocery Gathering, but sometimes individual commissaries run their own specials so I don’t catch all the deals. You can look up your individual Commissary here.

If you live far from a Commissary, try making one bulk trip every 4 to 6 weeks. At one point we lived about an hour a way from the Commissary. I went every 4 weeks to purchase in bulk; milk, yogurt, formula, diapers, bread, cereal and meat. I would also pick up the groceries I needed for the week. As far as I know, stateside commissaries do not ration items so you can really stock up on things that are a great price.

The Commissary will save you more money if you live in a high cost of living area. I live in the D.C. metro area. There is no other store that can compete with the Commissary’s prices. I also found this to be the case when I lived in the Virginia Beach area. If you aren’t sure about your commissary savings try making a price book. This will help you to determine whether or not making an hour or so drive to the Commissary is worth your time and money.

What is your best Commissary shopping tip? Leave a comment and let us know.

The Happy Housewife

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Coupons for Troops

Feel free to blog about this program, link to this post, and use the button on your sidebar.

Coupons for Troops is a program I started in 2008. My goal is to provide expired and non-expired coupons to military families stationed overseas. The prices in overseas commissaries are significantly higher than those in the States and military families do not always have access to coupons in newspapers and inserts. Military commissaries overseas accept coupons up to six months past the expiration date.

Military Commissaries accept manufacturer coupons as well as internet printed coupons. The Commissary is a grocery store so only “grocery” coupons are needed. Families cannot use store specific coupons (ie Target, Walgreens, Kroger).

Those who participate in Coupons for Troops are assigned an overseas military family. Coupons, which do not need to be sorted, are then sent directly to the assigned family. All overseas military families have FPO or APO addresses so mailing coupons costs the same as if you were sending them stateside. You can send as many or as few coupons as you have available. Please only send coupons that have been expired 3 months of less in order to give the families time to sort and use the coupons.

If you are a military family stationed overseas and would like to receive coupons we would love to add you to the mailing list.

If you would like to participate in the program you can find specific details and a sign up here.

This post may contain a link to an affiliate. See my disclosure policy for more information.