The Commissary has long taken heat—both from military families and politicians. Again, it’s in the news as Congress looks to retool this benefit to save money. And again, military families are divided on the importance and usefulness of Commissary shopping. Cue our article. This is not about bashing the Commissary or debating policies. This is about how you can take advantage of Commissary shopping to make the biggest impact on your budget.
First of all, if you want to save money, you need to follow the rules of frugal grocery shopping. Just because the average savings to a family is 30% at the Commissary doesn’t mean that you’ll automatically glean 30% savings. It would be cool if that’s how it worked, but it doesn’t.
Make sure that you meal plan, take an inventory of your fridge and your pantry, and make a list of the products you need. Make sure that you subscribe to the Commissary’s newsletter, too. Then you’ll want to compare prices at local, off-base grocery stores. Because off-base stores can offer loss leaders (products they sell below their actual cost), you may fare better shopping around first. That’s why you also need a budget before you step out the door.
You’ll want to get a Commissary Rewards Card, too, and have it on hand. While you can’t layer coupons and your rewards card, you can use it to shop without paper coupons since you can load them onto the card digitally.
Now it’s time to check out the savings websites that offer Commissary-specific coupons and alerts (like MyMilitarySavings.com). Commissary shopping requires a special knowledge of their policies regarding couponing, so you’ll want to familiarize yourself with what you can and can’t do before you put together an elaborate extreme couponing strategy. And don’t worry—if you hate couponing, there are other ways to save. Sometimes the Commissary will even have coupons readily available in the aisles for products they’re featuring. They’ll also mark value brands with tags on the shelves, so if you’re not partial to a particular brand, this is an easy switch-out that can help save some cash.
Commissary policies don’t let you stack coupons or loyalty cards… but you can use coupons and apps together. Checkout 51 and Ibotta offer rebates for Commissary locations. Because the rebate is recorded through your phone and not through the cash register, you can maximize your savings by buying on sale, couponing and then using the rebate. Often these rebate apps will also offer the ability to buy certain staples (like eggs, bread, or milk) of any brand and any type, so you can still save money on the basics.
Commissary prices change one the 1st and 16th of the month, so you’ll want to keep your eyes open. You’ll also want to make sure that while you’re shopping you’re looking for unadvertised clearances and sales. Most Commissaries note flag these with brightly colored paper, but you can often find clearance items on endcaps. Some Commissaries also have a clearance room or section of the store that offers reduced prices on certain products that may not have sold well, might have cosmetic blemishes, or are nearing the end of their sell-by date. Don’t leave the Commissary without looking—you might be able to score a few non-perishables to keep on hand for a discounted price.
And of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention case sales. If you have the space to purchase in bulk (or you have friends that will split the products and the cost), case sales can be a fantastic way to save up and stock up. Case sales often happen in the summer, although it varies by base. The Commissary will advertise ahead of time in the store and online.
While the Commissary often gets a bad rap, there are numerous ways to ease your budget by shopping there. Sticking to a plan, using resources and tools for savings, and avoiding impulse purchases can help you make smart choices when you shop at the Commissary.