If you’re like most military families, you’re probably always on the lookout for ways that you can stretch your dollars further. From being careful about budgeting to having open conversations about money, being financially responsible is an important component to a successful military career.
When you’re looking for new ways to stretch your budget further, you might consider exploring ways to save money at the Commissary. We covered this in another post, but just as a quick refresher, here’s how the Commissary works.
Commissaries operate just like neighborhood grocery stores. The Commissary is managed by the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) and sells most items at cost. That means that DeCa negotiates the cost of goods with manufacturers and supplies and then passes the savings onto you. Prices often fluctuate based on this arrangement. Regular stores often put items on sale to lure shoppers into their stores, but law prevents commissaries from doing that. Instead, the manufacturers themselves decide what is on sale. The Commissary doesn’t charge state or local tax, though you will see a 5 percent surcharge on your receipt. This is required by law and helps with store upkeep and the construction of new stores. The cost of your surcharge is calculated by the cost of your items before any coupons are applied.
So how can you save money at the Commissary?
Turns out there are lots of ways! Let’s explore some of the easiest ways to stretch your dollars further at your Commissary.
First, sign up for Commissary Rewards. After you’ve created an account, you can view and clip digital coupons. These coupons are stored on your card, so there’s no need to remember to bring them to the store!
Next, make sure you check out the current promotions for your Commissary and view the sales flyer, too. Commissary brands are also an excellent way to save money - these are Commissary branded products that are every bit just as good as the name brands.
You can always use paper coupons just like at civilian grocery stores, but the roles are a bit different. You’re not allowed to use both manufacturer and Commissary coupons simultaneously, and unlike civilian stores, you can’t double or triple coupons.
Another option you have to save even more at your Commissary is to explore credit cards that give you rewards for shopping on your installation. There are plenty of cards you can choose from, but the most common is definitely the Military Star Card.
The Military Star Card allows you to make installation purchases at the Exchange, Commissary, gas station, food court, and shoppette. Now you can also earn reward points at Armed Forces Recreation Center resort hotels and online at shopmyexchange.com. No matter where you spend, you’ll be earning 2% rewards on every purchase. You can earn a $20 Military Star Rewards Card for every 2,000 points you accumulate, save 5 cents per gallon on fuel and save 10% at the Exchange food court.
This is an excellent idea for anyone who is just starting out and looking for simple ways to build a strong credit score. Find out more here.
Aside from these options, there are several other tactics you can employ to save money during your Commissary trip.
Always make a shopping list … and stick to it! It’s so easy to walk through the aisles and decide to toss stuff into your cart that looks good at the moment. But you’ll end up spending more money than you planned for, and you’ll end up with food you might not need.
Speaking of a plan, come with a budget and stick to it. Sit down with your spouse and have a candid conversation about budgeting and monthly bills. Together, decide on how much you can safely spend each month on food. Then choose how often you want to shop for food and figure out how much you can spend during each trip.
Once you know how much money you can spend, search for recipes that fit your budget and eating preferences. Make a weekly meal plan around these foods, and then head to the Commissary armed with your list and the total amount you can spend.
As you create your meal plan, really think about what you absolutely need to buy and what you can make from home. Maybe your house loves to eat bread and goes through two loaves of bread a week. It might be more economical for you to buy a bread maker and make bread at home.
All of these might seem like small things to do; however, they can really add up, resulting in significant savings for you and your family.
If you and your family are facing food insecurity-related issues, we urge you to explore this resource page that details steps you can take to locate food pantries in your area.