Military Families: Save money by shopping at the Commissary!

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For those who do not have a close friend or family in the military, the commissary is the on-base grocery store. The Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) operates the military Commissaries throughout the world. Active duty military, guard and reserve members, retirees and qualified family members may shop there. Authorized shoppers need only show proper military ID to use the commissary.

There are 5 commissaries in San Diego:

MCAS Miramar (Mira Mesa/Miramar), Naval Base 32nd Street (Downtown), North Island NAS (Coronado), Imperial Beach, and Camp Pendleton. There is a Commissary withing 30 minutes of where ever you live in San Diego. There is also a small PX/snack shop/gas station in the military housing up at Murphy Canyon (off interstate 15 at Aero Drive).

If you don’t live in the San Diego, CA area, don’t fret there may be a commissary close to you! To find the commissary closest to you, visit here.

Commissaries charge the wholesale price +10-20% for goods sold in the commissary, and there is a 5% surcharge at the end of your order. What this means for military families is that you can buy food and toiletries for much less than you can at the civilian grocer. The surcharge covers the payroll for cashiers, the electricity bill and other administrative costs.

Without using coupons, the average commissary shopper saves 30% over civilian grocery prices. When you combine the lowered prices at the Commissary with coupons, you will be saving 60-70% over civilian grocery prices. To learn about the coupon policy for the commissary, visit this page.  It also includes a lot of great FAQ and some videos.

If you are new to base shopping, here are some things you need to know:

  •  There is no sales tax on taxable items at the commissary: Toilet paper, cleaning supplies, dog food, etc.. There is no tax on food in CA.
  • The commissary gets crazy busy the weekend of payday. As in you’ll wait in line for upwards of an hour to check out. It’s seriously insane. Try to go a few days after payday to avoid the craziness.
  • The baggers do not make an hourly wage. They work only on tips. Keep that in mind. There are tip boxes at each checkout stand. My mom generally tips $5-8 for her monthly grocery trip, but she pushes her own cart to the car and loads her car up herself.
  • There are a large number of tear pad coupons available. They usually have a long expiration date, and are only good at the commissary. Usually, these items that have a pad of coupons next to them are on special, so when you combine the sale price with the coupon, it’s a steal. In that case, buy a couple extra of the items that you find to be on your list or that you know you will use.
  • You can use manufacturer coupon (from newspapers and printable coupons) at the commissary.   State-side locations only accept valid, in date coupons.  Overseas locations accept expired coupons, up to 6 month after their expiration date.
  • Right inside the door of most commissaries is a newsstand type rack with coupon inserts and circulars. Take a minute to pull your cart over, and flip through them. There are always great coupons in them. Don’t forget a tiny pair of scissors!

The commissary has a website. DeCA’s website has a lot of great info, including sales information, shopping lists, and did you know that the commissary also has a savings card that you can load e-coupons onto? You can pick the card up in the commissary, and register it online, load coupons and you’ll be saving even more in no time.

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The commissary is a full service grocery store. Most larger locations have butchers and grind their own hamburger/ground beef several times each day, a full produce department (with limited organic produce), a bakery, and a service deli where you can get meats and cheeses sliced, and even a deli sandwich made to order! Most commissaries have organic food, gluten free food, various ethnic foods (South American, Pan Asian, European), and a large variety in name brands. There is no generic brand as DeCA does not manufacture food.

Most commissaries are very large. At MCAS Miramar for example, if you are to walk up and down each aisle in the entire store, you will have walked 1 mile at the end of your trip.

Most Commissaries have a case lot sale each year. Commissary Case Lot Sales are held during both the May and September timeframe each year. The sale dates for each store will be available at least a few weeks prior to the sales commencing. Check your local store during the April and August timeframes for more information.

If you have never shopped at a commissary before and you have base privileges, I recommend that you go at least once. You’ll be surprised.

Oh, one last thing… Don’t forget the scratch and dent section! The one at MCAS Miramar is pretty big.

How do I know so much about the commissary? I grew up in a military family, in a military town, and I grew up shopping on base with my mom. Occasionally when she has a large shopping trip, I go with her as her guest and push the cart (it gets really heavy too!!). I can’t buy anything, as my military dependent ID card has long since expired, but I get a good insight to prices, deals, and sales.  It’s a very fun store to coupon fairy at!

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