Until we recently moved on base, I never shopped at the Commissary or Exchange. Living off base meant it was quicker just to go to the local grocery store to get what I needed.
But then we got orders overseas…
Moving overseas came with a world of new experiences for my family, including learning how to frugally navigate the Commissary and Exchange.
A small container of strawberries can cost upwards of $4.99. The price of lettuce at the Commissary…a whopping $7.29 for a bag that is about to expire. A full head of cabbage…$8.00. Or how about $5.99 for 5 pieces of asparagus.
Of course, I already knew about the tax-free benefit that would help me save money on base, but I was so thankful to find that there are a bunch of other hidden (and useful) ways to save money shopping on base.
Saving Money at the Commissary
Enroll in Commissary Rewards
I have a secret: I used to be an extreme couponer. It was great for a while. Before it got popular, I could save a ton of money preparing my coupons each week, going to five (!!) different stores to get the best deals, and building my stock pile of our essentials.
After kids, there was no way I was going to be able to spend all of that time preparing and carting kids from store-to-store.
Commissary Rewards is my kind of couponing.
The program is a total steal because you don’t have to track down coupons and remember to bring them with you. It’s all electronic.
When you check out, you can have the cashier scan your rewards card and any coupons will automatically be applied to your purchase.
If you miss cutting out physical coupons, check out the front of the store which almost always has a free booklet or two of coupons.
Remember You Can Use Expired Coupons Overseas
If you live overseas, the commissary will accept coupons up to six months after the expiration date stated on the coupon.
Be on the lookout for bins full of free coupons in the front of the commissary, in the library, and even around on-base housing communities.
And if you have a friend overseas, feel free to send her some coupons. (Wink.)
Case Lot Sales
Look for the Case Lot Sale advertised each year. This sale usually happens once or twice a year, and it’s a great opportunity to stock up for cheap on items your family always uses.
They have great prices for buying in bulk. I always find laundry detergent, toilet paper, shampoo, and some of our favorite snack foods at an awesome deal.
During the rest of the year, don’t miss the bulk item aisle usually tucked somewhere in the middle or corner of the Commissary. This is a small section that offers some great discounts on items available to purchase in bulk.
Ask the Commissary to Stock a New Item
Is there something you just love but the Commissary doesn’t carry it?
I don’t want to make a shopping trip to another store after standing in a long commissary line. You know what I mean.
Did you know, you can request that the commissary carry any item you’d like. You’d be surprised how accommodating they can be. You can visit the customer service desk and request they carry your item.
Choose a Credit Card that Rewards you for Shopping On Base
By far the biggest and easiest savings we’ve found is enrolling in a credit card that rewards us for shopping on base. There are several cards you can choose from that offer an additional perk for using the card on base.
At the commissary, we shop exclusively with our rewards credit card and get 5% back on everything we buy (up to $3,000 annually). It’s so simple.
Here are a couple to check out:
USAA Cashback Rewards Plus American Express Card
Earn 5% cash back when shopping on base. (This is your best bet for the commissary.)
Military Star MasterCard
This is different than the Military Star Card, which only works at the exchange, gas station, food court and shoppette. In the future, you may be able to use the regular Star Card at the commissary, but those changes haven’t been rolled out yet. You get 1% cash back with this card or $20 for every 2,000 points earned.
Military Star Card
Earn a $20 Military Star rewards card for every 2,000 points accumulated, save 5 cents per gallon on fuel, and save 10% at the exchange food court. (This is your best bet for everything on base that is not the commissary).
Don’t forget the Cut-Too-Much Meat Section
Last, don’t forget you can use the commissary’s Cut-Too-Much Meat Section.
I peek in the big freezer every week and inevitably I find ground beef, pork, and other great meats at a ridiculously good price. I’ll buy several and just throw them in my freezer until we need them. I haven’t paid full price on ground beef in over a year.
Save Money at the Exchange
Just like the commissary, you can find great coupons for both in the store and the food court on the exchange’s website. And did you know the exchange accepts manufacturer? So if you run into the exchange to grab diapers or shampoo, don’t forget your coupon!
Baby & Me Program
New parents can bring a copy of their child’s birth certificate to the Customer Service desk within 90 days of your baby’s birthday and receive a $10 gift card to be applied to any in-store purchase. So new mamas, don’t forget to get your gift card. It’s a free $10.
This one shocked me the most! I had no idea that the exchange will price match a local off-base store?
Not only that, but they’ll accept a verbal price challenge on an identical item with the difference of $10 or less, and they honor it right at the cash register, which is so easy!
On differences greater than $10, you just have to bring in an ad that shows the exact same item and an active sales date and they’ll match the price at Customer Service.
And of course, if you buy something from the exchange and the price goes down within 14-days, you can bring in your receipt and get reimbursed the difference anytime within those two weeks.
For more posts on Military Life…
- Military Base Gate Etiquette: 10 Small Ways to Avoid a Giant SNAFU
- You Know You’re Living On Base When…
- Manners for MilSpouses: 12 Must-Know Etiquette Rules of Military Life
- 47 Things No One Tells You About Being a Military Wife
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