Working as a Commissary Bagger

Walking across base today, I saw a notice on a bulletin board:  Full Time Baggers Needed at the Commissary.  This notice got me thinking about the job of being a bagger.  I’ll admit, my gut reaction was “They must be making a bundle!”  After a few more minutes, I realized that there is so much more to it.  I tried to do some research but was unable to find much information about bagging as a job.  I’m hoping that some readers can help me fill in the gaps.

Obviously, there is the income aspect.  From what I have read, the average tip is between $2 and $5.  To be conservative, let’s say that a bagger earns $3 for every load that they bag and carry out.  How long does that take?  Maybe 10 minutes?  Obviously, a bagger doesn’t work non-stop all day, and there aren’t always customers who need to be bagged, so let’s say that they average four loads an hour.  That would equal $12 an hour.  (Again, these are all rough guesstimates.  I’m quite sure that the numbers can be much higher or lower at certain locations, days of the month, etc.)

As independent contractors, baggers are not being taxed at the time the income is earned.  They are responsible for keeping track of their own earnings and paying the taxes due.  Just the self-employment tax is approximately 7% of the income (it is a silly formula but 7% will work for our calculations) plus whatever regular income taxes are due.  Let’s say that they are in the 15% tax bracket.  That means that a total of 22% of their income will have to go back to Uncle Sam in the form of taxes, leaving them with 78%.  $12 per hour times 78% equals a little over $9 per hour.  Now, I feel pretty sure that there are some baggers who are not claiming their tips, but it is the right thing to do (plus it’s the law.)

Now consider that there are absolutely no benefits to this job:  no health insurance, no sick pay, no vacation days, not even workman’s compensation insurance if you are injured while working.  Maybe not so bad for a second job, or a teenager, but certainly not the conditions that favor “full-time” employment.

I’ve got lots of questions swirling around my head, and I can find very few answers.  Are there any readers who are current or former commissary baggers?  Or do you know someone who is/was?  I would love to hear your thoughts.

About the Author

Kate Horrell
Kate Horrell is a military financial coach, mom of four teens, and Navy spouse. She has a background in taxes and mortgage banking, and a trove of experience helping other military families with their money. Follow her on twitter @realKateHorrell.
  • I know a few women who have done it. They liked it since they could work during the day while their kids were in school. I don’t think they ever claimed any of the income though. Our commissary seems to be high school kids at night and on weekends, and retirees during the day. It wouldn’t be bad for a little extra income.

    • roybaen

      I was a bagger for three years and one thing that was not said is to a bagger you have to have both a contractors license and a military ID card and you can’t be bagger with just contractors license because civilians are not allowed to be a bagger and that is military law only military retired military and military dependent are allowed to be a bagger now for the commissary both military and civilians are able to work now so far as the bagger many go you well just have to figure that one out for your self just keep in mind that some customers well not pay you anything at all so about your pay and how much you well get I just have to say no comment

      • roybaen

        In addition to what I just said baggers do come plain and wen I was a bagger the baggers was in charge of them self but there a lot problems but now the commissary took it over so now the commissary gives the bagger job to the military and retired military and dependent of the military

  • Sharon Ingram

    I was a commissary bagger 39 years ago while my father was stationed at Ft Wadsworth, NY. I worked at the commissary at Ft Hamilton across the Verrazano bridge. At that time, I was making anywhere from 25 cents to $2.50 for each trip. When you consider the type of work each bagger is doing instead of the “simple” trip to the car I believe you would change your mind. You have just spent possibly $200-$400 on groceries, consisting of canned products, easily bruised or damaged produce, easily squashed breads, packages of meat that can leak, and various cleaning and personal hygiene products. An inexperienced bagger may just throw your “stuff” in the bags haphazardly. But I promise you that won’t happen often. Baggers know what they are doing. If you request paper instead of plastic, it’s a much better process. They will pack all your frozen and refrigerated items together to maintain their temperature as efficiently as possible. They will try to pack cans and boxes evenly so bags are not off balance or too heavy. They will cushion delicate fruits and vegetables with folded paper bags between to further protect them. They then load one to two carts with your groceries and carefully wheel them to your car, then load your trunk, back seat, or pickup as efficiently as possible to prevent the load from shifting and falling during your ride home. Sometimes this loading is troublesome because your trunk is already full, or the back seat has child seats, or whatever everywhere. You’ve just spent a good protion of your bimonthly paycheck on “stuff” to survive on for the next 15 days. You’ve just spent more time with a commissary bagger, and asking more care for your stuff than the bag handler at the airport or hotel, yet just “tipped” them less than you would tip a bag handler. Baggers are honest employees who work for tips only. Surely their best work is worth $5 – $10. I am the spouse of a retired enlisted airman and I tip $5 per cart. Regardless. They earned it.

    • Debbi

      I have never had any bagger take that much care when bagging my groceries in the 16 years I have been shopping at commissaries. Must not be going to to the right ones, hmm?

      • John Halsy

        Try a different shift. Maybe you are getting all the newly trained baggers during the 4 – 1800 time frame.

    • mary

      i pack my customers groceries like they were mine. you give respect you get respect . i bag and i stock at night for 35 cents per box at the commissary 7 day s a weeks just to make ends meet. and it not right to be treated like dirt to have a cumtomer buy$ 500.00 to$ 600.00 and tip you$ 1 or$ 2 or take you and say thank you or say o i thought i had money and not tip. you have to relize the its hot or raining or cold. love my job but i do not like being treated like injust.

  • Eileen

    Do you guys know how old you need to be to work there? Im 15 right now, but by the summer I’ll be 15 & a half. Do you think they would let me work during the summer to save some money up?

    • KateKashman

      Eileen, I think it is different at each individual commissary. It doesn’t hurt to ask!____Good luck to you.

    • Sue

      You have not shopped at the Dover AFB commissary then!!

      • Eszter
    • Dale, SA Tx

      Minimum age to work at most commissary stores is 16 years of age (child labor law). Hope this helps

  • John Doe

    I am currently a bagger and like what Nea says you have absolutely no rights and are treated like dirt. I can’t find a form to fill out for a bagger though. I have been on a guilt trip lately as I have been working there for 4 years, with 2 of those four years working 60 hours a week. I can’t find any tax forms for this specific case however. Can anyone help me out?

    • Jeremy

      You would include the tip amount in the Wages column of IRS Form 1040 or 1040EZ. Also, IRS Form 4137 Social Security and Medicare Tax on Unreported Tip Income needs to be filled out, (Publication 531 has the Instructions)

  • Paul

    I worked at an overseas commissary for a year and a half and like other poster in this thread we were almost treated like criminals. Other than that I was an awesome job and I met quite a few friends.

  • Kim

    emation the customers have to bagg there ohne carts , the caesars don’t do it ,how long are you standing in line,when you don’t tip pack your ohne staff.

  • yvonne

    $ 400 – $500 food stems en don’t tip. that are the writ ones,

  • gary

    As a bagger, I generally spend 15 to 20 minutes with a carryout customer.
    I always take care as if the groceries were my own.
    The cashier will scan as quickly as you place on the belt.
    If you place your fragile items first it is likely I will not be able to keep pace and some of your items may be smashed.
    Watch the cashier as we as baggers are not permitted to say anything.
    We do our best and sometimes get zero for our efforts.
    Here is a tip from me… your heavy items first…..put them on the belt slowly (the cashier is an hourly worker)
    Hope this helps clarify.
    Gary (Grafenwoer Germany)

  • Dale, SA Tx

    As a bagger and head bagger at our local commissary store, I can assure you that most baggers (who want to keep their jobs…) are careful as to how your groceries are bagged. Yes, we do at times get mistreated and do not get tipped, but that comes with the job. If you have management in place who understands the contract (legal) that baggers sign to bag, as well as policies and memorandums written at the DECa level as well as local level, the job can be enjoyable for the most part. Baggers are trained on how to bag groceries (if not, the head bagger is not doing his/her job), and must adhere to in place policies. Unfortunately, often times management and yes the store director may not be familiar with all policies baggers have to abide by as well as store employees. I encourage all who shop and work at the commissary stores to understand the job baggers have and appreciate the service we provide for you. Bagging your own groceries or requiring cashiers to do it for you can be an overwhelming task which the baggers do for you at minimal cost to you…

  • jane doe

    I have been a bagger for 9 months now. Its hard work, but its the only job I could get at this time to qork around my kids and husband. I treat all my customers with the up most respect! Yes! We do get looked down on from commissary personal. My only complaint about this job is if a customer comes in from a week of buying their food and claim to be missing something that bagger that bagged them out has to pay for it. With out any proof. I had a lady come in from a week ago claiming she was missing her small bag of dog food, which cost $8. I had to pay for it. The next day she called in saying the bag rolled under her car seat. I was not given my money back. As soon as I finish my schooling, I’m leaving this job. Because I am a bagger… i tip nothing less then a $5.

    • Dale

      Our bagger agreement states something to the effect that “baggers are responsible for lost and or damaged goods as determined by the head bagger. It does not mention anything about paying for lost or damaged groceries in the DeCa Directive 40-6. Confer with your head bagger to review your bagger agreement. If it does not say anything about paying for groceries, I would ask your head bagger to get further direction from the store director if possible.

  • Oceana Bagger

    I have been a commissary bagger for 5 years.

    Upon becoming a bagger, you are required to sign a document stating that we are NOT employees of the commissaries, US government nor are we either “independent contractors” or contract personnel. We are self-employed. Therefore, we do not get paid a fixed “salary.”

    As commissary baggers, we solicit customers (not tips), that is we bag and assist customer’s groceries with the expectancy (but not mandatory) of a tip in return for our services. In addition, every time a bagger comes to bag we have to pay a baggers fee to bag.

    As for the tips, we have our good days and have our bad days depending on the time and day of the month as well as the well-being of the economy. We work for tips ONLY. On our good days, we can surely make at least or over the current minimum wage ($7.25). On our bad days, we can end up making less than half of the current wage (which is about $3/hour. The money we make results from how much time we put into bagging. However, just because we work 10+ hours per day does not mean we made very good money. I have worked 8 hours before and average only $3 per hour. The lowest tip I’ve received (besides no-tip) is 17 cents in pennies. Sometimes we arrive at the commissary on time, but do not get to bag for 3 hours. Overall, the tips and hours are inconsistent.

    What needs to be understood is that even though bagging sounds like a simple and easy job, it is also physically demanding. As I personally have tried to work 70+ in one week, it does take a toll on the joints. As stated before, we are not employees of the commissary, therefore we do not get any benefits. There was a moment where one of the baggers I worked with had a heat stroke during the hot summer. Managers were not obligated to help. They simply gave the bagger a chair to sit on. Once again, we voluntarily assist customers in hope for a tip. We simply ask that if you do not tip, that you simply recognize our service and show a little appreciation. We do have customers that do not engage in any conversation or show any gesture (like a smile) to us for the service we have provided and simply take their groceries and walk away – no thank you at all. I’ve had customers say, “Why should I tip them? All they did was bag my groceries.” in a rude way. Yes, it is not mandatory to tip us, but with an attitude like that, I believe then you should bag out your own groceries.

    As for as equipment, there are shopping carts for the customers and there are bagger carts used by the baggers to assist customer’s groceries to their vehicles. Personally, if you’re not going to tip, just tell us. We can still bag your groceries, but prefer you use your shopping cart and take your groceries to your vehicle yourselves; not based off anger, but it would be more efficient and less waste of time.

    In conclusion, I think bagging is great for students. It’s (in its on way) a great way to build character. You learn about people. Actually, being a bagger you can tell which customers are going to tip and those who don’t. Those who don’t tip are usually the young enlisted people, young couples, young couples with new children, and people with food stamps (yes, people with food stamps). I’m not saying all people with food stamps do not tip, but for the majority of people I’ve had that use food stamps do not. It’s ridiculous actually because they can get up to $400 worth of groceries – I’ve seen it happen. Even though we know tips are not mandatory, as baggers we do get frustrated at times because believe it or not, we do have expenses to pay.

    From this experience, I’ve learned to appreciate those who work for tips. As a result, I always tip at least $5 because I know how frustrating it gets to work for tips, especially if you’re having a bad day. Being self-employed as a commissary bagger, I try to make ends meet. It is not easy nor is it hard, but it is inconsistent.

  • Ann

    I was a bagger and there were days I make $29.00 a day on a 6 hour shift some people don’t tip at all and some people give a $1 for 4 carts, people are under the impression baggers make a lot of money, not true, some people say they don’t know we work for tips.

    • Soldier Boy

      Well, the female baggers here at Fort Eustis , VA got smart and are getting their hair done and wearing pretty make up with a smile. They are cashing in on their tips. Nothing’s wrong with a little customer service…right?