Commissaries: Love ’em? Hate em? What If They Close?

Amongst the constant rumors and recommendations that military pay be frozen, or retirements be changed, or Tricare costs go up, there are always the comments about the military commissaries and exchanges.  A recent report discussed cutting commissaries as one way of cutting costs for the Department of Defense.  Amy Bushatz at SpouseBUZZ did an excellent article on the current situation.  I love her summary, “In the end we all ignored the whole thing and moved on with our lives.”  I’m pretty sure that is exactly what will happen this time, but who knows…

I’m curious.  How do you all feel about military commissaries?  Is it a benefit you treasure, or do you find it just as easy and inexpensive to shop your local stores.  What would you do if commissaries were to close?

During my 20 years of military spousedom, I’ve had periods of time when I’ve been an avid commissary shopper, and other times where I was just as likely to go to a civilian grocery store.  Most of it depends on the particular area, the distance from my house to the commissary, and the coupon policies of the civilian stores.  However, as a fall-back, I always end up at the commissary because it is significantly less expensive overall.  Yes, I can find certain items much cheaper off-base, and sometimes I like the selection off-base better, but I don’t always have hours to make trips to multiple stores.  When I am trying to conserve both time and money, it is the commissary for me.

Share your thoughts – I’d love to know!

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.
  • Emily

    I personally LOVE the commissary! You really can’t beat the prices and coupon honoring system. I compared a trip to my local Vons versus the Commissary and well… The wallet never lies! What I got at the commissary for $200 was astounding compared to what I was able to purchase at Von’s with that amount. I just wish we had more of em!

  • Kara

    The commissary is necessary overseas. I can shop on the economy and find some things, but not everything I need. For the most part, the commissary is cheaper than shopping on the economy. The only that cost more is the produce. It’s ridiculous here, but not big deal, I either buy it off base or just suck it up and pay for it. That’s what COLA is for after all.

  • Tom

    How about we close Congress and the rest of the idiots departments in Washington.

    • jere

      Good I dea!

    • RusteyM

      There are very few US congressmen who will vote for something without benefiting themselves. There’s no payoff for them from our use of the commissaries. …. let’s not even talk about their health benefits for life that are better than any American Soldier’s!!!

    • Teri
  • md0976

    I always compare prices on and off base and by far the commissary is way cheaper. I would be very upset if they decide to close them and only give us $400 a year to shop off base.

    • C. Malone

      What makes you think that anyone, especially our present congress, would give you $400 a year to shop off-base? If they close them, they
      will disappear forever. I still shop the commissary, when I’m on-base.
      If I’m off-base, since I live over 10 miles away from a commissary, I shop at Walmart, Kroger, Meiers, etc. I find that if I shop with coupons, I can
      almost always match the commissary, and sometimes beat the commissary, since the commissary charges tax on food, which is not collected, in Ohio, on food items. Of course, I don’t buy high dollar items anymore (cigarettes, red meat, etc.). That is how I save money today.

  • hjs

    I also agree with several of the comments that “shopping for dry goods, meats, and frozen foods is a cost-saver, while the produce section usually is not.” Our retired family likes and uses the BX and Commissary weekly. It is a valuable asset to any military community.

  • Togiebill

    Shopping at the commissary is one of EARNED benefits. Retirement pay, TRICARE and the commissary are the only real benefits that I benefit from. It’s use is abused by some who shop for ineligible people but the solution is not to close them. We’d save a lot more money by requiring members of Congress to live by the laws they pass.

    • Patricia

      How right you are. i certainly agree.

  • Paul

    I am retired BNaavy and I consider the ability to shop at the commissary and exchanges part of the pay I earned for the 20 plus years I gave this country. This is soetning that was EARNED. I did not have a 8 – 5 job where I would be home every night and weekends and holidays. My brother in law is a postal carrier. He just took 10 full days off over Christmas and new Years and the cost of two vacation days. That same period would have cost me 10 days leave while on active duty, one rhird of my 30 days paid vacation. Yes I do consider the commissary part of the apy I earned while staanding watch in SouthEast Asia. We can’t let the politiians take this away.

    • Susanne

      Right on. Some civilians do not understand that the commissary and BX are hard earned benefits and are always suprised to learn that our 30 days leave includes week-ends. When we first entered the Air Force it was explained to us that the commissary, BX, and medical care helped make up for the difference in pay for the same job as a civilian.

  • marylou hess

    Although I do live in a small city, I would be absolutely lost without our commissary. I can’t even begin to count the savings! The food and merchandise is fresh and up to date, well placed, and the personnel are always friendly and willing to help when I cannot lift things in and out of my baskets. Plus the impt fact is that we ‘earned’ this. My husband fought in N.Korea, and Viet Nam, we moved about constantly, and the one constant in our lives is our commissary. . .At 80 now, I find I can pretty well do “all” my shopping in one place, both base exchange and commissary, it is a blessing.

  • Laura

    If they were to take away the commisarys in this big military area…Norfolk,Virginia Beach…area. There would be a great number of people applying for foodstamps. So I wouldn’t see any savings in that area. They would just have a bigger deficit in another part.
    How about doing a cut in making all congressmen and senators be payed what a enlisted person get’s payed. And stop the lifetime pay and medical benfits that they get for free. And no more secret service after they are out of office.

  • Alicia

    I shop at our commissary for 90% of our groceries. There are 3 other grocery stores within a 10 mile radius and I choose to shop there due to the savings. We barely make it to our next paycheck before needing to shop again as it is, so if it were closed we’d really be hurting. The selection in our commissary isn’t as great as other places, things I love buying often disappear off the shelves, taking my 3 children with me is a pain due to the small aisles, it’s always crowded, and the lines to check out are normally pretty long…and yet I STILL choose to go there for the savings. My family depends on the commissary and I truly pray they do not close them.

  • Jim

    You need to experience the loss before you think it isn’t a big deal. We lost one at Brunswick, ME and let me tell you, the loss certainly hurts the pocketbook. Roughly 25%. Obviously you can find deals from place to place but overall, the prices are always best at the commisary and have been for some years. Support the commisary in every way you can or you to will loose yours!

  • Paul L Balaich

    The Senator making noise about COMMISARIES is dead WRONG on the issue. Military personnel and tneir dependents, retirees and other eligibles pay a sales taxc on goods purchased in the commisary. These funds are suffi- cient to cover the costs of the commisaries. Like many people in Congress, tyhey simply don’t know whatr is going on – a bunch of uninformed people

  • GySgtoftheCorps

    All comments are good and positive. The commissary,exchange which includes
    the gas stations are important to active duty and retirees. We earned the right to use them,it is one of our benifits for serving 20 plus years.
    I can remember when prices at the above mentions places was so much cheaper until the merchants in town started crying and we caved in to them and
    prices went up. So pls Congress don’t take another benifit from us..

  • Angela

    AS a retired military spouse and former veteran, I live by the commissary. When I shop at wal-mart and other grocery stores it never comparers to the amount of items I an get when I shop at the commissary. Please leave the commissary alone!!!

  • Jere

    Actually, here in Leavenworth KS, the Commissary is Not very compeitive, my wife is a very savvy shopper and and find better buys in town.

  • MYK

    Would spend double + 10 % sales tax out here at one of the voted consistently most crappy posts in the army. Fort Sill , only the EBT its free people are immune from paying sales tax on food. In fact if push came to shove would rather pay interest on a TSP loan , then buy groceries off post. I would come out way ahead in the savings department. PCS ing ? The army can pay to move 2000 lbs of dry and canned goods.

  • Guest

    I used to shop exclusively at the Commissary, but in the last couple of years I have been able to find better selections and bigger bargains at local stores. The only bargains left at the Commissary is milk and eggs. They have not been able to compete with ALDI’s for German delicacies, Global for fresh fruits and veggies, and Walmart for household items.

  • Dale Heater

    I have been using my commissary and exchange benefits for over fifty years and it has saved me thousands of dollars over those years. To have that taken away by a congress that is dysfunctional, obstructionist and having the worst record in the history of our country would be a major setback to my morale and my wallet.Tell Congress to STOP messing with the things we earned, worked for and most certainly deserve. For Congress to give us a $400.00 annual stipend in place our commissaries is pathetic and a joke. WAKE UP AMERICA – WE ARE THE ONE PERCENT WHO GIVES OUR ALL AND ALL TOO OFTEN THE ULTIMATE SACRIFICE TO KEEP THIS COUNTRY FREE.

    • Flo Higginbotham

      I agree 100%. I have also used the commissary for over 50 years wherever we were living. Now that we are retired on fixed income it is a Godsend.

  • William Peckham, USARNG SSG RET
  • HolyCrapPeople

    I have to use the services off base…including gym, commissary, and BX because its always cram packed with people that arent in the military. How very annoying!!!

    • Allthatobserve

      How are they able to use facilities if not authorized or dependents? Seems that a Military ID would be mandatory, wh
      ether spouse, member or dependent

  • Al Cusick

    I have used the commissary and exchange system since the late 1960s. While not as much as a cost saver as they were years ago, on many items they beat local community “outside” prices handily, especially given local sales tax increases over the years in California, Colorado, and South Carolina where I live now. As someone who initially “signed up” in 1966, and stayed on active and reserve status until 1994, I hate to see another benefit (see eg health care for life) get eroded, and now possibly get eliminated.

  • Paul
  • Sean T.

    I shop at the Andrews Exchange & Commissay. The wife loves them both and so do I. I could go off-base for food as well as items from the Exchange. But, I still believe in supporting DoD. We take our coupons to both places just like you would off-base.
    How about Congress & Senate take a pay cut, you would be surprised just how much money the USA would really save.

  • Robert mck
  • Dave

    Active duty 26 years, retired 27 years so I am qualified to comment on commissaries. Some are great; some keep the price a penny under the local price. Close the non competitive Commissary. Stop this vendor enriching system we have. If a subsidized commissary in a tax free base with no costs can’t bring the service to us lower than anyone else, shut them down. I might send a signal to the money grubbing contractors that it is time to serve the folks on the bases instead of sucking them dry. The good opnes will float to the top. The bad ones will see the patrons go to WalMart.

  • Mary
  • Debbie

    I value the privilege to shop at the commissary and pst exchange. I routinely comparison shop and overall the commissary wins hands down. While I do nto have children let’s think of the younger military members that do and must shop wisely. Keep the commissaries open!

  • Roger Hoyle

    The Commissary and the exchange are two of the best benefits we have. Everytime I go to a commissary there are lots of military families from all over Florida there. Some come to do a months worth of food because they live so far from the commissary.
    The comissary makes money, why would anyone want to close a business if it makes money?? The Government, correct.
    Leave the military alone. Instead of taking benefits away why aren’t you coming up with more benefits to the men and women that protect America.

  • Bre

    Maybe I’m confused on what it is that the govt. supplies? Don’t they run themselves? Don’t the surcharges pay for the overhead?

  • Sarah

    i love the commissary as do all the military people with those benefits, but its not worth for us to drive over 45 minutes for a small savings, Especially if we have a tax on food…oops (surcharge) So its much easier to drive to Walmart that add matches with all the other stores. Either way they go with this I hope they know what they are doing, cause some people may feel differently then I.

  • S Brick

    We pay to keep the commissaries viable economically. They do not cost anything in the US. The cost is for overseas and if we want to keep an oversea presence with an accompanied tour, the commissary really is necessary. So the basic premise is erroneous. And, the commissaries are a significant savings. Why else does the grocery lobby want to stop them. Our local Publix is at least 20% higher overall. Even Walmart is higher and the experience at Walmart is nothing like the commissary. Finally, the Army is my family and it is a comfort thing being with friends. I often see some lonely folks wandering around with just a thing or two for show. A smile to them is an easy pat on the back for their service.

  • Judith Ann

    We use the commissary whenever we can when we are on vacation – in fact, when in Hawaii, that is the ONLY place we will shop! They used to have a bus from the Hale Koa Hotel – and then, just when it caught on, they stopped it! Shame! This was a great way to increase the sales at the bases – I wish they would start the buses up again – we did ALL of our souvenir shopping this way – found some of the nicest items at Hickam! And the items/prices at Pearl Harbor were fabulous! Not only do I know we have fair prices, but I always feel comfortable and safe shopping at the commissaries and BX!

  • responder

    I do not understand the people that state “There is a sales tax on items bought at the commissary”, it is a surcharge and the money as I understand it goes to MWE, Morale and welfare for military personnel. I shop at the Sub Base in New London and find them to have a wide and varied selection of foods and household items and for the most part everything is less expensive than at comercial stores. When you save $3.00 on one item it more than off sets the $.50 you might pay for another item that is cheaper at Wal Mart.

  • responder

    As far as the Exchange, it is my understanding that they will meet the price of any local advertiser for the same item and you do not pay sales tax as you would at Wal Mart. There is also a site where you can log in to check sale items at your local commissary and you will know in advance what you can get a good deal on. I travel over 30 miles each way to shop but it is well worth the time and gas. I also run into people that I have come to know only when shopping there and find it a breath of fresh air to speak to people who understand and appreciate the military. The DOD needs to find areas other than what they have promised to active duty, guard, reserve and retirees to cut funds from and this includes excanges and commissaries. As to comments on commissaries pricing products pennies below commercial providers if in fact that is true than those finding this should report it as the commissary I shop is typically 35% cheaper. I will get off my soap box now but just something I felt I needed to say

  • S.F.MILEWSKI

    THE BASE IS QUITEA DISTANCE FROM ME IN RAEFORD , NC. WALLMART & SAMS ARE INESPENSIVE. YET. ONE HAS TO WAT6CH CAREFULLY WHEN DEALING WITH OUTSIDE CIVILIAN MARKETS. THE KEY WORD IS “PROFIT”. THEREFORE MUCH CHEAP STUFF IS FORM CHINS. WE DON’T BUY DRIED CHICKEN FOR DOG TREATS ANMYMORE DUE TO A CHEMICAL TO DRY IT, WHICH CAN KILL DOGS. I BELIEVE THE COMMISSARY IS MORE PEOPLE ORIENTATED, THEREFORE MORE CAREFUL IN SELECTING THE ITEMS FOR SALE… I FEEL THE USDA SHOULD ALSO PROVIDE THE COMMISSARY WITH FOOD ITEMS. AT LEAST THAT WAY THE FOOD IS FROM THE USA.. I RMEMBER WHEN SAILORS WORKED THE COMMISSARY, AND ECHANGES. NOW SINCE MANY CIVILIANS WORK THERE THERE IS A SALARY TO BE PAID, HENCE UPPING THE PRICES. I GO TO THE COMMISSARY WHENEVER I CAN. I WOULD ALSO MENTION, WHEN THE MILITARY RAN THE COMMISSARY IT WAS BETTER DISCIPLINED . NOW KIDS RUN UNATTENDED, SCREAM, KNOCK OVER TINGS ETC. YET THzT IS WORSE IN WALLMART, ETC.

  • Christine

    I have used the Commissary for 30 years off and on. The prices are better and a wider selection of products can be found. Unlike Costco etc where you have to buy in bulk. Coupons are great. The only issue is the closing of commissaries which makes it hard for lots of us to shop in them. We are over 30 minutes, the one close to us was closed several years ago. At that time I shopped there every 2 to 4 weeks.

  • Guest

    We love the commissary it has saved us so much money overall, and we sincerely hope our government does not decide to close them down.

  • Karletta Hart

    We have been shopping the commissary, as a Retired Family, and, as Active Duty.since his retirement in 1988. It is an asset to Military Life, and, is cheaper than shopping on the Economy. As in any city, some things are cheaper on the Economy, but, the Meat Dept at our Commissary is much better than down town. (Moody AFB) And with using coupons, it does take care of the sur charge. Congress members need to go live as a Active Duty, or, Retired Military member, and, see what an asset the commissary and Bx is to Active duty and Retired members. It is one of the Benefits we(my husband) stayed in for, not to be taken away by some High Falutin Member of Congress because they want more money to waste somewhere else, on, like, another Electric Car Bill!! Or, these other Stupid billss, as the Shrimp Study!!! Go stand on the Front Lines of Battle, Congressman, and, then u decide whether u want to take these Privileges away from our Families that stayed in just so we could use the Commissaries. Nuff said! Karletta S Hart
    `