Commissary 101: The Basics

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The Commissary is not your average off-base, civilian grocery store. I’m not saying that to scare you; I’m just letting you know. Especially if you’re very new to military life, it can be a little intimidating. (I know I was the first few times we went!) There are certain procedures, rules, and policies put in place to make things streamlined and efficient, but if you don’t know them, you can feel a little awkward.

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Some things work differently and there are some expectations that are different than in a store off-base. So if you’re new to this whole military thing and are just a little bit nervous about using the Commissary, here are the basics so that you can walk in confidently!

Don’t Park in Reserved Parking

Make sure that that parking spot that you snag right in front of the store isn’t reserved for officers or other VIPs. It will be either spray-painted on the spot or labeled with a sign.  That’s a mistake that– thankfully– I’ve never made, but I’ve heard of other spouses who have. Avoid that embarrassment and keep your eyes peeled.

Have Your Military ID

Access to the Commissary is considered part of the military benefits package. The goods you’re buying are priced substantially lower than a civilian grocery store and your purchase is tax-free. When you check out, you will be asked for it to verify that you are privy to those benefits, so don’t forget your ID. Don’t leave it in the car. Take it with you.

Queue in the Check-Out Line

Unlike other grocery stores where it’s every man for himself, Commissaries have one line for express check-outs and one line for all other check-outs. Park yourself in the line and wait your turn. There will most likely be an employee at the front of the line who will direct you to the next available cashier.

Move Over

If you’re not a uniformed service member on duty, you may be asked to move aside, especially during lunch hours. Most (if not all) Commissaries have a priority lane or prioritize service. Don’t get your feathers in a ruffle.

Avoid Pay Day

If at all possible, try to avoid grocery shopping at the Commissary on Pay Day. I don’t think I need to elaborate. Just don’t do it. It’s not fun.

Wear Appropriate Clothes

Because it’s on-base, the Commissary has a dress code. The dress codes may differ between bases, but usually things like short-shorts, PJs, and yoga pants are all outlawed. Enforcement of dress codes varies too– what worked on one base may not be accepted at another. If you’re flaunting the dress code, just be prepared: you may be asked to leave.

New to military life? here's what you need to know about shopping the commissary. #military #militarylife #millife #milspouse #militaryspouse #militarywife #jomygosh #army #airforce #marines #coastguard #navy #arng #reserves #nationalguard #milspo #milspos #milso #milsos

Tip the Baggers

The first few times, John and I didn’t realize that we were supposed to tip the baggers. Neither of us had ever been to a grocery store where you did that! We totally missed the “Baggers Work Only for Tips” sign that I saw after a third or fourth visit. We were so embarrassed and felt so guilty! Here’s the deal: Commissary baggers are not volunteers. They are not paid by the Commissary. Their only income is from the tips they receive when they bag your groceries and take them to your car. Make sure you tip them– even if you take your groceries out to your car, even if you only tip $1. Otherwise, they’ve effectively bagged your groceries for free. That’s not fair.

There you go– the basics for the Commissary. Now, you’ve got that under your belt, you’ll want to make sure that you’re stretching your BAS (Basic Allowance for Subsistence) and saving as much money as you can… because the Commissary isn’t always the cheapest place to shop.

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3 Responses

  1. I know this post is a little ways back, but I have just started shopping at the commissary. I really appreciated the advice about tipping the baggers. I did make sure to remember to do it when I went the last time, but wish I could find the ones that had helped me before! This should be better known, because I doubt that I would have ever figured this out without you!

    You saved me from being a jerk to a lot of people know that I am living near a military base!

    Thanks a ton!

  2. Also, if it’s Hurricane Season, Typhoon Season, or winter, don’t wait to stock up until there is a storm on the way… having lived in GTMO, Okinawa, and the mid-Atlantic (see how that lines up with the seasons I mentioned), you do NOT want to be in the Commissary stocking up 24 hours before the storm. To be honest, this goes for civilian groceries also… but if you live in a foreign country and most Americans shop at the Commissary, it just gets worse.

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