4 Ways Military Families Can Save While Shopping

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This post is sponsored by Unilever’s Operation In Touch. All opinions and work are my own.

I stared at our bank account.

The number was perilously low.

The fall of 2013 was the hardest, financially for us. We were a newly married couple and, like many newly married military couples, I had left my professional job to move to Virginia Beach—where John was stationed at the time. He had just come home from deployment, a year of saving every single penny he could, and we had paid off a sizable chunk of student loan debt.

And then both of our cars died. In one week.


Granted, they were both old cars. Mine had lost a wheel once on the highway (yes, really) and the electrical wiring in the car was hit or miss. (As in, I was nearly hit by another car as all of the electricity went out in my car while I was driving around Washington, DC, and I missed a serious car accident by inches.) John’s was nearly indestructible… except for the brake lines, apparently. In one week, we were told our cars were total losses.

We began shopping for a car— after all, John had to get to work. There was no way around that. The car was an expense we previously thought we had some time to save and plan for.

We cut back on everything, until there was virtually nothing else to cut but our grocery bill. So we did that, too.

Spoiler alert: We made it out okay. But being that strapped for cash was something I never want to experience again. It’s stressful and scary, especially when a big, unexpected expense crops up out of nowhere.

So, yeah. That fall was a pretty low point for us. The fall often seems to be a pain point for families. There are back-to-school supplies, sport fees, club fees, uniforms, and technology to purchase. There’s recovering after summer vacations. There’s saving for and purchasing gifts for the holidays. It adds up.

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Even if you’re feeling completely and totally amazing about your bank account, saving a little bit where you can just makes sense. And you can save painlessly with these tips.

1. Shop the Commissary

Before you say anything, let me say this: I know that not everyone has the same Commissary experience. Every Commissary is different and where you’re stationed can have a huge impact on costs, quality, and your overall experience. But hear me out. For military families living on base, the Commissary is usually the closest, most accessible grocery store. That means, you can either walk or take a short drive, putting less wear and tear on your car and keeping more gas in your tank. The Commissary doesn’t charge sales tax; if you live somewhere like Virginia—as we did– where groceries are taxed, shopping at the Commissary can help you save just a little more. The Commissary also accepts coupons (and has their own special sales and circular that you can check for more savings).

2. Be Aware of Quality

Sometimes, the cheapest thing isn’t always the best for your bottom line. For example, St. Ives Apricot Scrub is my jam. It works well for my skin and, quite frankly, I have to use more of other brands to make my face feel clean… or the other brands make me break out. And when that happens, I end up using other, expensive creams and masques to try to get my face under control. I’ve learned to buy the quality product, even if it is a tiny bit more expensive. It saves me cash and frustration in the long run.

military discounts

3. Organize Your Fridge and Pantry

Believe it or not, roughly 40% of all food produced in the US is thrown away. How much are you pitching every day? Every week? Keeping your fridge clean and organized (as well as your pantry) helps you know exactly what you have so you have less chance of finding moldy something-or-other crammed all the way in the back. This way, when you go shopping, you’re not double-buying what you already have in your house (but just don’t know it!).

4. Make a List

Even if it’s on the back of a napkin or on your hand, don’t step foot in the grocery store without knowing what you need to get. (And don’t go shopping hungry, either!) It’s tempting to over buy or to buy things you don’t need without a list. (Been there, done that, definitely, definitely have the bills to prove it.) Of course, what is life without a little splurge here and there? (Magnum bars, anyone?)

5. Sign Up for Military Discounts

Life is busy, and I don’t know about you, but I often have great intentions to coupon… and then I just don’t. But I’ve learned what works for me. Going through a newspaper just doesn’t. But getting emails in my inbox that I can pull up at check-out? That does! Check out Operation In Touch. It’s a website with exclusive savings, coupons, promotions, and content tailored specifically for the unique needs of military families. (And yes, these coupons and military discounts are available at the Commissary, so that’s another win!) Sign up for Operation In Touch’s exclusive military discounts and coupons here.

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