Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Military Commissary (aka the grocery store on base)

One of the things that’s very different about military life is that you now get to use all the amenities on base like tax free shopping in the department store and the grocery store, free movies at the movie theater and a cheap bowling alley (which often has Bingo nights. It may be senior but I love me some Bingo).

The Exchange (aka the department store) is nice and carries tons of name brand stuff just like Macy’s, Dillards or Nordstroms.

The strangest thing for me are the commissaries.

Let me try to describe it.

First of all it’s only open from 9 or 10 in the morning (0900 or 1000 hours) until 6 or 7 at night (1800 or 1900) so there’s no late night shopping.

There are no club cards but they do accept coupons.

You don’t pay taxes on the food but you do have to pay a surcharge, which supposedly goes to fund MWR (Morale, Welfare and Recreation) programs on base or to build more commissaries. I’ve never been able to determine which exactly.

Some of them are HUGE! Like Costco on crack huge. The one here on 32nd Street Base is the biggest in the world.

They are insanely crazy busy on all days but please learn from my mistakes and don’t go on a payday (the 1st and 15th of the month) or on any major holiday. I accidentally went last year the day before Thanksgiving and almost ripped my own eyeballs out I was so frustrated.

They aren’t super veggie friendly but they’re getting better and there is a lot of ethnic foods for all the different nationalities who are in the armed forces.

There are a million old Filipino ladies running around shopping there and they will push your cart aside to get what they want.

One time I came back to find my cart sailing down the middle of the aisle after some old lady decided she wanted to get at whatever my cart was parked in front of.

They also have no problem literally breathing down your neck if you happen to be in front of what they want.

To me, this is just rude. When there is someone trying to pick out what they want, I don’t step in front of them and grab a can of beans or whatever. I wait until they have finished and moved on before I go to that section. If I can do a little other shopping in that area, great. But the key is, I wait until they’ve finished.

Apparently, I’m in the minority on this one though.

How different cultures deal with the issue of personal space is always interesting in theory, but not so much in practice, especially when you’re in the middle of it.

When you go to check out, you line up and a person will direct you to whichever cashier is open. This is this person’s only job. All day.

You have to show your military ID in order to be able to purchase anything.

Someone will bag your groceries and then take them out to the car for you (this is mandatory) and you have to tip. Technically, you don’t have to but the people bagging the groceries don’t get a salary, they work for tips only. So I can’t imagine people not tipping them, but I’m sure there are many who do. Shame.

The commissary claims that you save about 30% compared to other stores. But I’ve always wondered if this is true.

The prices on the produce are very cheap. But the produce isn’t always the best and they have virtually no organic.

I don’t buy meat or dairy but I’m guessing this is where the big savings are.

However, the Amy’s Cheeseless pizzas that are $10 in other stores are $5.55 at the commissary. And dog rawhides that are $5 other places are $1.89 there.

On a recent shopping trip, I spent $146.88 (I stocked up on a lot of staples). Add in a $7.33 surcharge and a $2 tip (I helped bag the groceries and didn’t have the person carry them to my car. I tip higher if they do).

So my total was $154.21.

I did get a lot of stuff, but after the add-ons I’m never 100% sure that I actually saved any cash.


  1. Maybe you could do that thing that some grocery stores do where they make a cart from their store and a cart of the same things from their competitors and compare the price! Then you'd get down to the bottom of it. :)

    I think that even if it's the same price or even a little more expensive, some people just prefer to support the military that supports them. What do you think?

    miss you! xo

  2. I like that you've shared about this! I went shopping once upon a time with a friend and her family to a grocery store on a base and remember the elusive feeling of being in a store where only certain people could buy things. It was cool with what I can recall some great deals.

    And grocery shopping with other cultures. Too true how noticable the difference between cultures can be in these circumstances. Must be an even stranger feeling when it happens while you're within your own culture, so I feel for you!

  3. Jealous of all that American food. And yes, personal space is a major difference in different cultures. People grab things practically out of my hand in Switzerland. I've tried to learn to accept getting pushed around but I still don't like it!