Civilians Call Them Grocery Stores

Tara Crooks
Limitless Contributor

Civilians call them grocery stores. To those of us in the military, they are commissaries. Looking back to our first duty station and my first introduction to the DeCA (Defense Commissary Agency) - what a change from what I was used to on the civilian side. Commissaries are very odd in that there is almost a code of etiquette that goes with them. We've talked a bit about how to save at the commissary here on the USAA Military Spouse Community before, but I don't know if we have ever really dug deep into what we need to know about DeCA.


Most of us already know that you must be an authorized shopper. Commissary personnel cannot allow you to shop unless you have Department of Defense ID that authorizes commissary privileges, so you cannot forget your ID card.


Commissaries are non-profit organizations. By law, commissaries are required to sell goods at prices that are set at a level to recover the cost of goods, with no profit built into these prices. This explains why they sometimes might seem "boring" when it comes to display, or, for instance, why they cannot "price slash" below cost to create a low price "image." There is also a required, Congress-mandated surcharge to pay for commissary construction, equipment, and continually improved facilities. The amount of surcharge applied to a commissary sale transaction is shown as "SCG" on your sales receipt.


DeCA proudly boasts a 30% annual savings over your typical local grocery store bill. Like your grocery store, commissaries accept most types of coupons in accordance with the terms and conditions stated on a coupon to make items even more affordable. Commissaries located in foreign overseas areas accept coupons up to six months after the expiration date stated on a coupon. Commissaries also accept Internet or home-printed coupons provided they meet their requirements.


But wait; there is even another opportunity for cost cutting. Commissaries quite frequently have events called Case Lot Sales where you can purchase goods at an even greater discount.


Just recently, I was at my local commissary and noticed that they did not carry something I usually buy locally at Wal-Mart. I did not want to make another trip so I thought I would ask if they would ever get it in. Turns out they take special orders. You only need to contact a member of management and request a certain item (by UPC code) be carried. If you are not sure of the UPC code, bring the empty box with you. They can tell you instantly if the item is on the authorized list.


Last but not least the most commonly discussed "difference" between commissaries and civilian grocery stores - the commissary baggers. Baggers are not government or commissary employees and are paid solely by the tips that commissary patrons offer in exchange for bagging/carryout services. Baggers are self-employed and work under a license agreement with the installation commander. Each commissary has a "head bagger" who coordinates and oversees bagger activities. Baggers work for tips only, however, you may choose not to use bagger/carryout services at all, or you may choose to use the services of a bagger but not provide a tip. The rule of thumb for tips is 25 cents per bag. A popular question is; when two baggers take on the same order, who do you tip? The answer is to tip the one that takes the bags to your car. The other bagger quickly steps in and continues with the next customer.


Here are some final tips to help ease your commissary experience:


  • Commissaries restock every night but Sunday
  • Do not shop on the day before, the day of, or the day after payday
  • Shop on Wednesdays (that is the least busy day of most commissaries)
  • Shop mid day not early morning and not after 5pm - these are the busiest times
  • Organize your shopping list with the flow of the store, your time spent in the store will be less