Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Commissary 101: The Basics

I am a big, ol' wuss. I will admit it. I cry too much, I get nervous too often, and I always am afraid of looking stupid (and often I do, anyway). Venturing into the Commissary and Exchange was really intimidating to me when we first got married (let's remember that I get nervous just going onto 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.

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.

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.
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photo credit: D.H. Parks via photopin cc