Poll: Ditch the Commissary Surcharge, Raise Prices?

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It’s been awhile since we got to tell you about a new save-the-commissary scheme. But don’t you worry — we’ve got something new.

Defense officials are getting ready to ask lawmakers to eliminate the 5 percent commissary surcharge (that looks and smells like a tax, but is technically a “surcharge”) and instead be allowed to set grocery prices based on the local market, according to Military.com columnist Tom Philpott. That means that food at the commissary would cost less at Fort Campbell, Ky. (where the cost of living is fairly low) and more at Fort Myer-Henderson Hall, Va. (where the cost of living, and therefore food sold off base, is a lot higher).

Detractors of the plan say it wouldn’t be fair to troops who have to live in higher cost of living areas whether they like it or not, according to the column. The commissary currently evens the playing field for them, they say, making up for the increased price of groceries outside the gate by making them cost the same on base no matter where you are.

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Eliminating the surcharge would ease the pain that a price increase would bring — but we would still feel a price increase. For example, I spent $90.55 at the commissary Aug. 9 buying groceries for the week. That brought me a $4.43 surcharge. Three of the items I bought were meat that I know are no less than $1 more each at the cheapest nearby civilian store. I also bought several boxes of cereal for $1.99 each — never less than $3 a box at the civilian store.

If the commissary was to raises prices to be just under the comparable civilian stores, what I would save by not paying a surcharge would be gone in a flash. But would it still be worth it for whatever savings was leftover?

And that’s the question I have for you. If they raised prices but got rid of the surcharge, what would you do?

Fill out my online form.

 

… And here are the results

 

Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force.

About the Author

Amy Bushatz
Amy is the editor in chief of Military.com’s spouse and family blog SpouseBuzz.com. A journalist by trade, Amy also covers spouse and family news for Military.com where she is the managing editor of spouse and family content. An Army wife and mother of two, Amy has been featured as a subject matter expert on CNN.com, NPR, Fox News, NBC, CBS, ABC and BBC as well as in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. Follow her on twitter @amybushatz.
  • Heather

    Being at Fort Irwin right now we have no choice but to shop at the commissary. Unless of course we want to drive 45 minutes to the nearest town with a grocery. Now, if we were somewhere else I would most certainly shop exclusively at a local grocery rather than the commissary. In the past when we have had the luxury of having local stores close we would shop at both for different items and specialty items the commissary would never carry.

    • Macie

      We were stationed in Valdez, Alaska. There was a local grocery store. We still opted to drive the 4+ hours, sometimes 6+ in the winter, to get to the commissary in Anchorage or Fairbanks. Local shopping was a nightmare and expensive. But we would also hit the local stores in Anchorage. But we would spend a 3 day weekend there, doing all of our shopping that would hold us for at least a month to 6 weeks. Local isn’t always best and you’ll drive to the commissary. We did that in New Orleans, too. We would drive over to Biloxi to shop in the commissary and that was a good 90 minute drive.

  • webh

    What about in the overseas areas where the local supermarkets are priced in euros? Currently the dollar-euro rate isn’t that bad, but when its high we can’t afford to shop locally. Will transportation costs shipping to overseas areas dramatically raise the price of items. Don’t forget that the surcharge helps build those new commissaries we all love to shop in. Lot to consider.

  • Kathie

    We’ve done most of our shopping at the commissary for over 50 yrs. My comment is, keep the surcharge and keep the prices as is. This article stated that they bought several boxes of cereal at $1.99 ea. With surcharge that would be $2.09 ea. Most cereal outside in our area, which has a lower cost of living, would put that cereal at an average of $3.25 ea. Do the numbers. Now, if the prices in the commissary rise as much as on the outside, why waste my gas. I’ll just shop close to home. To go by the cost of living in any area, is totally not right. I most definitely do not think it’s right that Virginia military should pay more than the Kentucky military. I do shop in civilian stores, when I know the sales. But, that’s the key, outside SALES. I have seen lately that our commissary is offering more sales. Comparability to the sale outside. The whole thing is, we need to keep things in check for all military. Help our soldiers and veterans (who are on tight budgets) not screw them. Even if they keep the surcharge, as long as the prices are lower than the outside, I will keep going to the commissary. And put in more sales.

  • DoninDayton

    Instead of scraping the whole thing, why not just increase the surcharge a percent or two. Our “geniuses” always want to throw out everything before considering other options that are already at hand. This “make it the same as the outside” only helps the local economy and furthers the GI. They did this at the base gas stations and now it’s cheaper to buy gas at the local pumps. Once again, the GI got screwed.

  • oldernavyretiree

    Yep I know. I just filled up my car with gas. On the base it’s $2.30 a gallon, on the outside it’s $2.11 a gallon. I would also say to keep the surcharge. When I go to the commissary to grab a quick lunch, there is a surcharge of maybe 5 cents, if that; if I drove outside of base I’d pay more plus the local/state taxes.

    • Kimberly

      Had to comment…here at Fort Irwin we are now paying $3.69 a gallon down from $3.99. It is the same on post as out in town and we are also not feeling relief in the PX or Commissary.

  • jojo613

    Here’s a thought:
    – Keep the prices of the commissary the same in area that have high cost of living– specifically in areas overseas. (Example: Hickam AFB, HI)
    – Close the commissaries were they are not needed. For example in our area, time and time again I have saved money shopping at local groceries stores versus going to the commissary, and there were far more choices at the other stores. (example Eglin AFB– I live here, and I have found it cheaper to shop in town versus on the commissary, and often there are entire food groups that are not available at any given time).
    – Raise the prices in areas were commissaries are not in high cost of living areas, and are being used by the military community (example Wright Patterson AFB).

    Doing those three things, and perhaps combining Commissaries and AAFES would probably save more money in the long run. Just my honest opinion.

  • {2}

    Commissary price are already equal to civilian prices and the meat quality is better at the grocery stores on the civilian market. The main difference is you pay 5% mark-up instead of the civilian taxes that are 3% and up higher. So we don’t see the difference as it is. The price comparison to meet the prices of the civilian market is already being done with the commissaries and the PX and the prices are usually higher than the civilian market just saving on the Taxes. They did away with at cost or close to the cost along time ago, it all about the bottom line and making money.

  • Amber

    I really hope they don’t match with local markets, a.k.a. Hawaii prices. They already decreased our COLA this year and we’re paying for electric in government housing. *cringes*

  • fmagee

    retire E-7: The buying power of the commissary is also reflected in what it cost to feed meals in the mess hall, buying less from X will result in X raising their prices due to less sales to the base. This seems like it would raise the ration allowance for those who draw them.

  • Joan, 29 Palms

    Some products are less expensive outside the commissary; some are higher. A commissary shopper must learn what the best deals ordinarily are, plus scan meats and dairy for local sales. With the surcharge at 5%, plus the price of gas for the extra miles traveled, any raise in overall commissary shopping would offset the time/travel to shop there.

  • Tomas

    60 years ago I reported for active duty. This is an example of the Commissary bureaucracy out to hurt the troops. Note well: they did not offer in their questionnaire NO CHOICE to keep the surcharge in the selection offerings — translation: They will drop the surcharge. Commissary meat prices are low because they only offer “select”, check out what is lower than select. Commissary cheese prices are the same as GIANT which has the highest profits of grocery stores. I still shop the commissary. It is nice to be among military people, especially the active duty and the retired. They bring to mind of what it was like to wear proudly the uniform and perform meaningful work.