Group Fights to Save Commissaries

“The military resale system (commissary and exchange) is a 150-year-old benefit that provides millions of dollars in annual savings to military personnel and the federal government” — Coalition to Save our Military Shopping Benefits

According to the Coalition to Save our Military Shopping Benefits, a group advocating for the preservation and patronage of commissaries and exchanges, military families save an average of $6,500 a year by using military commissaries and exchanges. For many households that $6,500 is just enough to help them avoid having to go on public assistance. In addition, commissaries and exchanges help to financially stabilize and strengthen military households by employing spouses, retirees, and dependents.

“Military families have been enduring great sacrifice for more than a decade. They are the ‘other 1 percent’ – that small fraction of Americans who shouldered the responsibility to create more global security after September 11, 2001,” said Patrick Nixon, President of the Coalition to Save Our Military Shopping Benefits. “Taking $6,500 out of the pockets of everyU.S.military household would be an unacceptable affront to these families who have given so much for this nation. It would also be a poor strategic and financial decision. The military shopping benefit – and the entire military resale system – is an efficient and effective example of government working properly.”

The Coalition to Save our Military Shopping Benefits points out the actual return on investment for American taxpayers from DeCA operations is of $9 for every dollar of subsidy. Unlike other military quality of life programs, which have doubled or tripled in cost over the past five years, the DeCA subsidy has remained constant since 2000. The commissary and exchange program’s also keep cost of living allowance (COLA) rates down, which saves the DoD in COLA payments to members.

The coalition is concerned that some in congress support an effort to reduce the DoD budget by eliminating the DeCA subsidy and combining the exchange and commissary systems. The loss of the DeCA subsidy would result in increased food prices for commissary patrons. The coalition fears the impact would harm military families, especially at a time when other economic hardships are intensifying for many military households.

Nixon said the best course of action for military families is to continue to demonstrate the importance of the military resale system by patronizing commissaries and exchanges. In addition, all Americans can show support for the ‘other 1 percent’ by joining the Coalition at

“Every military family and veteran is our partner in this important undertaking,” added Nixon.  “And our partners can do their part by patronizing commissaries and exchanges. By doing so they are literally preserving their savings. Together we are all protecting the military resale benefit.”

For more information, visit

About the Author

Terry Howell
Before becoming the Managing Editor for, Terry served 20 years in the U.S. Coast Guard as an Aviation Electrician’s Mate and aircrewman. In his final role in the Coast Guard, Terry served as a Career Development Advisor, where he provided career, finance, education, and benefits counseling to servicemembers and their families. Since retiring from the Coast Guard, Terry has authored the book, The Military Advantage, managed the content for TurboTap, the DoD's online transition program and VAforVets, the VA's transition assistance website. Terry earned both his Bachelor's and MBA at Corban University using Military Tuition Assistance and his GI Bill benefits to help cover the cost.
  • Hawk

    Don’t know why the subsidy when the commissary I use is frequently equal to or greater than the Wal Mart a few miles outside the gate. Where is the money going?

  • James

    Not everyone has a “Walmart” next door. We do but in order to justify our Commissary, we shop at the Commissary at lest once or twice a week. this is a very important benefit land those that may think otherwise are either “disgruntled” with the Military or have never been in the Military. SAVE OUR COMMISSARIES by writing your Congressman/Senator!!!

  • I love the commissary and shop there religiously. But $6.5K spent per family on the commissary and exchange every year? I’d like to see the math behind that.

    • retiree

      No, it’s $6.5K / year SAVINGS. At their 31% savings rate, that’s $20K/year spending at the Commissary for a family of four. If you use the Exchange rate they claim (20%), it’s $32K/year spending at the Exchange. The real answer, assuming their numbers are correct, is spending between that. How they derived the $6.5K/year savings is not documented.

      I agree both Commissary and Exchange are good benefits (especially for our overseas and deployed personnel), and support keeping them, but I do think they need to justify their figures.

      • Thanks retiree! $20K at the commissary and $32K at the BX seems wildly optimistic considering military paychecks.

        • TangoDown

          I’m not sure if tax benefits are included in that. Some areas taxes are much higher than others, so one would have to use the average. Also, in some cases, manufacturer coupons(some, even expired) can be used in addition to the core savings.

          My family has used the Navy Exchange long before I was born. My Grandma still uses it years after my Grandpa has passed. On her controlled income, it is critical. My salary is more than a E-2 or E-3 so, truthfully, it’s not as critical, but my wife and I certainly enjoy the benefits. My best friend is a E-5 stationed in Europe. His wife is still unable to find local work. They barely get by. He is the best sailor I know, and COLA doesn’t help enough.

  • Follow-up: I accessed their website and downloaded the docs, but still didn’t see anything that broke down or provided references to the $6.5K figure or others they had out there. Hmmmm….

  • SSG Roberts

    Some of you seem to forget the importance of commissaries for those of us stationed overseas $6500 seems a little low especially if AAFES gets to take it over.

    • Love the OCONUS benefit of using coupons at the commissary 6 months after expiration. With all the packets of coupons that flow into ACS and AFRC from stateside doners, one can save some huge $$$.

  • brian

    Junction city’s wal-mart right outside ft. riley has a 9% tax rate. yeah they sale wal-mart brand stuff which is cheaper on the shelf, but the commisary dosent charge tax. with food prices soaring due to government policies and the green-energy subsidies for corn being a major contributor, the commisary id=s more important now than at any other time.

    • Our commissary charges a 7 percent surcharge and then by the time you tip the bagger, your savings is gone unless you use coupons. Them you might break even.

  • John D

    The commissary is a boon to the military. The PX system is a bit pricey and out of touch with th econsumers. Maybe Congress should keep a money saving eye on their own perks and leave a few crumbs for the military!

  • Alan

    I went to their website. There was a pop up on the right that said a family of 4 saves and average of $4,400 per year. I clicked on it and the write up said $6,500. We are a family of 4 and we have done the comparison shopping. We use coupons religiously and we saved $800 last year over Wal-Mart, tax included. We enjoy the benefits, but please be honest and don’t over inflate them, we see where that got the housing industry.

  • Sperry

    Google “High military pay” and you’ll learn GIs earn twice as much as other Americans. So why do these greedy people want to retain this communist system? We need them overseas, but in the USA we can just rent space to Walmart and other on base. Let’s start saving taxpayers some money before we go bankrupt. Our forts aren’t surrounded by Injuns anymore — except Fort Sill. The saving quoted are bogus. Its the amount we add to the system because its so inefficient. Otherwise, prices would be higher than anywhere else. BTW, that “group” are companies that profit off this racket, trying to dupe GIs and taxpayers.

    • Yes, but if by other Americans you mean civilians then you surely recognize the crucial difference that members of the military put their lives on the line to protect and preserve the lives of civilians, while civilians do not generally speaking. There is no way in the world to compare the military obligation and the duties of a civilian job nor the remuneration for each.

    • Sperry, I’d like to agree with you, but your flippant use of emotionally laden terms like “communist” and “greed” completely negate the solid points you want to make

    • TangoDown

      GIs earn twice as much as “other Americans?” I’m very interested to know what group you mean. Perhaps the national average household income? And GIs? I truly hope you are not questioning any benefits the Ground Infantry get over…..anyone. Whatever they are getting, it’s not enough. I challenge you to put a dollar value to putting your life on the line for your nation. Regardless, your comment is, plainly, inaccurate. And savings to military families and their compensation is not what is bankrupting our nation.
      I would agree that the exchange and commissary are inefficient. However; the impact that they have on a base community is so positive, to risk a change is not worth it, IMO.
      You are clearly passionate. Try volunteering your time to your local base community, whether one of the programs available or an individual household (mowing their lawn, etc). You will be surprised how rewarding it can be.

    • David

      What? That is because you see the “false” numbers they put in. Honestly we don’t make twice as much as the average american. We make more than some and less than some.

  • Charlie

    Commissaries place a needed asset (Food) under more or less military control.
    In many places outside the US, they are a necessity. Inside the US, there is some question (location by location) as to the cost benefit ratios. As a disabled veteran, I do use the commissary from time to time. They carry items that the usual supermarkets, W-Mart, and Sams do not. The exchange is similar in it’s benefits and drawbacks. Sadly, the merging of the Navy Exchange into the AAFES system deprived many of a large price advantage that was enjoyed by those using the Navy Exchange.

  • Michael

    What is the problem? The article doesn’t make sense. No one said they were going to get rid of the commissaries or exchanges. They are going to be combined. It will be like Target. Why is this a problem? It makes sense from an economic standpoint. I never understood why they were separate anyway?

  • Me!

    Walmart…did someone say WALMART!!!!! That is a major part of what’s wrong with America. They move in and close the smaller businesses and they have no clue about customer service. They sell cheap stuff at cheap prices…why. Because they push worthless Chinese crap and pay their employees crap. Would much prefer to pay a little more and get a smile from a service persons spouse in a PX or Commissary that speaks and understands ENGLISH!!

    Until you serve don’t knock the military or the commissaries. People in Congess that has never seen a foxhole or done pushups till it hurts gets to play God over benefits that military personnel and families need!! But, they, Congressmen, never ever ever touch their extremely generous benefits, do they!!!

  • LetsLobRob

    Combine them…Why not?

  • Stephen

    $6,500 a year in savings? Impossible. My family of 4 barely spends $6,500 a year on groceries…. much less in “savings.” I also have done all the shopping (I’m male) over the last 3 years. The commissary is mostly MORE EXPENSIVE for the same item and brand than Wal-Mart or coupon savy Publix Shopping. Sure, the essentials are less, but $3.21 for a gallon of commissary milk vs. $3.29 at Wal-Mart just doesn’t add up to $6,500 in “savings.” Thats 81,250 gallons of milk!!! Our local commissary says that they can save a family of 4 $2,500 a year over local markets…. that just isn’t possible.

    The exchange is more expensive than amazon or clothing shops 95% of the time. People that mentioned Wal-Mart selling “Chinese crap” are fooled. The PX often sells the same branded, “Chinese crap” often for more. I have interrupted several sales pitches to retired older couples to explain they can get the SAME MODEL TV, tablet, phone, etc. down the street or online for 10-20% less. The exchange and commissary system cannot provide the savings it once did when fighting with eCommerce and the big box stores. Keep them oversees, but let someone else move in on US soil bases.

    • RogCol

      Concur, when I retired years ago, I thought that the loss of available commissaries/eschanges would hurt. But, it didn’t take long to figure out that there are other venues that are much cheaper. There are a few items at AAFES on-line that are cheaper, but the purchasers must have their collective heads up their rears, based on the products avertised in the catalogues and on-line. If not for the free shipping and delivery to the door, they would also go OOB.

      • Bill W

        Commissary and exchanges not just commissary..

  • Michael

    again, who wrote this article? It doesn’t make any sense. What is the problem? The lead of the story is missing. Are the commissaries going to close or just combine? Because if it’s combine then there isn’t a problem. Why have two spaces when things can be done in one? The writer of this article sucks

  • fulletk

    The savings for commercial services provided on base in the U.S. are largely because these services are exempt from state and local taxes. Local and state taxpayers are providing services like schools, roads, and police and fire protection but receiving no revenue from the military personnel who use the services but don’t pay for them. Same type of situation with military being exempt from state residency requirements. Military sometimes live and work in the same state for as much as 5-10 years but maintain residency in some other state without state income taxes. Commisaries and PXs on a military base are a relic of a time when military bases were isolated and military people didn’t have transportation.

    • leslie

      so if it’s so great a benefit why don’t you join…you act as if only certain people can join the military….like it’s a secret club trying to get out of taxes…when in fact .it’s open to anyone who wants to defend their country….but that would be hard right….too hard for someone who would apparently rather sit on their behind and gripe……give me a break ! not to mention most of what you said is actually false!!

    • Gail

      I disagree. It really depends on what state you live in and their tax system. I live in a state that taxes food and if it were not for the cheap meat prices I could not survive on Wal-Mart or local grocery store prices. My daughter spent close to $50 for meals for 2 days where I spent $50 for a whole week shopping at the commissary. I pay so much less even with the surcharge. I would hate to see the commissary go. I am a retiree and it benefits me to shop on base than off, especially with my fixed income.

  • Nathan

    It says we save $6500 a year by using the PX and commisary, I find that hard to believe.

    To say that we need the commisary and exchange to keep from going on public assistance is trying to appeal to emotion. A married E-1 makes about $33,000 a year (depending on location for BAH), that’s the same as a $16 an hour job, not bad for a 19 year old right out of high school. And that’s if the spouse doesn’t work.

    I have been in for 17 years and there is sacrifice involved in serving, but it bothers me when people act like we are victims. Even new E-1s make a decent living, and the ones that are struggling either don’t manage their money or they popped out a bunch of kids they can’t afford.

    The PX and commisary are nice, but I don’t think that you really save anything especially at anything AAFES.

  • Steve

    Overseas? Yes. Stateside? No. I’m retired and drove up to Cheyenne last month to stock up, and everything there was higher than our local grocery store. Everything. Then you have to tip the bag person or they get all offended, still have a 5% surtax (its a tax, admit it) etc. I will never go to another stateside commissary again…THAT is the truth.

  • Marist

    For those that live close to a military base, the lose of commissary and military health facilities is no doubt dramatic. I would venture to say, that most military retirees do not shop at a military base. For me to drive to the base and shop, I would have to add the cost of gas, tolls, commissary surcharge, time spent, auto wear and tear, and the danger of idiots texting to the bill, and believe me, the cost for those items that we could actually define, would be in the neighborhood of $45 dollars – we did that for years, but the cost of goods at the commissary has definitely risen and we had to spend in the neighborhood of $450 and limit our trips to once every 6 weeks. It got to the point, that it was not worth it. Besides, I found it discouraging as military life appears to have changed dramatically since I retired in 1976. I don’t see a great loss in getting rid of the commissary with the exception it is just one more thing that military personnel are losing. Hold on to your hats, just around the corner is the change to the military retirement system – then you’ll have something to complain about.

  • cindy

    My husband and I were both in the navy. We were going to the commissary&exchange. I startd noticing that the commissary was charging a 5% surcharge and then the prices started rising. I felt that they was charging taxes and we figured, if the commissary was going to charge surcharge/tax ,we went to Wal-Mart and other places that has been over 20 years now. We live in AZ we still see.the surcharges. We lived 40 miles away. No Thanks. The commissary systems that’s not needed get rid of them.

  • Gina

    The commissary charges you a 5% surcharge based on your entire bill, where as shopping off base I only pay taxes on the taxable items, not food, so it is much cheaper off base.

  • marie1

    Why don’t they try and make the commissary profitable instead…lower prices and everyone will shop there….just an idea…also the fee is a racket…we don’t pay taxes on food in our state so that fee is like we get charged tax….I’m for the commissary if they can offer something better than what you get off base….for one thing they seem to have a lot of employees that stand around not being helpful…so hire ones that are happier and get rid of the ones who are just wasting space! also offer things that other places don’t and that would help!! personally i like the fact that it’s a bit old fashioned in feel but there has to be ways to modernize in other ways to make money for them so they can keep it!

  • Joe

    I almost always shop at the commisary, even though the one on my base is fairly small because as soon as I stop at one of the off base stores (winn dixie, or publix) I can immediately see the difference in price. especially on things such as meat of frozen items. Sure there are things that are cheaper from time to time, but mostly those are the sale items that the store uses to bring in people to buy other stuff. I have lived overseas, and here in a state that still does tax its groceries, and both places the commisary has been a very important benefit.

  • natidg

    Part 1.__I appreciate the ability to shop at the military exchange and Commissary. When I was on active duty my children benefitted from the MWR and other base services financed by the military exchanges. They allow me to save by not charging state and local taxes. Although, as long as one resides in the U.S. financially they can shop around for savings both in the major Super market chains and at the major department stores as well as online. What I cannot fathom is why so many people seem to think military families in general would find themselves in a financial bind if they did not have these benefits. I retired in 1992 and I was able to provide for an overall family of six. I was able to save money for college for four children and for my retirement as well as pay for a home with the assistance of Uncle Sam on my base salary, housing and subsistence allowances alone. My wife did not work. Military salaries have consistently increased since my retirement along with the cost of living. So I find it hard to believe that the current group of military are worse off financially then the military members of the 1990s or 1980s, etc.

    • Bill W

      I don’t know what military you were in but I could not afford crap! Let alone college tuition for my daughter. I got earned income credit one year. You must have been an officer or a fast burner or you never had to move your family around the world or country.

  • Ada Evans

    I would love to have the privilege of shopping at a military base. I live in SC and the nearest base is about a 2 hour drive from my house.

  • natidg

    Part 2.
    Financial responsibility falls jointly on the military member and his/her spouse if married. If he/she or they cannot live within their means they are financially irresponsible in most cases. I understand that unpredictable circumstances may place some members in a financial bind if they have not been saving. But most problems are caused by not establishing a budget and living by the budget. The military now provides more support programs to help the soldiers, sailors and airmen of today from faulting on their finances then in the past. No one should be paying money out of his/her base salary for rent and utilities when this is provided for with a housing allowance. On many occasions decent off base rents can be found for less than the housing income received allowing the individual to save the difference for use elsewhere. Working spouses can create more financial problems. When a family revises its budget based on the second salary they become dependent on the extra cash. Should they lose the second salary they would now find it difficult to maintain their finances especially if they have multiple debts that are being repaid based on both salaries.

    • Idmtmedic

      BS. Most couples HAVE to have the spouse working to make ends meet even in the civilian world. An educated spouse can’t continue a career with constant moves and child care cost is ridiculous. Never have family support from extended family to help. It’s never a black and white issue.



  • alan martens

    As long as any military family is forced to use food stamps, the commissary had BETTER not be done away with. It’s a black eye for any military member to have to stoop to that to survive, but if the commissary disappears, the problem will get worse…Btw, I got out because I couldn’t afford to be stationed in San Diego any longer…

  • veteran97

    I’m a non retired veteran and I noticed there was attempts to get a bill passed that would allow veterans with any rating disability to shop at the commissary or BX but it always gets denied/and I noticed on some of the sites some people who claim to be retired or active duty object to the thought of any person who served yet no longer active being able to shop at the commisary or bx. I truely think it should be allowed. Just think how much both AAfes and the commissary would make. We non retired veterans aren’t getting the medical or other benefits and are still spending money, we would just be able to get food and some things from the bx/px tax free. I think the profit would help bring in more money to help keep things at the commissary affordable.

    • usmael

      Remember, though, that the right to shop at them is a great incentive to get people to re-enlist. It is a great finacial investment to train soldiers, and obviously the ultimate hope is they will stay in for many years. I think this makes a very strong valid point to not allow all veterans shop at them. Otherwise, I do see your point, but feel it is best to leave it the way it is.

  • Frank Jazz

    Have a good suggestion, lets bundle up the Senate and congress and President and Vice President and send them to a nice war zone for a year or two and see how they like it and they get the pay we currently get, along with those good c-rations, and when they come back, return them back for another 6 months or so, just to keep their family in tune.

    • Frank Jazz,

      How about this, we go back time, and allow everyone to pick and chose what they want to do with there life, join the service or run for Congress.

    • Idmtmedic

      Love that idea Frank!!!!!!! Better yet why not have all service members due a rotation in COMBAT and the have congress do a ride along. One at a time. However let’s get back on topic. Suuuurely don’t want to talk about anything other than the topic right. Ohhh yes COMMISSARIES, and a group that is fighting for it.

  • Military Family

    Vendors don’t give the lower costs to Exchange and the Commissaries anymore. The agencies can not survive selling merchandise under cost. The failing economy is ultimately to blame. But I would like to ask vendors if the Commissary is getting the same cost as the competitors off the base installations are getting? Someone should look into this. Are the commissary and Exchange buyers really getting the deals that the off installation competitors are getting? Is someone in their agencies auditing this?
    Vendors should support the agencies who directly support our military missions. Reduced government funding and higher cost is forcing the two agencies to look closely at the operations. I would like to see them merge with vendor full support to include better cost pricing than the civilian companies. Again our military members are going to come up short unless we protect those who protect us.
    Support our Commissary and Exchange agencies.