View Full Version : shopping at the PX
07-31-2001, 09:39 AM
My family isn't military, so what is it like shopping on base? Are the stores really cheaper than those off base? I hear there are different types of stores. Any military types want to comment on the PX/Commissary deal?
07-31-2001, 10:10 AM
Depends on what you buy . . .
Sometimes, they have somewhat cheaper prices. Other times, it's not really competitive. The only thing they don't do is charge sales tax (no state or city tax). This doesn't apply to the federal taxes, or alcohol or tobacco tax.
Sometimes I find good deals, sometimes not. I usually shop downtown, 'cause I live 10 miles from base. It's a pain to drive 20 miles just for groceries on the weekend when I have a supermarket right around the corner. . .
A lot of it also depends on what you buy.
07-31-2001, 10:13 AM
The different services operate base exchange systems. Navy and Marine Corps (and possibly Coast Guard, although I'm not sure about that) are operated by Navy Exchange (NEX). Army and Air Force exchanges are operated by Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES). The VA also has a similar system.
The key appeal to the exchange system is not so much that the goods sold are drastically cheaper (although some are, and overseas, liquor is quite cheap), it's that there is no sales tax. So, if you make a large purchase, say a washer and dryer, in a state that charges 7% sales tax, you'd be saving a significant chunk in sales tax. They also offer payroll deduction and other goodies that civilians don't usually get.
The catch is that you have to prove eligibility to shop there, usually in the form of a military/VA identification card. When I get sucked into the VA gift shop at my local VA hospital, I have to be prepared to show my ID card, and when I was active duty, I had to show my ID card.
The experience itself is not vastly different from shopping in any department store similar to a Target, in that the merchandise offered is quite similar.
All in all, you're really not missing much.
07-31-2001, 10:20 AM
I should also point out that overseas, the exchange is often the only place you can get American foods, cigarettes, liquor, books, etc.
07-31-2001, 10:46 AM
My father (retired Army) still goes to both the Commissary and PX at Ft. Detrick and to the PX at Quantico, which has a large electronics store. He doesn't do all his shopping there, but occasional purchases, especially when, as MsRobyn mentioned, he stands to save a large chunk in sales tax.
As an Army brat, it was second nature for me to flash my ID whenever I went into the PX. Going into K-Mart or someplace where I didn't need ID was weird to me.
The commissary. Blegh. Let me tell you about the commissary. 5 gazillion GIs/retirees/family members pushing each other through packed isles 4 days a month (the two days following the bimonthly paydays of course) because they thought they were getting a better deal. The rest of the month it was practically empty. Never saw a larger group of people who had no idea how to budget their money than my 7 years in the army. Then again, that's how Uncle Sam likes it, isn't it? Anyway, what the commissary shoppers failed to pay attention to was the surcharge the commissary added to the bill, which basically equaled their savings over a regular grocery store. Then there were the "volunteer" baggers*, who expected a tip, etc, etc...
You're not missing anything.
Oh yeah, and another thing: In all the commissaries I ever went to, they never once had very good produce. The military must be making deals with all the farmers with failed crops or something.
I'll concur with the others that the PX was good for buying expensive items to avoid the tax. Also, occasionally they would have some high quality item priced very cheaply. I saw a few of these over the years. My assumption was that they were purchasing mistakes. For example, I remember getting a really nice Ektelon racquetball racket for about $30 when they normally retailed for ~$250. I think I got a pair of shoes like that too.
* I've been out for a few years and can't remember if these guys were at all the commissaries I'd been to. Can anyone back me up on this?
07-31-2001, 11:21 AM
Dumb question, but what do these places look like? I have in my mind an image of olive drab metal shelving in a Quonset. How far off the mark am I?
Cornflakes, you were not far off on the mark, back in the old days. However, with new "Quality of Life" issues that the military is trying to resolve, many of the new commissaries and exchanges being built now would rival a Harris-Teeter or a new mall in the civilian community.
pldennison, there's a shared memory for ya! I remember the major rite of passage when (9 or 10, can't remember) I got my first dependent's ID card. Now I could get into the PX (Army brat) by myself! And woe unto you if you lost it. Exchanged the beige colored one for the green, so I went about 20 years toting one of those around.
07-31-2001, 12:51 PM
Growing up in Dayton, 3 miles from Wright Patterson AFB, all of my neighbors were AF and would just rave about the BX (base exchange, AOT "PX" = post exchange.) I guess, back in the day (early 80's), food was significantly cheaper and regular shopping was, too. With the advent of Sam's Club, Meijers, Wal-Mart, etc, this has become less and less of a factor. Alcohol is the only thing I can think of that is still significantly cheaper on base. Well, that and haircuts ($5 versus $9 adds up if you go every week or two.)
In the Marines, I never did any heavy shopping, so I couldn't tell you, save to say that sometimes shirts and Levi's were a touch cheaper, but not so much as to make you go "WOW! I have got to do all my shopping here or I am a fool!"
As for looks, in my infrequent trips as a child (with neighbors) I recall them looking like a department store for the most part and this is especially true these days.
07-31-2001, 01:06 PM
I grew up on or near an Air Force Base (KI Sawyer)--the meat was always a lot better than any of the local stores. Can't vouch for the prices, though, because I was knee high to a hopping grass-dwelling insect at the time. I remember the baggers, but was always under the impression they worked there.
The selection wasn't that great at the BX, as I recall. At the time it was impressive to me (hey, I was a kid), but looking back, it doesn't seem that great.
07-31-2001, 01:17 PM
Back when I was a mere caveboy, I used to go with my grandfather to the BX and Commissary at Bergstrom AFB (now a regular old airport). I can say that the BX was just like any other department store I've ever been in, aside from the ID-checking thing. The Commissary, though, was a bit different. Back before Austin went and got all high-falutin', it was the only place in town that sold certain ethnic foods, such as Italian lunchmeats (prosciuttio, soprassata, etc.) and Asian groceries.
07-31-2001, 06:18 PM
One thing that was significantly cheaper, at least at the commisaries overseas, was cigarettes. In 1990, I was paying $4.50/carton for name brand cigarettes since, being overseas, there was no federal tax on them. In Germany, buying cigarettes off-post meant paying DM4,5 or so per pack, about six times as expensive.
07-31-2001, 07:56 PM
I think the location has a lot to do with the PX vs off-post price difference. In Hawaii the groceries are in tandem with houses in comparison with mainliand prices. We would have had a mighty tough time without the Schofield Barracks PX.
07-31-2001, 11:20 PM
One reason the commissaries are so cheap is that they are actually operated by the military and not a quasi-military agency like AAFES or NEX. The military sells good in the commissary at actual cost plus a tiny persentage, about 3%, IIRC, which covers overhead. Checkers are paid out of this overhead, but sackers are not. There are tip jars at the registers for this. This makes most goods signifacantly cheaper than those bought at retail and even many wharehouse outlets. If you notice at the front door, the commissary manager is a military officer; the manager of the exchange is a DOD(AAFES/NEX) civilian. AAFES/NEX runs a bit differently. They actually have things like advertising budgets (albeit much smaller than commercial stores), sales discounts, catalog sales, financing plans, etc. This makes the markup on most goods a little higher.
<side note> The exchanges and commissaries do accept coupons. This can make your purchses even cheaper. I was actually paying as little as $2.50/carton for cigarettes in Germany using $2.00 off coupons my mother sent me from home. The commissary redeemed them just like any other merchant.</side note>
Keep in mind that I am relating my experiences from my term of service and life as a dependent as a kid. As of August 18th, I will have been out for eleven years. Things may have changed since then, but I can't imagine that they'd change much.
08-01-2001, 12:04 AM
When I lived in Korea, the black market in American goods smuggled off-post by Korean military spouses kept this teacher in
When I lived in Korea, the brisk black market trade in American goods smuggled off-post by Korean military spouses kept this teacher in Crystal Light and Maxwell House coffee.
From the PSAa on AFKN, the commissaries charged 5% above cost to pay the overhead and build new commissaries (there was a jazzy little rap number explaining this). In addition, newspaper discount coupons could be used in overseas commisaries up to 6 months past their expiration dates (this was explained in an amusing conversation between two actors disguised as brand name characters).
Everything I need to know I learned from AFKN.
08-01-2001, 12:10 AM
Yikes, what happened? Mods, could you fix the previous post and delete this? Thanks.
08-01-2001, 07:38 AM
I always shop at the commissary and pop into the NEX occasionally as well. Nowadays both of them look much like their civilian equivalents -- the NEX like a department store and the commissary like a supermarket. This wasn't always the case, BTW. When I first enlisted (1981) there were still many of the old-style quonset hut commissaries and exchanges out there.
There can be good deals at the NEX depending on what you're buying, but the selection isn't as great as in the outside world (where you have lots of different stores to choose from). When my husband and I make a large purchase, we always include the NEX as a place to check. Sometimes we find the best deal there, other times elsewhere is cheaper -- even factoring in the savings in sales tax.
The commissary is something else again -- I know I always save money there, although I've never done a price to price check with civilian supermarkets. So how do I know I'm saving? Well, I admit it's anecdotal. You see, I grocery shop every two weeks (on paydays). I have always shopped with a list, writing up menu plans for the 2 week period -- and my grocery bill is pretty stable over the course of a year. When we were first married and poor I spent less than now, of course. Now, my commissary tab is between $175 and $185 -- this is 2 weeks worth of food for our family of 4, more or less (I do usually have to buy milk and bread before the next payday). A few months ago there was a bomb threat at the commissary, so I popped in to Food Lion instead. Even with the Food Lion card savings, my groceries cost $215! Throughout the 15 years I've been married I've noticed the same thing -- whenever I've had to shop off-base, my grocery bill is $20.00 - $50.00 higher, commissary surcharge notwithstanding.
08-01-2001, 08:20 AM
The exchange managers are not DoD civilians; they are, in fact, employees of the exchange system. Each exchange also has a local "exchange officer" appointed by the military commander for that area.
Also, the exchange systems are not "quasi-military." They are private companies with exclusive contracts.
08-01-2001, 08:59 AM
The facts here have really been answered. I'll move the thread over to IMHO so more folks can share their PX stories.
08-05-2001, 02:57 PM
Originally posted by goboy
Yikes, what happened? Mods, could you fix the previous post and delete this? Thanks.
Goboy, that was an awesome mistake! I'm scrolling down, thinking, "Yeah? Kept this teacher iinnnnnnn...what? Condoms? Jack Daniel's? Enough imported chocolate to bribe his entire class?" I like the post that way!
08-05-2001, 03:41 PM
(context of post: CPO retiree, 24 yrs USN (mostly Jacksonville FL), now working in Charleston SC.)
NEX/Commissary facilities vary greatly from place to place. NAS Jacksonville is in the final stages of a major rehab/addition project to both and will be fairly first class compared against outside department stores/major chain grocerys I've shopped.
The tax angle has already been addressed, so I won't continue that point except to add that there are savings on high ticket items if the NEX will meet outside prices for a particular item; most in the US will meet or beat an outside price.
One side note: If you're looking for a truly top-of-the-line "Class 6" store (or equivalent) the USCG exchanges simply can't be beat. I'm amazed at the quality of selection at the very small exchange here in Charleston.
08-05-2001, 04:23 PM
Demo, in my experience, both overseas and INCONUS, they have baggers, even in the friggin' express line, who expect donations. Personally, I'm more than happy to tip a bagger who wheels my stuff out to my car and loads it, but I won't tip one whose job (in the express lane) it is to put eight items into a plastic bag.
Anyway, I've found that overall, I do save some money if I shop at the commissary, but if I shop wisely on the outside (taking advantage of supermarket sales and buying store brands for certain items), I can almost break even. Which is worth not having to drive all the way to base and back.
08-06-2001, 01:10 AM
Then there were the "volunteer" baggers*, who expected a tip, etc, etc...
They expected a tip because they didn't get paid any other way. Tips are (or were) their SOLE compensation for bagging. If you don't want to tip, bag your own goods.
08-06-2001, 11:22 AM
I've shopped in PX's all my life. My Dad has been active duty Army my whole life so we always hit the PX for pretty much anything we need. For a few years though I was without an ID card so I had to shop in other stores and let me tell you I did not like it! The PX offers name brand items at great prices, yeah there might be cheaper items at your local Wal-Mart but it's not the top of the line model like at the PX. You get great items at great prices. I shop there all the time.
As for the commissary, I don't shop anywhere else because it would just be throwing my money down the drain. Yeah I have to tip my bagger but I do that at a normal grocery store too. Since I was at my commissary just yesterday I can tell you they have amazing prices compared to anywhere outside. Again, they offer name brand items but they offer them for less. They have these new Bargin Value Items too. Since I am goofy and as always forgot something major while at the commissary I ran to my local grocery store to pick it up. At the commissary, I can get a bag of 40 chicken nuggets for $4.50, at my local grocery store I got a box of 12 for $3.99. That was the grocery store sale price too! So I'll keep fighting all the lines of the commissary and tipping my baggers happily :D
08-06-2001, 12:40 PM
There's a NEX gas station (Citgo) just west of the Pentagon grounds, I've seen prices there run 10-25¢ less than the civilian stations.
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