A disturbing thing happened in commissaries in 2008: Customers used about 8 percent fewer coupons than the year before.
Whether you clip them from newspapers or magazines, or print them from the Internet, coupons are money in your pocket. But in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, commissary patrons redeemed more than 9.5 million fewer coupons — resulting in $4.7 million less in savings —than in 2007.
That said, commissary customers still saved a whopping $94 million in 2008, using 117 million coupons.
You already save an average of 30 percent in commissaries compared with local stores. Coupons are an easy way to pile up even more savings.
In interviews with commissary shoppers, some said they routinely save $10 to $15 in coupons each shopping trip, in some cases about 10 percent of their bill. If you saved $10 a week, that's $520 a year you could put in your savings account, or use to make a couple of extra car payments.
Where do you find coupons, other than scouring newspapers and magazines? You'll find them on the Internet. Start at www.commissaries.com">www.commissaries.com. Click on the "links" icon for some Internet coupon possibilities.
Some other good Web sites include www.coupons.com">www.coupons.com, www.mycoupons.com">www.mycoupons.com, www.coolsavings.com">www.coolsavings.com and www.couponmom.com">www.couponmom.com. Also check manufacturers' Web sites for coupons.
To save the most money:
• Don't use a coupon to buy something you don't need and won't use. Spending $1 to save 50 cents with a coupon for an item you don't need is $1 wasted.
• Compare prices. Do a little online work before you leave the house to find out what's on sale at the commissary. At www.commissaries.com">www.commissaries.com, authorized commissary shoppers can click on "Shopping" on the bar across the top, then "Savings Aisle." Under "Promotional Prices," enter your login information verifying you're an authorized shopper, choose your store from the drop-down menu, and choose whether you want to view all savings or one category.
• Check sale prices to see whether you would save more money by buying another brand. Let's say one brand of batteries costs $2.89. You have a coupon for 50 cents off another brand of batteries for $3.50, so you'd spend $3 with the coupon. But the other brand's price of $2.89 is still cheaper. Best to skip that coupon.
Commissaries do place some restrictions on coupons:
• Commissaries accept most types of coupons, but they cannot accept "in-house" coupons issued by a commercial grocery store or supermarket. Commissaries also accept Internet or home-printed coupons as long as they have a typical bar code and Product Identification Number or GS1 DataBar. Commissaries do not require coupons to have a "dot-scan" bar code unless that requirement is stated on the coupon itself.
• Commissaries cannot double or triple coupons. The Defense Commissary Agency would have to absorb the costs of doing that, and commissaries by law have to sell items at prices set only high enough to cover the costs of those items.
• Commissaries overseas accept coupons up to six months after their expiration date. So if you're stateside and have expired coupons, send them to friends stationed overseas.
Gas promotion at AAFES
To celebrate its 114th birthday, the Army and Air Force Exchange Service is offering a promotion to its customers from July 25 through Aug. 7. If you spend $114, you'll get a coupon good from July 25 through Sept. 6 for 14 cents off a gallon of gas at AAFES gas stations, up to 20 gallons.
Use your Military Star card at the pump and you'll save an extra 3 cents per gallon, for a total saving of 17 cents per gallon.