Proposed budget cuts could cost Fort Gordon commissary customers

Rachel Anderson, the proud Army wife of a Fort Gordon soldier, can easily see the savings add up every week she shops at the post’s commissary.

She saves $7 on a bag of Beneful dog food, another $2.50 on a 12-pack of Scott’s ultra-soft toilet paper, and $1 each on a gallon of 2-percent milk, a bottle of cocoa-butter lotion and small containers of Chobani Greek yogurt.

By the time she checks out, she estimates that she has saved at least $25 on her family’s weekly grocery bill, which Anderson said on average totals about $100.

“I love having a commissary where military families can reap the benefits of mostly lower prices,” said Anderson, who along with her husband of seven years – Staff Sgt. Aaron Anderson – has two children, ages 3 years and 6 months old. “If we were forced to shop off post for groceries, I would have to go from place to place to save money, and I believe I still wouldn’t save what I do at the commissary. I would spend more of my time and money in gas, driving around and checking prices and sales.”

Though price comparisons conducted by the Defense Commissary Agency show that customers on average save $2.6 billion, or 30 percent on their grocery bills, military families in the Augusta area, such as the Andersons, could soon see a steady rise in prices if they shop on post.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced major cuts in his department’s 2015 budget last week that would cut the $1.4 billion taxpayer subsidy military food stores use to charge their customers less for merchandise by $1 billion over three years.

President Obama released the proposal, which include shrinking Army troop levels to its lowest enrollment since before the buildup of World War II, to Congress Tuesday. Hagel said in a statement this week that the budget includes the recommendations he announced and that it is “responsible, balanced and realistic.”

“No strategy or budget is risk-free,” he said. “Even the largest defense budgets have limits – as does our knowledge and ability to predict the future. But the strategy articulated by the Quadrennial Defense Review is one that department leaders and I believe is the right strategy given the reality we face.”

While community leaders expect the arrival of new Army cyber and intelligence jobs to insulate Fort Gordon troop levels, commissary cuts could hold significant consequences on post.

In 2013, the Fort Gordon commissary collected $40.4 million in sales from a total of 624,535 transactions on post, according to Rick Brink, spokesman for the Defense Commissary Agency.

Anderson said her husband’s father and grandfather served in the Army and Air Force and that Aaron, who has been deployed three times, twice to Afghanistan and once to Kuwait, plans on making a career out of the military because of the benefits and retirement promises.

“I love having a hero for a spouse,” she said.

Though commissary customers currently pay a 5 percent surcharge to fund store construction and renovations, Anderson said she has done her own research over the last few months on prices inside and outside the commissary and noticed the fee is worth the cost.

She said it’s only about half as steep as the area’s 8 percent sales tax and much more beneficial than paying for a membership at Sam’s Club, where she said she has used a one-year free trial to buy foods and brands that either are not on sale or available at the commissary.

“I wouldn’t buy a membership because we would not benefit,” she said. “We could just buy the same things at the commissary without a membership fee.”

Anderson said she spends between $20 and $25 in produce every time she goes to the commissary.

Cucumbers range from 35 to 69 cents each; a head of Romaine lettuce is $1.25; and a 5-pound bag of red delicious apples is $2.50, Anderson said.

She said usually Wal-Mart has similar prices and that she knows some stores charge more.

She said, however, that she is certain of one thing.

“I would definitely be spending double at other grocery stores without the commissary around,” she said.

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COMMISSARY PRICE COMPARISON

Rachel Anderson, wife of Staff Sgt. Aaron Anderson, said her recent study found the following savings:

ItemCommissary priceRetail price
Gallon 2-percent milk$3.25-$3.50$4.25
12-pack Scott’s ultra-soft toilet paper$6$8.50
Small container Chobani Greek yogurt$0.89$1
Cocoa Butter lotion$3.19$5
Brookside Dark Chocolate
Pomegranate chews
$2.71$4
Bag of Beneful dog food$17$24

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