By Julie Provost
When my family was stationed in Germany, we shopped at the commissary but also enjoyed going to Aldi’s, Edeka, and other stores on the economy. Not only was trying German foods a fun experience but I also noticed that certain items, particularly fruits and veggies, were cheaper than the commissary. . . and were a bit better looking, too.
Here are seven tricks to finding cheaper and healthier food when you are overseas.
1. Shop around
Take some time to compare prices at the commissary, online, or anywhere else you can buy food. That way, you will know for sure where to buy the foods you want for your family.
2. Local stores
Don’t be afraid to go out on the economy for your food. There could be different items to choose from, new items to try, and cheaper options. It can be intimidating, but it is also a powerful way to make the best of your time in the country you are living. Don’t be afraid if you don’t speak the language. The more you go out and shop, the more comfortable you will feel.
3. Farmer’s markets/open air markets
Check out the local farmer’s markets or open air markets in your area. Here you can find locally grown and organic foods that the commissary won’t have. Bring your own bags and change in the local currency. Once you have learned more about your local markets, you will know what to expect and what you can buy there. Then you can make that stop part of your regular shopping routine.
In some OCONUS locations shopping at the commissary will be the best way to get cheaper and healthier food. In places like Hawaii and Guam, off-post options can be quite pricey and your budget might not be able to support shopping on the economy. Make sure to watch prices and sales.
5. Order online
If you need something specific and you can’t find it where you are locall– or the item is too expensive–check online. Amazon will ship many products to APO/FPOs and many times you can buy products in bulk to save money. There are some products that can’t be shipped so make sure to watch for that. (You can also have friends or family in the states ship you the foods that you simply can’t live without.)
6. Grow food
Certain vegetables and spices are easy to grow: Start a garden and grow some of your own foods. Herbs are one of the easiest plants to grow and can add flavor to any meal. Research where you live and what grows well there. It could be very different from what you are used to back home, even if you are an expert gardener.
Use coupons when you are shopping on base. Expired coupons work at the overseas (except Hawaii and Alaska) commissaries up to six months after the date on the coupon. Some bases have them available to military families as people like to donate their expired coupons to overseas locations. There are not always coupons for the foods you want to buy, especially produce and meats, but if you can save money on your toilet paper and baby food, you can put that money towards the cost of foods that never have coupons.
Julie Provost is an associate editor at Military One Click and a National Guard spouse. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.