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Q. One question I hear from a lot of new military spouses is "How much should I tip the baggers at the commissary?" Is there a formula, or an amount per bag that is appropriate?

— Jane in Germany

A. Even those who have made countless trips to the commissary sometimes wonder how to add up the tip. How do we balance the family budget with the knowledge that "Baggers work for tips only," as the sign says? To help me answer this question, I took an informal e-mail survey, asking military spouses how much they tip at the commissary and how they make tipping decisions. I received 33 responses from spouses of officers and enlisted personnel, from different military branches, both stateside and overseas.

Their answers came in various shapes and sizes, reflecting the different ways to calculate tips. Several said the rule of thumb is 25 cents per bag, but most said they don’t usually count bags. The majority said they base tips on how much they spend on groceries, or by how many carts the bagger has to push to the car.

Tips for a weekly grocery trip ranged from $2 to $9, in my unscientific survey. Among those responses, the average tip was $3.92. The most popular amount seemed to be $3.50, but many also tip $2, $3 or $5.

Some in the survey suggested tipping 2 or 3 percent of the grocery bill. Others said they tip a certain amount for every $50 or $100 spent. "I go with $2 for anything under $150 and $3 for anything over $150," said one spouse.

Those who tip by the cart suggested $3 or $4 per cart, or less for a partially filled cart.

In the express lane, things are a little different. Two survey respondents said they never tip in the express lane. The most popular amount to tip in the express lane was one dollar, the average being about 80 cents. Although few count bags for large orders, several said they do in the express lane.

Two spouses in the survey have experience on both sides of the tip. "I used to be a bagger, so I know how important it is," said one. "But it really is up to each person what they feel they can afford to tip."

Another spouse considered tipping the baggers a good trade for not paying off-base prices. "When I feel tight about tipping, I think of what I have saved on the groceries — about 20 percent — and figure how much time the bagger spent bagging. Then I give an amount that would equal a fair hourly wage."

Another begs to differ: "I despise having to tip the baggers," she said, adding that she does it anyway.

Outside factors sometimes play a part in tipping decisions. "I take weather into account: Is it snowing, raining, cold, windy? … as well as the friendliness of the bagger," said one spouse.

Holidays and extra heavy items also inspire bigger tips, sometimes as much as $10, in this survey.

So, the answer really is that there are many good ways to figure your tip, but no required formula. If all other methods of calculation seem inadequate, a prayer might help. One spouse said, "Sometimes I sense the Lord speak to me, and I give a little more just to bless the bagger."

Terri Barnes is a military wife and lifelong commissary shopper. She and her family live in Germany, where her husband is stationed at Ramstein AB. If you have a question, a comment, or would like to be on her mailing list for future polls, write to her at spousecalls@stripes.com.

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