As British pound climbs, consumers shop on base
July 22, 2007
RAF MILDENHALL — The British pound continues to show no mercy to U.S. military consumers in the United Kingdom as the currency hit 26-year highs against the U.S. dollar last week.
On Friday, the commercial exchange rate for 1 pound was $2.05, compared to about $1.85 a year ago, according to currency reports.
The RAF Lakenheath Commissary has seen a business boost in the wake of the rising value of the pound with minimum profits of $250,000 more a month compared to last year, said store manager Jeff Rose. He said the store makes an average of $3 million a month.
The increase for Lakenheath’s base exchange was slightly smaller — an extra $136,000 more a month this year, according to Rick Mora, general manager for the Army and Air Force Exchange Services in the United Kingdom. The BX averages about $3.4 million in sales a month, he said.
“I think people pretty much shop on base. It’s just too expensive with the conversion (rate),” said Rose.
“You want to encourage people to enjoy the culture of the country and to get out and look around, But they’re not buying groceries out there.”
Military spouse Erika Trisch and her two children were picking out apples inside the commissary last week.
“It saves a lot of money. I tend to come once a week,” she said. “There’s a good variety here and I never have a hard time finding stuff.”
Trisch said she also stretches money by cooking at home and eating out at on-base restaurants. She did confess to shopping off base for clothes, though.
Senior Airman Benjamin Koesters, and his wife, Sara, were also at the commissary in search of lower prices.
“Groceries and electronics are a lot of cheaper on base. It’s almost double off base,” said Benjamin, an F-15E fighter jet crew chief with the 48th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.
On the other hand, both said that they’ve found better deals on fresh flowers and baguette bread outside the fence.
Shoppers who use pounds on base are also feeling the impact of the weaker dollar because they pay a conversion fee when purchasing items priced in dollars. AAFES facilities use the current military exchange rate — usually 5 cents higher than commercial rates — when accepting pounds to offset the expense of converting the currency. On Friday, the military rate was $2.10 to the pound.
“In essence, AAFES is accepting foreign currency and is in the position a bank would be in the same type of transaction,” AAFES spokesman Lt. Col. David A. Konop said in an e-mail.
An increase in the cost-of-living allowance to counter the British pound doesn’t seem likely, since a fluctuation of at least 5 percent between exchange rates over an eight-week period would have to occur before the Per Diem Committee in Washington can alter COLA rates, according to Maj. Chris DeJesus, commander of the 48th Comptroller Squadron.
If the pound converted at $2.05, for instance, the exchange rate would have to jump at least 10 cents to $2.15 for servicemembers to see an increase in COLA.
“Based solely on the currency fluctuations, adjustments can be made as often as twice monthly to COLA,” DeJesus wrote in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes.
By the numbersA price comparison for products of the similar size and type at on-base and off-base stores:
On base Off baseLiter of unleaded fuel $0.84 $1.94Bag of carrots $0.94 $1.41Loaf of white bread $1.25 $2.03Stalk of celery $1.15 $1.82Carton of six large eggs $0.92 $1.72Pringles potato chips $1.00 $2.93Four rolls of toilet paper $2.39 $3.672-liter bottle of Coca-Cola $1.18 $2.91Aquafresh toothpaste $1.54 $2.118-pack of AA batteries $5.79 $12.28iPod Nano (4 gigabyte) $199 $264PlayStation 3 (60 gigabyte) $499 $870Prices are from RAF Lakenheath’s commissary and base exchange, the RAF Mildenhall service station, Curry’s electronic store in Cambridge, and Budgen’s Grocery Store and the Esso gas station in Mildenhall. Based on July 20 conversion rates.