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Commissary bagger Constance Akosua hands Sgt. Eric Bullard part of his huge haul during the commissary case-lot sale. Bullard and his wife, Tasha, bought so many diapers and other items that there was barely room left in their van for their 8-month-old twins.

Commissary bagger Constance Akosua hands Sgt. Eric Bullard part of his huge haul during the commissary case-lot sale. Bullard and his wife, Tasha, bought so many diapers and other items that there was barely room left in their van for their 8-month-old twins. (Terry Boyd / S&S)

Commissary bagger Constance Akosua hands Sgt. Eric Bullard part of his huge haul during the commissary case-lot sale. Bullard and his wife, Tasha, bought so many diapers and other items that there was barely room left in their van for their 8-month-old twins.

Commissary bagger Constance Akosua hands Sgt. Eric Bullard part of his huge haul during the commissary case-lot sale. Bullard and his wife, Tasha, bought so many diapers and other items that there was barely room left in their van for their 8-month-old twins. (Terry Boyd / S&S)

Patience pays, say Kasshiea Ross, left, and Doris Reed. After meeting in line, the two women passed more than an hour in conversation while waiting in line to get into the case-lot sale at Baumholder's commissary last weekend.

Patience pays, say Kasshiea Ross, left, and Doris Reed. After meeting in line, the two women passed more than an hour in conversation while waiting in line to get into the case-lot sale at Baumholder's commissary last weekend. (Terry Boyd / S&S)

BAUMHOLDER, Germany — Earlier this year, the American savings rate — the household income left after all the consumer spending is tallied — hit zero, and now is in negative territory. In at least the statistical sense, the typical American family not only is spending money far faster than they make it, but now is dipping into savings and home equity to maintain spendthrift ways.

Here’s the other side of the story.

Kasshiea Ross had been in line for 45 minutes early last Saturday, and figured she had at least another 45 before she’d make it into the case-lot sale at Baumholder’s commissary. She was trying to make the most of her soldier’s pay while her husband, Sgt. Robert Ross, 4th Battalion, 27th Field Artillery Regiment, was home on R&R from Kuwait, watching sons Steven, 3, and Isaiah, 1.

“We save,” Kasshiea Ross said flatly. “There’s no point in not saving. You can only buy so much stuff, you know? Clothes. Furniture.”

But with two small children, you can’t have enough household staples. Diapers and wipes are very expensive, and they go fast, she said. If she’s lucky, she’ll get enough bargain dishwasher detergent to last until her husband returns from his deployment, all part of maximizing her family’s buying power and savings. Which is why she was standing in line with new friend Doris Reed, wondering what she’d buy with the $50 Ross had set aside for the trip.

The twice-a-year commissary case-lot sales are more than a place to save a bunch of money. They’re events at bases and posts across Europe, a phenomenon that gets people out of bed early on the weekends and in line. At a 1st Armored Division combat arms base, with a heavy preponderance of soldiers with modest junior enlisted and junior NCO incomes, such sales may be even more welcome.

Sgt. Eric Bullard of the 1st Battalion, 35th Armored Regiment and his wife, Tasha, were the 11th and 12th people in line Saturday for their first case-lot sale.

“We got up at 7, and were here by 8 a.m.,” two hours before the sale opened, Eric Bullard said, hustling as a bagger lowered their haul from the loading docks.

But they were rewarded for their effort, filling up their truck with so much stuff there was barely room for their 8-month-old twins, Connor and Brianna. They spent $382, but figured they saved substantially on diapers, toilet paper, paper towels and nonperishable foods.

“Way over $100. Maybe $150, especially with diapers for twins,” Tasha Bullard said. “Oh, yeah!”

Those farther back in the slowly moving line weren’t so pleased. Seeing so many waiting, Sharon Ford Bell wondered if there wasn’t a better way to organize the event. With only three or four people allowed into the sale at a time, and with 200 lined up at any given moment, her hopes for bargains were fading fast, said Bell, a Smith Elementary School special education assessor.

Darrell Henderson, Baumholder commissary manager, said his staff had tired different setups over the years, but lost product when Baumholder’s infamous wind and rains defeated tents and other attempts to expand the store’s tiny floor space.

Clearly, while customers love the bargains, they have little idea of what it takes to put together. The sale is going on simultaneously not only at Defense Commissary Agency’s 64 Europe stores, but at commissaries around the world, said Riccardo Lieffort, Heidelberg store director. There are as many as 91 different items on sale, depending on store size, at as much as 63 percent off. At Baumholder, all 37 staffers were working, including many who volunteered to come in on their days off, Henderson said.

As they moved huge quantities of goods, DeCA’s inventory control equipment was tracking sales real time, actually programming the inventory that would be offered at the next sale, Lieffort said.

With her husband Lester Reed’s E-8 master sergeant pay, Doris Reed probably doesn’t have to economize all that much. But, she said, she’d been to every case-lot sale since they arrived in Baumholder in 1999.

Happily chatting with fellow economizers, budgeters and savers, one got the feeling that even if she hit the lottery, Saturday’s sale wouldn’t be her last.

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