Coupon Coup or Frugal Folly?

In this video a reporter follows a mother of six who uses coupons to cut her weekly food budget to one dollar.

The video shows her picking out three items:

  • Fish. She buys 7 packages of 1/4 pound each, using 7 coupons to take a dollar off of each package, bringing her total to zero.
  • Some kind of processed dinner in a box, like macaroni and cheese (YouTube keeps stopping after 1:28 and I was only able to watch the rest once so I’m not 100% sure).
  • A free candle from the drugstore.

The view of her pantry nearly gave me a heart attack. It was full of toilet paper, paper towels, and shelf upon shelf of processed food. She says she got it all for free. But at what cost to her family’s health? If she looked at the ingredients, she might see all of the “extras” she is getting in preservatives, starches, fats and low-quality grains along with her free groceries.

The fish looks like a good choice but I wanted to see the rest of the items in her cart. Did she have coupons for eggs, legumes, produce dairy products or whole grains? Generally, only items with an identifiable brand have coupons and they tend to be the ones with a big markup. They also tend to be for new products, not staples.

I also wondered how much of that food will expire before she uses it up.

Maybe it’s sour grapes, because I don’t have access to such good coupons. But many items sold with coupons are things I wouldn’t bring into my house. Coupons can be an important way of stretching a budget, as long as you use them for things you would buy anyway and that contribute to a balanced diet for your family. But you can take coupon-shopping too far.

Michael Pollan has suggested that Americans spend too little on food, settling for lower quality in order to have more money for consumer goods. I don’t know this family’s income, but based on this video (which may give an inaccurate picture) I suggest she look to cut expenses elsewhere.

Hat tip: Lion of Zion

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  1. Maybe this is true only for Israel, but I find that places that have sales/coupons tend to be too expensive to begin with — better to do most shopping in the shook.

  2. Yeah, where was the produce?

    There was couple in the US last year that tried to pay only $1 a day for food ($1/each, for a month), but tried to do it healthfully. If I recall there was a lot of rice and beans and a lot they did from scratch.

    • Kate, yes, and you can also get a lot of food that is close to expiration, day-old bread, broken produce etc. for very cheap and sometimes for free.

  3. It’s a mixed bag, but yeah, it’s rare that fresh fruits and veggies go on sale like that. The second item was frozen pizza – not bad for once-in-a-while, but if that’s the kind of stuff you end up with all the time…then you’re not feeding the kids so much as stuffing them.

  4. Sad. Good post. Coupons are mostly for processed food. Yes, too many people don’t see the relationship between the food they eat and their health. Spend money, time and energy on raising one’s family with healthy food to aid in preventing illness later.

  5. We lived in Seattle from 2002-2005 and unhealthy food is very cheap. Healthy food is expensive. You can feed a family of 6 at McDonalds for 6$ (kashrut aside); however a single cucumber costs a dollar. Fruits and vegies were sky high! Bunny bread (Wonder bread) is very cheap, but whole wheat bread is a fortune. We spent a large part of our budget on food.

    • Ariela, interesting. I guess we are spoiled here. Still, there are ways to get produce cheaper and of course, we pay for fast food in the long run.

  6. I also was astounded by her pantry. To me it looked a bit like OCD. If you have so much food, why do you need to shop for a full cart of food?

    • Both collecting the food and the coupons were obsessive. She seemed to care more about not spending anything than about what she actually needed.

  7. I agree–the amount of ketchup I could see was ridiculous. Unless she is also running a food pantry for people who don’t have enough.

  8. When my husband was once on a business trip in Colorado, he thought he could go to a convenience store and get some fruit, veggies and yogurt (like going to a makolet). No such luck. He was appalled by all the junk you could buy and not a speck of fresh food in sight.

  9. she has a whole pantry full of poison!

  10. *ashmnu* I’m very much the type to stock up on freezer schnitzel when it goes on sale, because I consider one of those and some frozen string beans to be an easy microwavable dinner that I know my kids and husband will eat without complaint.

    i also keep a stock of soy hot dogs and soy burgers for the same reason. I keep ketchup in stock because the difference between sale price and full price is hefty and if we don’t have it, my husband will complain…

    On the other hand, my daughter’s current favorite “fast food” meal is cottage cheese and cucumber or tomato slices. (my son won’t touch cottage cheese, go figure)

    The question is how perishable this stuff is, how much of this stuff she uses, how she plans meals with so much junk in her house, and how she manages to get any actual nutrition into her kids.

    I mean, we use the fact that tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, carrots, and in-season fruit are dirt cheap as a way to keep our grocery bill down. It’s not like that in the US. Watch my husband open a pomello, and the kids start gathering… it’s very cute. Cut up apples, and the kids will grab a piece as easily as they’ll grab bamba or pretzels. likewise with carrots or peppers.

  11. Mara at gives many tips for using coupons to your advantage while being healthy and keeping kosher. Of course, she is not going to be able to feed her family on $4 a week but she does a good job bringing the healthy kosher food home while using coupons and sales.

  12. Frayda, yes, Mara has a good attitude toward coupons.