Wife Swap and Couponing Gone Wrong

Coupon-Loving Family Featured on ABC’s Wife Swap

I recently watched an episode of Wife Swap. Hey, I was at the gym and couldn’t change the channel. This episode was a good one though in terms of personal finance application. It pitted a cool, big-spending family up against a dorky, coupon cutting, money-saving family. Here’s the description of the frugal family:

“The McIntyre family from Michigan live to save – a trip to the supermarket can end up MAKING them money. Denise (48) and George (43) believe people who pay full price for anything are crazy, so they plan trips to the supermarket around their bulging binder of coupons and only eat out if they can do it at a reduced price. They keep stacks of cleaning products and toiletries in their basement acquired through their never-ending pursuit of two for one offers. With so much effort spent couponing, the McIntyres don’t have much time for friends or a social life – but they don’t miss what they have never had.”

I applauded the McIntyres for their commitment to saving for their kid’s education (one of the things mentioned in the show). And I was very much for this frugal Mom teaching that spending family a good lesson until I found out about the frugal family’s basement full of unused items and the way their frugal lifestyle had driven them to be such homebodies. Video of the McIntyres displaying some anti-social behavior.

I’m all for coupons. I love being able to save some money on my intended purchase. But I know couponing can take over your life and end up producing some negative effects, as it had with the McIntyres.


Couponing has Gone Wrong for You If:

  • You have a bunch of extra stuff in your house that you’re not going to use. I was disappointed to see the McIntyres had a basement full of “deals”. What’s the point of getting 10 for 1 if you’re only going to use a couple and then you go for another 10 for 1 deal on the same product a week later? Part of being frugal, in my opinion, is being efficient with your purchases. There’s a time for storing up, but in the McIntyres case, they were just being pack rats. We’ve been guilty of this before. We recently threw out a half unused bulk load of garlic that had expired. I hate throwing away food, and we should have known we’d never use it all. But, hey, it was a deal, right?
  • The coupon is making you go where you normally wouldn’t go. Trying out new restaurants is fun, but I prefer to do it on my terms, not when some corporate marketer is trying to drive me there with his deal. I think it’s best when you’re intentional with your spending. Only go and spend with a coupon if it’s somewhere you already frequent or somewhere you’ve been meaning to try. Live life on your terms.
  • It takes more time to clip the coupons and drive around than it’s actually worth. Again, for me, being frugal includes being efficient with my money. If you’ve got a system that makes couponing quick and easy, great. But if you’re spending several evenings a week clipping coupons and driving to several stores to get deals, then you’re missing out on life. Is it worth it at this point? Only you know what your time is worth.

Related: Frugal Living Tips

A Happy Ending for the McIntyres

At the end of the episode, the McIntyres concluded that while they plan to stick to their couponing ways, they were committed to doing more with their kids outside of the house and generally being more active in their community. And the Dad even said he’d taken on some part-time work so they could have a little more spending money and not have to coupon as much. Bottom line: There’s a balance to be found with the whole coupon clipping thing. It seems the show actually helped the McIntyres find a better balance with their money-saving ways.

What do you think of coupon clipping? A complete waste of time? Use them when you can? Or are you a hardcore couponer?

Photo by: ninjapoodles

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About Philip Taylor, CPA

Philip Taylor, aka "PT", is a CPA, blogger, podcaster, husband, and father of three. PT is also the founder and CEO of the personal finance industry conference and trade show, FinCon. He created this website back in 2007 to share his advice on money, hold himself accountable (while paying off over $75k in debt), and to meet others passionate about moving toward financial independence. He uses Personal Capital to track his wealth. All the content on this blog is original and created or edited by PT.


  1. karla (threadbndr) says

    Momma – thanks for the tip. I don’t coupon a huge amount, because I don’t use a ton of pre-prepared or convience foods. But using those coupons to get things for the food bank is something that I will do in the future.

    Also, I tend to shop the discount stores – Aldi in particular – and they don’t coupon.

  2. Couponing can definitely work to your advantage if you don’t let it consume your life. I usually go grocery shopping once a week or so, and some things can really be a bargain. For example, this past weekend Poptarts and Yogos were on sale 2/$1. Not a bad price, but I had a $1 off 2 coupon for both. Had these been the only good deals at the store however, I would not have driven out there. They had other sales as well that I wanted to take advantage of, therefore making my trip worth it. I make general lists of thing on sale at different stores, then evaluate which store (possibly 2) to go to that week. It’s a good system for us and we’re happy when a reciept tells us we’ve saved 64% (that was last week).

  3. I *was* a big spender not too long ago, and through a dare, I became a couponer. It actually has become a bonding experience with my friends, and it has opened us up to be alot more honest with one another about our lifestyle, and frankly, how dishonest we all were about the way we lived “before.” I spend around three hours a week clipping, and I enjoy going shopping and seeing what I can get for free or ridiculously cheap. We have had triple coupons this weekend at our local grocery and 1) it’s amazing what you can get for $100 — $400 worth of stuff, 2) it’s amazing how much you can give away to local food banks who are suffering right now.

  4. I LOVE to shop with coupons for items that are on sale. I have to be very careful not to buy things that I wouldn’t buy normally & I don’t stock up too much (mainly because we don’t have space for it. It gives me a rush to see how little I can spend for an item.

  5. Hi…
    I don’t spend a lot of time on it. I have one store that I usually shop with my coupons.

  6. Jesse Bouche says

    Seriously, if you’re buying something just because it’s on sale, you’re not saving money – you’re wasting it.

  7. That’s a great idea about donating things, Momma. I’d bet someone could almost start a not-for-profit that literally searched for freebies and giveaways that would all go towards a charity of some sort. Gaming the system for a good cause.

  8. I coupon, but I don’t spend a lot of time on it. I have one store that I usually shop with my coupons. And about once a month I make the rounds and hit the stores with good free-after-rebate deals.

    You’re absolutely right about stockpiling a bunch of stuff you’ll never use. Like Momma, I like to donate anything I pick up free/cheap that I won’t use. And I think people need to realize that sales & coupons go in cycles. You only need a three month supply of something to last until the next time you’ll get a great deal.

  9. Momma @ 3princessesmomma.com says

    I definitely am a couponing Momma. I have even developed a Coupon Management System and written an ebook with all of my strategies for saving money. However, I don’t stockpile stuff that I won’t use. I DO buy things (well, only if I can get them free with a coupon) that we won’t use. But whatever we get that we won’t use goes into a donation box that we share with family, friends, and local homeless and abuse shelters. Nothing goes to waste, we feel good about helping, and my inability to pass up a great deal is justified (ok… to myself anyway!). You’re right, though. There is nothing frugal about filling a basement full of crap you won’t use …no matter how much you saved on it.

  10. Like anything else, it needs to be done in moderation. You need to find a balance between being frugal and being, frankly, quite insane.

    I like clipping and using coupons for items that we normally purchase. It’s like found money. I’ve even gone shopping on double-coupon day just to save a little more.

    But I’m not going to go all crazy about it.