Cutting Coupons: Feeding a Family for Pennies a Day

I've watched this video (below) be passed around like wildfire over the past several months. Everyone seems intrigued - you can feed a family of SIX on just $4.00 a week?!

In theory, it is a great idea -- spend several hours a week searching for ads, cutting coupons, and planning your shopping excursion, to see your total bill drop from $200.00 to 1-cent!

Unfortunately, I am not convinced the benefits are just what they appear to be on the surface.

Take a close look at the items you are typically able to get for free. Check out this mother's pantry. All of the food we are able to stock pile as part of free shopping venues through our coupon cutting is not WHOLE, healthy, food that really does a body good. Rather, it is almost entirely made up of highly processed, prepared, non-living food. Other than the fish this shopper picked up at the start of her visit, her basket is filled with items that are not doing much service to the health of her own growing kids (or herself). Where are all the fresh fruits and vegetables? The whole grains? The 'cruelty free' meat (if there is such a thing) that has not been injected with antibiotics and hormones?

Are we really saving money on groceries today if we have a bigger health bill tomorrow?

In addition, the time spent searching and cutting coupons (as well as the extra time spent shopping for just the right item on your coupons, just the right amount to make these coupons work for you) may not be worth the trade in hours of time spent with your family doing something you all enjoy.

Add to this the fact that most food item coupons (not all - but many) are those that must be used on particular brands and in particular stores. This eliminates a lot of our choices in where we shop and the foods we select (i.e. from companies who use sustainable practices for example). It is our money that is our voting power for the foods we want and the type of stores we wish to shop at.

Finally, most extreme couponers need a place to stockpile their stash. I'm not convinced this mini-scale hoarding of items is the most healthy way to be obtaining and using our resources. Products/food could be donated, which may be one thing some goodwill extreme couponers end up doing in the future.

For now, I'd rather spend $100 on fresh, whole foods; shop in a location that I know is respectful of where food comes from (Whole Foods, Heritage, Roots Market, Hansen's Dairy, a local farmers market, etc.); and spend the extra time cooking up a scrumptious, health-conscious meal with my family.



  1. I could not agree more. I've been discussing the "couponing" with my whole foods friends, and we've decided that we don't want someone else deciding what our family eats. Coupons wouldn't help me save much since 50% of what I buy is from the farmer's market, and the other 50% is store brand. People tell me I can still save money on cosmetics and cleaning supplies, but as far as I can tell, there are no coupons for green cosmetics or for vinegar, baking soda, and borax. The next time someone offers me a coupon for my local grass-fed beef and garden fresh salad I'll take it. Until then, I'll enjoy giving the farmers the money they've worked for.

  2. Sometimes I see coupons for things I would buy, but usually not. I put the energy I could put into couponing into making our bread, making foods from scratch, etc.

  3. I agree with some of what you said. I still coupon, but not like I did when I didn't pay as much attention to what we eat. I still manage to feed my family of 3 well on $200/mth including toiletries and cleaning supplies, but I could do it on less when we ate processed. I still think it's worth the extra hour a week that I spend while my daughter is napping to save my goal of 50% each shopping trip. We couldn't afford to eat organic and healthy if I didn't do it this way!

  4. That's fine if you have $200 to spend on groceries. Not everyone does, and she feeds her family the best she can with what she has. Sometimes, I only have $20 to feed us for two weeks (3 people-one man, one pregnant woman, and one toddler). Not everyone has options. She was also on TV, and wanted to show how much she saves. Even if she normally buys fruits and veggies, meats, etc., she isn't going to on this trip, because it would have driven her total up. She probably purchases those items separately. I cook from scratch, and only use coupons for free items or very low cost items to save for a pinch. We eat beans, etc. I get coupons for all sorts of organic and natural products as well. EarthBound Farms, Laura's Lean beef, Horizon Organic, etc. But they are a lot fewer and farther between. Please don't judge her and those like her because they don't have $200 to go spend on groceries (and how often do you spend that, and for how many people!). That is the most my budget is for a month-ever. That includes all personal care items, toilet paper, etc. I still buy natural and organic where I can, but that is not always feasible.

  5. I never see any coupons for fresh veggies :-/

  6. The most healthy foods you'll probably find coupons for is whole wheat pasta.

  7. I agree ~ the payoff for spending more on healthy foods is a lower health bill. What we put into our bodies matters. Now that I am responsible for feeding my family, I have found it even more important to make wise choices in what we eat. My wife cuts coupons for those things that we would already be buying - but like others have said - coupons for healthy, whole foods are few and far between.

    As Meg mentioned, I'd also prefer to give local farmers what they deserve for growing good foods for the community.

  8. The issue I have is that most (but not all) coupons are for highly processed foods that you don't need and shouldn't buy. When I get really aggressive about coupon savings, I notice that we end up eating more "crap in a box" -- when I try to achieve REAL savings, we eat better.

    Real savings, to me, means:

    Growing many of our vegetables in a community garden plot

    Shopping at the farmers' market

    Owning a big freezer and buying grass-fed beef and free-range pork from local farmers

    Trading for eggs with our neighbors

    Getting milk delivered by the local grass-fed dairy instead of making $50 trips to the store "for milk"

    Planning meals two weeks at a time so we're not tempted to eat out when we run out of ideas

    Doubling loved recipes and freezing half for another day

    Using the crock pot to cook cheaper cuts of meat

    I've discovered that in order to save AND eat better, I have to invest time. I'd rather spend that time in the garden and in the kitchen instead of cutting coupons, though I still look for coupons for things like feminine products, toilet paper, and school supplies that I can't grow myself or buy local. :-)

  9. Julia you can save on feminine products. No you can't grow them yourself can reuse and save money, your body from absorbing nasty chemicals and the environment.
    If you use pad's: And for tampon use:

  10. Beautifully put Julia. :)

  11. Yep, it is much cheaper to buy whole unprocessed foods than to use coupons for stuff you'd never buy anyway

  12. When I pass the Sunday coupons on to my sister or mom, they exclaim, but you only cut 3 (or 2, etc) out - and i tell them that there is nothing in there that I want. They don't get that.

  13. If a person uses food stamps they get stuck paying tax on a coupon. Stupidest thing i've ever heard of, illogical, but true.

  14. I agree with Julia, the only way to regularly save money on food and cleaning products etc is to plan and invest a bit of time and effort. I am Australian we don't have food stamps, but you do get coupons for different things from time to time in various magazines or newspapers and they do seem to always be for crappy food or products too.

    Tip: bi carb soda and white vinegar is ALL you need for all your cleaning needs. Cheap and gentle on your family and the environment. Bicarb also is the most amazing thing ever for getting rid of heart burn and mild tummy upsets and bloating and also for any spills, wait till it absorbs all the liquid then vacuum it all up.

    I also second the cloth pads, once you use cloth pads, you will never, ever go back to icky uncomfy disposable ones.

  15. Kind of off topic but along the lines of cloth pads... I just started using them and I will never go back to disposable feminine products... ever! This was by far the easiest period I've ever had!

  16. Amen Nakai! I switched to Lunapads about 7-8 years ago and haven't looked back. So much more comfortable, surprisingly un-messy, I don't chafe like I used to, PMS is WAY reduced, period is shorter, just SO many advantages both expected and unexpected! I even converted my sister-in-law. :)

  17. Oh, and yes, it's way cheaper. A bigger investment in the beginning but it wayyyy pays off over time.

  18. I get coupons for organic milk, hormone free/antibiotic free meats, earthbound farms vegetables, etc. Places like mambo sprouts and the manufactures websites are great places.

  19. Coupons don't really help me at all except for toilet paper and cat food. They never apply to the specialty dog food and cat litter I buy. They don't apply to fresh fruit and veggies, or imported rice, noodles, etc and now that I shop in an Asian market that's all I buy.

    Also I have come to the conclusion that Canada doesn't have as many coupons as the US. For one thing there are almost never "store" coupons, by which I mean those that can only be used in one store (for food, we do see some store-only ones for hardware and furniture).

  20. Brenda I agree, coupons down here in the US are almost so overwhelming!!

  21. I try to look for in store specials when I shop, but don't use coupons. I didn't like that she had her pantry stuffed full of crap, like pop tarts. I'm sure my child would LOVE that stuff, but I don't buy it.

  22. I would like to visit a whole food store to see what they have, what their prices are, and if they take food stamps... but I am having problems finding any within a 5-10 mile radius of my home. Everything I've seen is 40 miles away and I can't drive that far just to get groceries.

  23. KJ - I wish.

    There are rarely any in papers or fliers, all we've got is and sometimes I get a "newspaper" of ads with coupons. Reader's digest sometimes has a few. I got one of the coupon thingies today and the only really useful one if for little swimmers, oh and there's a really good one for Pull-ups which I don't use but I know people are always begging for. But $1 off 12 cans of cat food that are 5x the price of what I pay for the brand I buy really doesn't float my boat. And even IF the cat food were on sale it would still be at the absolute cheapest $0.25 per can so it would still be $5 which is not anywhere near free.

  24. I bitched at Breyer's because their double churned is in a black box -which they have always touted as how to tell the "all natural" from the not- and its disgusting and tastes like chemicals. (Ok I know everything is made of chemicals but you know what I mean). That stuff is disgusting. Anyway they sent me a coupon for a free one.

    My mom got something like 10 free bags of dog food when she found a dead mouse in the bag

  25. wow I'm impressed but I have a nursing 6mo old and the idea of going to tons of stores is just not in the cards.. i do use coupons as much as possible but i don't think i have the patience/time to do what that woman did

  26. I'm also from Australia and like Erin said, we see barely any coupons here. They do have a coupon newspaper that I received quarterly but it is for things like carpet cleaning, window tinting and other useless stuff I don't need. Occasionally there are meat coupons, but it never works out to be free.
    We have a lot of cash back offers on cosmetics and feminine wear but you have to jump through hoops to get the cash 'back'.
    I much prefer dedicating my time to my children. In season veges are not that expensive and there are heaps of meat cuts that are lower in cost. Bread is quite easy to make and you know that you have made it preservative free. Pizza can be made for cheaper (and healthier) than any commercial Pizza store, although no one can compete with free.
    I too have switched to cloth pads and a menstrual cup. I will never go back to tampons and disposable pads. I spent $23AUD on a cup. With tampons costing around $2.99-$6.99 for a pack of 20 here, within a few months I will have made that money back in savings.
    Oh and there is a no tree's toilet paper made from cotton and bamboo (I guess it is a tree lol) which is much cheaper than the branded toilet paper. That's my pick because over time it will pay for itself in oxygen.
    If they started printing coupons for whole grains in a bag I would definitely be on board. But from what I see, most coupons are for things that don't really cost a factory anything to make (They've made millions already on selling three parts of a wheat grain separately ie the bran, the germ and the flour - smart move so they can afford to give away some packet pasta side dish away for free).

  27. I have tried to coupon but found that much of what you say is very, very true. A high percentage of the coupons available are not for food I want to buy for my family--especially not my toddler. I try to have a balance because my husband loves processed foods (poptarts, chewy granola bars, etc etc) so I will use the coupons and stock up when those things are on sale. I'm still trying to convince him that preservatives will not 'preserve' his body (he thinks he is soooo funny) LOL

  28. We have a very, very, very frugal budget for just about everything! I've found that the biggest way to save money is to replace it with a little bit of time. It's a lot cheaper (and MUCH healthier) to bake my own bread than it is to buy it from the store. It's a lot cheaper to use non-disposable diapers & menstrual pads, and it's even CHEAPER to make your own! You can use old T-shirts or flannel shirts and save even more money (plus being able to reuse garments that you can't wear any more). I also agree wholeheartedly with using more natural cleaning products. I'd rather have some vinegar, baking soda, borax, and bleach (for when I really NEED to disinfect something) that I can use for a thousand and one uses instead of having some chemical soup that I can only use for one thing.

  29. I usually can't find any coupons for items we use unless I go to the stores' website (Target). I agree that I would way rather have fresh fruit and veggies.

    Having said that, there is a pandemic in America particularly in poverty stricken areas - more fast food restaurants, less grocery stores. People on a very tight budget aren't going to have the same food options as someone with the ability to buy whatever groceries they want.

    I expect we only saw a snapshot of this woman's ability to stay on budget for her family. I am impressed that this woman could do as well as she did - that speaks volumes about her ability to keep her families' food budget within her means. Kudos to her!

  30. Brenda

    The reusable swim diapers are way better & cheaper than disposable ones if you swim with any frequency. I have two, just in case and have saved a bundle ($ and enviro) by not using the disposables.

  31. THANK YOU! It saddens me that people are so willing to sacrifice their family's health for some extra money. Food, Inc. was fantastic and pointed out that you just cannot expect to feed your family a whole, healthy, natural diet and not invest more money than you would on a diet of canned and processed stuff. It's sad that real food is so expensive, but my healthy, organic veg*n diet is my number one priority, even if it means that I can't spend as freely as my friends. BTW, it doesn't mean's entirely possible to eat healthily on a reasonable budget, it just takes a lot of work, and people don't want to put in the time.

  32. I didn't watch the video, but I can take a guess at what the woman bought based on the comments. That said, just b/c you coupon does not mean you eat like crap.

    I coupon. I do not spend more than 1 hour prepping for my grocery trip per week. And our grocery trips never take longer than 1.5 hours (which is a mere 15 minutes longer than it took before I started couponing) So I really resent the statement that somehow couponing is taking away precious time from my children.

    I have a family of 5, including 1 in diapers. I spend LESS than $50 per week. I admit the worst food I buy is our cereal. Other than that I get a lot of fresh fruits and veggies. Is it all organic? No, but not all of it has to be (going by the 'Deadly Dozen') but I do buy organics. I cannot afford the organics at our farmers market BUT with my coupons I can afford the organics and MORE fresh produce at my grocery store (which happens to also promote and sell for local farmers). Plus we make about 95% of our meals from scratch. So to me, taking that hour of time is completely worth it.

    For example, this past week. I prepped for 15 minutes for a quick run to the store. I ended up getting $92 worth of food for $11. The main part of my bill: organic lettuce, organic tomatoes, bananas, grapefruits, strawberries, pears...among other things such as 4 bags of coffee, 4 boxes of granola cereal. So really, coupons are 'bad'?? I don't think so. It's all in how smart the shopper is.

    Also, if you don't have a lot for organics/fresh foods. You can use coupons to always get items like razors, toilet paper, toothbrushes, toiletries in general, make up, etc for free. If you're not having to spend money on that, that frees you up to spend more on the better foods. That's how I am able to spend so little money every week. I am stocked up on all of that stuff so I don't have to account for it in a weekly budget anymore.

    Btw, there ARE coupons for organic and produce and even meat at time. The key is to know where to get them and how to use them. At my main store (Publix) they allow a LOT of competitor coupons. I am able to pull off things like my quick run mentioned above by using competitor coupons for produce.

    AND you can still get really good deals at your local health food store. All you have to do it check out your favorite manufacturers website. If they don't have coupons there, email them and ask. More often than not, someone will send you coupons. I know at Whole Foods, you can use a manufacturer coupon PLUS a Whole Foods coupon PER ITEM. Pair those up to the item when its on sale and you can save good money.

    So all I'm saying is that coupons is NOT a waste of time for everyone, not everyone can afford $200 a week to spend on their food (as Peaceful Parenting boasts she does) and they shouldn't be made to feel bad if they can't. And it does NOT mean that just b/c you use coupons that you eat like crap. Considering how much research is typically shown on the articles here, I'm a little surprised that more wasn't researched or looked at before basing the opinion on couponing off of one couponer.

  33. Saving Obsession & Anon (above) -

    This post was not meant to be 'anti-coupon' in any way -- by all means, if they are there, and you are going to buy the items anyway, USE THEM!

    I clip coupons for items that we will already be buying - of course! And I did not say that we spend $200/week on items. What I said was that I would RATHER spend $200/week on groceries than take away time with my family and be forced to by sub-par nutritional items for everyone to consume.

    I'd RATHER invest now than be forced to invest in their health in the future. Quality food is simply more expensive than junk food -- I do not agree with our government's form of supplementing *crap* rather than whole, healthy items and the small farmers who grow them in sustainable ways. Nor do I agree with the marketing of unhealthy food to those in lower socioeconomic brackets (including the options given through most WIC programs). Everyone, and especially everyone's children, deserve high quality, real food.

    If you are able to make healthy, proactive nutritional choices in your area by 'couponing' - GREAT!! I applaud you and wish that I had access to the quick and easy and usable coupons that you have.

  34. Well said!

    The only coupons I ever use are the ones attached to smoothies, that say $0.25 off, or similar. I buy items on sale, but they'd only already be items we eat.

    We choose to eat a vegan whole foods (as possible) diet. I rarely find a coupon that supports that.

    Thank you for this.

  35. "The reusable swim diapers are way better & cheaper than disposable ones if you swim with any frequency. I have two, just in case and have saved a bundle ($ and enviro) by not using the disposables."

    Ok, I guess I should explain, public pools here will only allow cloth swim diapers if they have certain certification on the swim diaper, and those aren't actually on the "permanent" tag for the cloth diaper, or at least not on the ones I've found. So *sometimes* can convince them its a real swim diaper, and sometimes I can't.

  36. I disagree, to a point. Once upon a time, we were broke ALL. THE. TIME! I looked at where our money was going. We spent about $600 in one month at the grocery store and another $400 eating out. What? Our cupboards should have been overflowing and we should've been fat but neither was the case. So we set a budget $100 per week, we clip coupons and we paid close attention to the sale adds. We go to the store as a team and we go late at night so we don't get the urge to just grab and get the hell out. We eat better now than we ever did. We have more fresh fruits and veggies in the house, and the money we save on stuff like shampoo, detergent and green (yes green!) cleaning supplies translates into more money to buy farm fresh eggs & meats. Typically, the amount we save with coupons is about what the sales tax adds up to be, so no, we aren't eating for $.04 but we are eating better for cheaper!

  37. I know this has already been pointed out above that this wasn't meant to discourage saving money or to judge those who don't have the $$ to buy the best food. One other perspective to consider is how many of us who follow natural parenting practices and who love this blog likely fall in a certain socioeconomic bracket--and "our" own middle class bias is hard to avoid. This has become apparent to me as I've moved from living a middle class lifestyle to very strained in the past several months, and I do welcome the awareness that has come with it. Yes ideally we'd all buy the healthiest food for our families and have better future health--it is not enjoyable to me to eat cheap, less healthy food process foods and skimp on fruits and vegetables (I'm so sad I don't dare go to the farmer's market this summer, I just can't afford it). I'm pregnant and have a toddler, and it breaks my heart to not be nourishing these little bodies optimally. But being cheap at the grocery store is not about "saving money", it's about stretching the $40 we have for a week's worth of groceries for three people (and baby on the way). Argh. Admittedly this hit a sore spot for me to read this and the comments, I don't hold it against anyone for having these values and I know people aren't meaning to be judgmental, but just felt the need to vent a little as well as hopefully raise some level of awareness that we are not all living the middle class dream where we have these choices. :)

  38. We all make sacrifices for those things that are important to us. In our home, when I left a full time career with a large University to raise my child, we went from living on 2 incomes, to 1 military income (which is very little for those unfamiliar with military pay). As a result, we gave up many things - we sold several items like a television and video game counsel. We disconnected the cable. We moved from a house to an apartment. We started buying second hand clothes only when they were needed, etc. We humbled ourselves and our lifestyle in MANY ways so that the one thing we could continue to obtain was healthy food for ourselves and our family.

    We all make choices, and while we may not all be able to get to a Whole Foods or Farmers' Market, even in the grocery store we do shop, we can make wise decisions with our dollar.

    Having looked into this subject some before on a professional level, and then having it hit home in a very real way, I fully believe that we each decide (consciously or unconsciously) what is important to us and that is where we invest our resources into achieving.

    It reminds me of Halfmoon's book, "Primal Mothering in a Modern World" -- she was a newly single mother of 3, without a job, and she HAD to find a way to make ends meet and feed her family the food that she wanted to be GOOD for them. She succeeded and her story is inspirational.

  39. OK, I didn't read all the comments, but it sounds like you get lots of hurrah out there. I agree with you whole-heartedly. Why is it that you try to buy healthier food with less processing and less additives and even though they put less into it, it costs more???

    My husband thinks we should be using coupons, and I do use them sometimes for non-food items but I work at a Paper Company, so TP and PT and other paper products I can get at work for way less.

    I only shop once a week and only for stuff I cannot make or get free. I make yogurt, we get free veggies and also have a garden and put up lots of veggies. I make bread, but need to buy flour (stone ground whole wheat). I buy butter 'cause it is too expensive for me to make, but I do buy raw milk and can make soft cheese though we buy hard cheese since it is locally made and cost effective. We raise our own meat birds, so chicken is on the menu in many forms and of course eggs. I do buy other meats, beef and pork.

    I work full time, so there's a limit to how much time I can spend preparing food for us. We do not eat processed foods at all.

    So in reality I have a very specific shopping list and only one store I like to shop at. This doesn't go along too well with coupon clipping.

    I love saving... for instance my husband found 5 lb bags of King Arthur Stone Ground Whole Wheat for $1.99 at the dented can store the other day... we bought all they had.

    Well, that's the sermon from my soapbox for the day.

    Thanks for sharing your insights on couponing.

    Mrs. D

  40. As someone who coupons, I constantly have this dilemma. But if you get really good at couponing, you learn ways to make buying the crap in box actually pay for buying the whole foods. Sometimes you get paid $2 overage to buy Hamburger Helper, and you can then use the $2 on fresh produce and donate the hamburger helper to a homeless shelter or something. But it takes a while to get the hang of things enough to be able to pull this off.
    Here's a blog of a woman who combines couponing with eating whole:

  41. I eat a mostly vegan, clean, whole food diet and I am able to save hundreds by using coupons. Whole Foods actually has a LOT of great coupons that you can use, not to mention Mambo Sprouts, Recycle Bank, etc. There are also great almondmilk and soymilk coupons and other healthier items hidden amongst the junk on conventional coupon sites. I will also search for a coupon for a brand that I love and many times I find one! You can also find GREAT coupons for green cleaning products, beauty products, etc. You will never feed your family for "pennies a day" etc. but I have been able to shave about $100 off our monthly food budget while still maintaining a very healthy, mostly organic, mostly vegan lifestyle. Otherwise I enjoy making most all meals from scratch, baking my own bread, etc. to further save on costs and boost nutrition.

  42. I think if someone can afford to feed their family better food at a higher cost hey certainly should try to - that said, my family's income flucuates wildly and right now we are surviving on WIC and about $100 a month for groceries. The only way I could afford to buy better food than I do is to put my kids in daycare and go back to work full time fulltime, which is not happening if I can help it.

    So I coupon - and I can often bring home $200 worth of groceries for $20 or $40 by matching deals and clipping coupons. It's not all locally grown or organic, but my kid eat healthier than I ever did. I was pleasantly surprised when I went back on WIC recently that there is now a special allowance each month for fresh and frozen vegetables and some organic options as well as a farmers market stipend.

    But as a diabtic adult who puts my entire family on a low sugar/low carb diet, it is possible to eat decently on a low budget with coupons if one can spend a few hours each week to do so and shops carefully.

    I just picked up 5 young organic turkeys for $5 each at a local meat market this morning (after christmas markdowns) and I'm munching some Kashi cereal I got for free with a coupon. Couponing means I always have a full pantry and a nice stockpile in the garage.

  43. I sometimes coupon, but find we eat more meat when I do (and I really really dislike meat). Eventually I stopped. The savings were becoming less and less the more I put my foot down about eating meat and packaged foods. The ones for organic meals (frozen) my husband can eat at work, I'd keep. For almond milks, or vitamins (whole food), I'd keep. These are usually in magazines, however, that I don't subscribe to, but would buy once in a while (like Yoga Journal). That said, I just made a decision - the couponing was becoming stressful. The lists, the comparing prices, checking stores, finding the stores didn't have the item and I needed it for a planned meal, etc. - it sucked. So the decision I made was that I'd rather skimp on something else than the food that nourishes my family. Now, I shop FIRST. Then I determine what money is left to budget for everything else, including gas. If we used the budget for gas up, then we go less places, walk more, do something around outside the house. But food comes first, and I won't economize it. Anything that goes in my mouth is medicine and affects me for life. That's how I see it. Do I want something going in it just because I got it cheaper? Not really, no. I don't think veggies should have coupons, especially organic ones, because our dollars spent on food is a vote for better agriculture. So I'm happily turning it over and calling the cable company and credit card companies for lower packages and finance charges. It more than makes up for the healthy difference to cut those out of our budget.



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