The Couponer’s Diet: A Cautionary Tale

Two years ago I became a Stay At Home Mom. My husband got a new job that paid well enough (if he worked a million hours a week) for me to be home with our 4 kids. It wasn’t going to be luxurious, but we would be able to get by. Creating a budget (and sticking to it), ditching steep daycare costs, and couponing, among other frugal endeavors seemed to be good ideas to help us maintain our lifestyle. So far, so good.

I had never couponed before. Occasionally, I would see a printed coupon generously left by a couponing samaritan on the shelf and would snag the savings. Other than that, I was a couponing virgin. I never clipped or printed coupons. I never perused the weekly sales fliers, never visited couponing sites or blogs. I had no concept of the savings available. I didn’t understand how coupons worked. I’d heard some stores in my area doubled coupons but with quantity and transaction restrictions? How did people keep all these coupon rules straight?  I’d never had the time to invest in trying to save money before between working outside the home and playing Mom.

After a few weeks of being home I had completely embraced couponing. I was amazed by all the savings available on brand websites, Facebook pages, and couponing sites. I was buying multiple Sunday newspapers and asking family and friends for their unwanted inserts. I quickly figured out the details of how couponing worked, the jargon, the best way to get the most for my husband’s hard earned dollar.

After almost a year of serious couponing, I had a nice little stockpile going and was proudly sharing my “saving” trips with friends. I even conquered the drug stores. After my first trip to Walgreens with coupons, I came home with over $40.00 worth of Right Guard for Men bodywash and deodorant for free.  It was my “Ah Ha” moment. That trip led to the beginning of this very blog.

Using coupons has saved us a ton of money. Our food costs could be astronomical with 6 family members (including one teenage boy), but because of coupons we are able to save that money for other necessities and even a few luxuries like DirecTv.

That being said, about 6 months ago something came to light. My 3 girls (ages 10, 7, and 3) had their annual physicals. I usually try to schedule them all together, right in a row…to avoid multiple trips to the doctor’s office. At the end of the appointment, I was stunned to learn that all 3 of the girls had a more than slight bump in their weight chart. It was substantial enough for their pediatrican to ask if there had been any big changes in their diets. It seemed crazy to me that all 3 of them had gained weight? I agreed to be more aware of the menu plan at home and to encourage a little more physical activity and also made a follow up “weigh-in” appointment in 6 months to see if there were any weight changes.

The next week I was making my grocery shopping list with my coupons at hand and focused a little more on what I was buying. I had some great coupons that week that would double making for extraordinary savings. Boxed meals for just $.25, bottled juice for $.75, and cereal for $1.00 a box, were just a few of the items on my list. While a serving here or there of these type of processed foods isn’t a big deal, I wondered. I was pretty sure my couponing habit was making our family fat.


I had gotten a little bit carried away with savings. I was so excited to be buying brand name chips for 1/3 of the price, 6 packs of soda for $1.50, and frozen pies for under $2.00, I didn’t realize how much processed, artificial, and preservative ridden food I was bringing home. The kids (and my own) weight gain was the proof. So we made some changes. Less processed foods, more fresh options. less boxed goodies, more natural products…and a little more physical activity.

I’m happy to report that at our follow up appointment, all three of my girls had actually lost a few pounds (they had also had some kind of crazy height growth spurt) so their charts evened out nicely. It was really gratifying to see those results. Couponing really can affect the kind of foods you stock your cupboards with and ultimately what kind of diet you feed your family. What I learned? I still coupon, I still save money. But, I do it a lot smarter now with a different priority. It’s not just about saving money. It’s about getting the best foods for your family for less.

The fact is: If I buy it, we eat it. If there is fresh fruit, veggies, nuts, and other healthy options, that’s what we eat. If the cupboards are stacked with boxed meals, bags of chips, and sugary snacks, guess what? We eat that. With my new awareness of coupons, I am making big changes and instead of buying 4 boxes of that one dish meal maker at $.25 a box, I skip it. Just because it’s a great deal, doesn’t mean we need it. So, the lesson here? Take a second to think about not just the money you are saving while clipping coupons, but also what you are getting for your savings.

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46 Responses

  1. Chrishelle says:

    With my whole family on a new, healthier eating diet plan I am having to re-examine my shopping habits. I too love couponing, but you have to be careful because a lot of the crap food is available very cheap with coupons.

  2. Trice says:

    I love to coupon it help out my house so much because we are limited on funds.

  3. Debbie Denny says:

    I hope to see more healthy food coupons out there in the future!

  4. Eileen says:

    My cousins who live in the US practice couponing but they only avail of basic household necessities like toilet paper, liquid soap, detergents, etc. It is sad that we have to pay premium prices for things that are good for you and put up the empty calorie stuff on rock bottom prices. In the Philippines, most discount coupons are for services which are not beneficial for the common person (spa treatments, hair and make-up services, hotel accomodations). Thank you for sharing. I salute a great mom like you for being proactive in keeping your kids on the healthy path.

  5. Becky says:

    I was the same way! I used to coupon, but I felt like I was buying so much junk food, so now I don’t do as much ‘food’ couponing (more deodorant, toothpaste, etc…) & buy produce, etc… (but on the day-old shelf to still save. LOL. 4 kiddos here, too) 🙂

  6. I have tried to coupon but I just can’t get the hang of it. I think I probably need to spend more time at it. But I’m currently not eating anything processed so for this reason it might be harder. This is a great blog and thanks for sharing!

  7. Debi says:

    Its awful that this is what the country has come too.

  8. I have started couponing for the same reasons that you did. I still make sure that I buy healthy fruits and veggies to go with the others stuff. I found that I can buy chicken breasts at Target cheaper than I can at Walmart because of Target coupons and Cartwheel. We typically eat chicken in our house and use meat based meals occasionally. I love that I found that I can get our basic necessities cheaper and I try not to pay full price for those items.

  9. Jmaie says:

    I shop at Aldi, so I really don’t coupon because I really never got into it….but maybe I’ll pick it up!

  10. I think couponing can be such a slippery slope. It is so easy to get caught in the “deal” and not realize that you could be buying much healthier foods for about the same price per serving.

  11. Kristyn says:

    i use to coupon like no other and got so much stuff free that i didnt even realize everything i put in my body was so unhealthy and i wound up with health issues. I now eat unprocessed healthy raw all natural organic fresh foods.

  12. Pauline C. says:

    Ah, I think I need to get on this coupon thing! I don’t really use coupons all the time because I usually forget them =/ I love junks, so I guess I don’t have a problem with getting coupons:-)

  13. G.s. Marjara says:

    Coupening is one unique thing that if you learn the art to manage it you can make a living out of this. My friend Lisa is going through tough phase of her life being single mom of two home school kids and amazingly she is able to find most of her stuff out of coupening.

  14. I use to coupon but didn’t do it regularly. And now they are cutting back on coupons or the discounts you get for using coupons.

  15. katherine says:

    Same here. We used to coupon but I don’t buy a lot of the brands that make coupons at all because most of my stuff is healthy.

  16. It’s hard to coupon and eat healthy. There aren’t many coupons for fruits and veggies.

  17. I agree with you ..Couponing Only Works if You Eat Junk Food..Actually food you get at really great prices is not really so healthy ex: chips, candy, cookies, and lots of processed stuff which could definitely be left out of the grocery budget totally. I have a terrible sweet-tooth and really love all that stuff, but if I got that much I know it would not be so good for my waistline.

  18. You make such a good point to not just buy something simply for the deal. Think about it first! Really good lesson here.

  19. Great points to talk about! And is it really savings if you don’t NEED the item? I’d rather not buy some products at all rather than tell myself I got a deal, especially if it’s an unhealthy one!

  20. I agree, I love couponing too but most of the great deals are on “junk”. So easy to gain weight on the coupon foods! Thank you – great post and for making people aware!

  21. Shannon says:

    A great article that a lot of people need to read. Just because it is cheap doesn’t mean you should buy it! I agree with couponing (as much as you can in Canada anyways), but within reason. My rule of thumb – I cook meals based on what kinds of foods are a) in season b) on sale in the store flyer.

  22. Rita Von says:

    Ain’t that the truth! The affordable foods, and the ones made more affordable by coupons are most certainly processed. My sister and I coupon together, and we buy some of the processed things for a nice stock pile but we had to stop being so focused on savings and more focused on labels when we realized that her children too had gained weight and actually, had become lethargic.

    Great post, great word of warning!

  23. Debi says:

    It’s awful that this is what the world has come to. I hope that it changes sooner then later.

  24. Jenn says:

    I have cut way back on couponing from what it once was. Not so much for the unhealthy fact but I was trying to get every sale. Now I know if I dont need it I dont buy it which has actually saved me more money. There was more temptation as well, with always having 10 brownie mixes on hand. Now I buy 2 🙂

  25. Kathy Balman says:

    Great post and kuddos to you for making the change. I pretty much stopped couponing for pretty much the same reason. I found that I could go to Aldis and get healthy food (and gluten free) and still be under budget. We are also a one income family. I still get the good deals when I can on toiletries though. You could also still get the great deals and donate the food to a pantry!

  26. This is exactly why I stopped couponing, even the hair care, soaps- they are all toxic too. You are better off making your own toothpaste, soap etc.

  27. Great post! And you’re so right. We don’t need to buy something just because it’s on sale. We should buy it if we need it and it’s the right thing for us. Good for you 🙂

  28. Every since Extreme Couponing became an obsession of many I always wondered about the diets of those families.There is never coupons for healthy & fresh foods which is such a shame & yes, couponing is such a slippery slope.

  29. Brittnei says:

    I’ve been reluctant to coupon because a lot of the products that have them tend to not be natural, etc. So I’ve started to make my own things at home sometimes too to avoid paying all the extra money for the organic or natural soaps and things. I’m still figuring it out sort of but things have been changing with our finances so I hope to be able to do more DIY and buy more natural, fresh foods from farmer’s markets that grow local produce 🙂 Thanks for sharing your story! I’m sure so many can relate!

  30. Kim says:

    Great points! I think we can get caught up in the “look how much I’m saving” rush rather than taking a step back and asking, “do we really need this” or better yet, would I have bought it (or different brand that is interchangeable) if I didn’t have a coupon? That is the true test, right? I’m glad you saw what was happening and could correct it before it made too big an impact on your family’s health!

  31. I am horrible at using coupons. HORRIBLE!! Well, kinda. If I remember it’s awesome but the frustrating part is that here the stores here are nothing like what you see on t.v.
    We can’t stack coupons or mix coupons so it can be quite challenging sometimes.
    I totally agree with Pam. Why can’t I get a coupon for Kale?

  32. Pam says:

    It’s hard to find coupons for my daughter’s special dietary needs. Most coupons really are for junk food! I wish there were coupons for healthy foods.

  33. Jennifer B says:

    This is a real eye opener about couponing. I used to do the coupon thing before my youngest was born and had a nice stockpile going as well. I also noticed how cheap all of the bad food was. We don’t do it anymore, mostly because I don’t have the time and just stick with meal planning and choosing healthy foods.

  34. Great post! I have never coupon before but always wanted too. Thanks for sharing, it will definitely open my eyes up a little more!

  35. Malia says:

    I wish there were coupons for fruits and veggies and all the other healthy foods!

  36. Helene Cohen Bludman says:

    Definitely a word to the wise. I have clipped coupons all my life, but only the ones that are for things I would buy anyway. You definitely can get carried away thinking of all the money you’re saving, but most coupons are for unhealthy items.

  37. Sara says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on this. I’ve couponed for years and would end up with 20 boxes of brownie mix or bottles of soda and had a similar “a-ha” moment. I still use coupons but more for household & beauty items. Saving on these staples helps to free up my grocery budget for healthier “real” foods. 🙂

  38. Kungphoo says:

    You went from one extreme to the other! the savings is amazing!

  39. Jenn says:

    That is a crazy story! WOW! I agree with you, its sad that it costs so much to eat healthy and you can only save on the ‘garbage’ products.

  40. Cyndi says:

    Great advice! It’s a shame that all of the great deals are on junk food! Luckily I get monthly coupons from my local grocery store for fresh veggies and healthy items and not just the junk food. My bill is a little more, but at least we’re not eating a bunch of crap we don’t need.

  41. brett says:

    i stopped crazy couponing years ago for the same reasons — while you can get some great deals on good for you products, a lot of the time you end up with lots of processed foods that we don’t normally eat. so i stopped. i stock up on freebies we WILL use or consume, or if they are free or close to it, we donate to shelters. we decided we’d rather cut back in other areas so we can do more fresh foods

  42. Jeanette says:

    Coupons are great I like using it when I shop clothes mostly:)

  43. Kisa says:

    The reason I’ve yet to get into couponing is because every time I did I always found the bulk of coupons were just for junk food. I’ve stuck to just watching weekly sales to help me plan menu’s when it comes to meat and things like that. So I can avoid too much of the overly processed junks.

  44. Neva says:

    You are a breath of fresh air! I’m in my 70’s and was frustrated that I couldn’t make the couponing work better for me. This was mainly because so many of the “deals” is something processed and unhealthy. You’re my hero.

  45. Yes! I can’t scream that louder! YES! I used to coupon and stopped when we decided to get healthier and eat more whole foods.

  46. My husband and I have discussed this before as well. It’s so frustrating how “good for you” food costs more than “crap”. We throw away so many coupons because, like you mentioned, they’re for sugar cereal, sodas, chips, etc…that we don’t normally eat.

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