The Ultimate Guide to Penny Pinching Review

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AKA: N/A
Genre: Documentary
Year Released: 2011

Distributor: Channel 4

Origin: England/Northern Ireland

Running Time: 47 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: TV-PG
Related Films/Series: N/A

For Fans Of: Minimalism: A Documentary About The Important Things, Extreme Couponing, Small Is Beautiful
Notes: N/A
Fun Facts:
-The narrator Paul Thornley has showed up in Minions and Les Miserables (2012).


Some people have taken extreme measures after there’s a downturn in the economy. Who can blame them? After the Great Recession, some people have figured out ways to save whatever they can to survive and pay their bills. There are a few people who’ve been thrifty since long before that event and have been able to survive on skinflint budgets by choice.

Channel 4’s TV documentary The Ultimate Guide to Penny Pinching is about highlighting some of the thriftiest people out there. The lives of different people in England and Northern Ireland are viewed with their budgeting habits. There’s Judith AKA the Coupon Queen who buys several things at all the supermarkets for only a fraction of the total price as she’s armed to the teeth with coupons and vouchers. There’s Jonathan who hasn’t paid a single penny in meat. How is he able to do that? He grabs roadkill from the streets and barbecues them for him and his friends. There’s Rebecca and Stephen from Northern Ireland who are getting married, but they want to have a nice matrimony for a cheap price. Lastly, there’s the Indian-British man Jalaj who uses his high-tech savvy nature to find the best deals on food and utility items. He goes everywhere with his smartphone that’s equipped to scan barcodes that automatically link him to a website that shows him all the price comparisons for the same item. If Jalaj finds another place that has the same thing for cheaper, he’s willing to go to another place instead to buy that item at a better price.

Before I get to describing the subjects in this documentary, I will say that I wasn’t a fan of the production style of this film. I understand that this was a TV special, but I felt like I was watching a reality show straight out of TLC or TruTV more than a standalone documentary. Even with my issues with fellow Channel 4 doc The Women Who Kill Lions, at least it still felt like a film you can take seriously and not just because of the subject matter. The fact that you have Judith being obsessed with coupons made me feel like I was watching an episode of Extreme Couponing which left a really bad taste in my mouth. I hopefully made this clear that I am not a fan of reality shows or reality show aesthetics. That genre of TV has been overdone for nearly a decade and I’m not a fan of it. 30 Days was the only reality show that I actually found to be decent despite some of it’s flaws and some of my later issues I have with Morgan Spurlock (Did he REALLY have to work on that atrocious Princess of North Sudan project? BLEGH!), and this movie was nothing anywhere close to that.

The presentation of the four stories were of variable quality, to say the least. Judith’s excessive saving is impressive despite how her situation should remind anyone of that other reality show. I do think it’s impressive with how she gets the savings. One aspect with how she gets these coupons is that she’ll give feedback to some companies and they’ll give her free stuff and vouchers. That’s actually smart and I surprisingly agree with that method. Customers should let companies know what works and what doesn’t. I’ll even admit that I’ve talked to companies before especially if they’ve done something really well to earn my loyalty as a paying consumer. I did like how she pulls of charity lunches monthly where the proceeds go to The Fairtrade Organization which I really respect, but it turned me off a bit by saying that if she were a patron to a luncheon, she wouldn’t pay for anything despite getting some good food for said events. 

Jonathan’s story just made my skin crawl. He goes around collecting these fresh roadkill animals to cook and eat. During a scene for him hunting for his meals, he gets a headless pheasant and a squirrel freshly killed. It’s good how he knows if an animal is “usable” or not, but I was just disgusted. The film also reveals that he does taxidermy (OF COURSE!), has authored books on wildlife, and he has a fridge full of roadkill such as random birds, badgers, and even a fox. There’s a mouse in there, but he says it’s not for eating purposes which did surprise me. I don’t want to sound stereotypical, but Jonathan’s roadkill barbecue exploits to save on paying butchers or supermarkets has to be the most redneck thing I’ve seen a British guy do. The fact that he sounds like an intelligent person really threw me off. That’s saying nothing about the reactions his friends give them when they try the squirrel and pheasant meat. 

Jalaj’s arc can be a bit similar to Judith’s except for his high-tech prowess. He’ll spend several minutes or even an hour on his laptop just by researching prices for groceries and other items so he’ll know where to shop around town and he’ll harp on down to the item quantity, weight, etc. He has this down to a science. His wife also confesses that she used to be a shopaholic until she marries Jalaj and she’s been indoctrinated to be a hardcore penny pincher. Sometimes, I found his thriftiness to be very excessive. When they interview the couple, they get asked when was the last time they had a romantic dinner. They say that they haven’t done it years and the last time they had a romantic dinner was at Pizza Hut and even then, they were using coupons to get their meal to be cheaper. Pizza Hut for a romantic dinner? Can someone explain to me why he’s a married man and I’m not? I just shook my head when they were talking about that matter.

I will admit that my favorite story from this documentary was the wedding. There was some skepticism at first given how much of an oddball everyone else was, but it ended up being better than I expected. The two seem to love each other and they have the most sane reasons for saving. Rebecca makes some great points with how newlyweds waste so much money just on things like the cake and the photography alone. I thought it was cool when they were making elaborate floral origami just by using napkins of all things. They get some good food for catering, and the real kicker is that they get marries in a castle which is just awesome. I’ve seen and been at weddings that wish they could be in a snazzy locale to get married. The final cost of Rebecca and Stephen’s wedding was 1459 pounds. When I did the currency exchange rates while writing this review (context: if this wedding were to happen this year instead of 2011), that rounds up to $1883.85. That is phenomenal how they were able to have a nice wedding with a sliver of the cost of most weddings. My hat’s off to those two Northern Irish lovebirds.

I believe the presentation of most of these stories adds a problem to anyone who’s trying to save money for pragmatic or self-controlling reasons. Most of these people look crazy when it comes to squeezing every penny (especially Jonathan’s roadkill exploits) and can turn off viewers once they watch it. There’s also another element which will backfire and this applies to Judith and Jalaj’s stories the most. What they’re doing could easily be interpreted as “Reverse Materialism” (check out Emily Curry‘s and Lisa Strader’s articles on that subject). It’s this arrogance of showing that they can save more money than the rest of the population which rubbed me the wrong way. That mindset reminded me of an ex-friend who always bragged about being frugal, but he came across as a jerk by not wanting to do some things even if it was cheap or nothing to go to some events or whatever. It’s great to be financially responsible, but being frugal can be self-righteous if done for the wrong reasons and most of the subjects in that documentary have varying degrees of that mindset.

The Ultimate Guide to Penny Pinching is a documentary that hurts it’s own argument most of the time. Most of the people shown come across as bizarre and arrogant individuals as they get more things with smaller prices even if they’re not vying for luxury products. The visuals and aesthetics came across like a dime-a-dozen reality show which can be off putting for most viewers. The budget wedding of Rebecca and Stephen was a huge saving grace with the couple’s strong arguments and the wedding itself being quite impressive with the shoestring budget. Johnathan’s story was just nasty with all of those dead animals being served up just to save a few pounds on buying meat like most of the population. This documentary wasn’t a good argument in terms of saving money.


Adjustable Point System:
Add 2 points if you like reality shows
Subtract 1 point if you like great cinematography



Pros:

-Rebecca and Stephen’s wedding
-Quirky musical score
-Judith’s business savviness and generous nature

Cons:

-Johnathan’s story (No…just no.)
-Moral myopia with reverse materialism
-Reality show-type production (and the mediocre budget therein)



Final Score: 4/10 points

Content Warning: Netflix gave it a TV-PG rating which I think is fair. The only objectionable thing would be Johnathan’s scenes. You see a headless pigeon and a squirrel corpse on the road. He also prepares the food where he’s skinning and plucking the animals briefly before he throws them in his barbecue. Just don’t watch his scenes after eating unless you’re into that kind of stuff.

-Curtis Monroe

All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws.

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