Frugal Gilbert Gottfried vs. Extravagant Alan Thicke

TV provides us with endless hours of “entertainment” and I’ve made it known that I’m not cancelling my cable subscription anytime soon. Last night Celebrity Wife Swap ended up on our TV. Normally these shows are pretty trashy and ridiculous, but last night’s episode was pretty funny from a personal finance perspective.

Celebrity Wife Swap takes two couples who used to be famous and have the couples switch wives for a time period. They always pick two couples that are opposites in some manner of their personalities which provides for interesting TV (well… I guess that depends on your opinion).

Last night the two celebrities that swapped wives were Gilbert Gottfried, a comedian and the voice of the bird in Aladdin, and Alan Thicke, the actor that played Jason Seaver on Growing Pains. The focus of the episode was frugality… well, at least as far as celebrities can be frugal.

Alan Thicke’s Family

Alan and his family live the lavish life in Santa Barbara. They had a huge house… or maybe mansion is a more appropriate description complete with a staff. Alan obviously did well managing his money (and probably royalties from the show) and seems to use his money to live the life.

Who can blame him though? He worked hard for the money and he should get to use it!

Gilbert Gottfried’s Family

Gilbert’s family lives in a much smaller apartment in New York City. It was huge for NYC, but tiny compared to Alan’s estate. Gilbert’s family is the exact opposite of Alan’s family in terms of financial philosophies. Gilbert is very frugal, or at least that is how he was portrayed on the show.

Granted, Gilbert probably hasn’t made as much money as Alan Thicke had over his lifetime but I’m sure Gilbert has done well compared to most Americans. Gilbert’s family shops at the 99 cent store because “dollar stores are just too dang expensive”.

He tries to win free tickets to shows and is frugal in other ways such as not driving (or even having a driver)in NYC. He actually walks most places (expected in NYC) or takes the bus or subway. As a celebrity of sorts, this surprised me.

The Wife Swap

I have to admit that this was one of the most civil episodes I’ve seen. During the first part of the show the new wives followed the normal lifestyles of their new husbands. As you might have expected, Alan’s wife wasn’t a huge fan of the frugal ways and Gilbert’s wife enjoyed the benefits of the lavish lifestyle but felt a bit uncomfortable.

Alan’s wife was able to experience the 99 cent store, the subway and how to get a free meal from a friend by eating in the kitchen of one of Gilbert’s friend’s restaurants. All things that she never would have done in her life with Alan. I was surprised by how frugal Gilbert was. He actually had a large bag of hotel shampoo bottles in his bedroom! I don’t even do that…

Gilbert’s wife seemed to enjoy the lavish lifestyle Alan lived but she definitely thought it was over the top and excessive. She got to experience having a staff of workers to maintain the house, a personal make up and hair stylist and a personal chef for parties! Those definitely sound like an experience, but don’t add any true value to your life other than avoiding chores you don’t like.

Switching the Rules

When the rules switched Alan’s family was in for a surprise. Gilbert’s wife got rid of the house staff and made Alan and his son do all of the chores around the house. She also made them buy a meaningful gift at the 99 cent store and eat at a local restaurant instead of a fancy restaurant.

I think this made Alan’s family realize how lucky they were to be able to live the lifestyle they do. I’m sure it made them more appreciative of their staff. It also made Alan realize how he needs to put more thought into presents rather than just buying expensive gifts.

Gilbert’s family was in for a similar surprise when the rules were swapped. Alan’s wife made Gilbert invite some friends over for a dinner party and hire a private chef. He tried to get off easy by ordering a couple pizza’s but Alan’s wife wouldn’t let him. He enjoyed having his friends over, but admitted the same could have been done by just ordering a couple large pizzas.

Alan’s wife also made Gilbert take her out to a fancy dinner. At this point, Alan’s wife felt more in her element and they were able to connect and talk about their lives. He even paid the bill with 2 $100 bills which is a huge deal for Gilbert (and would be for me too)! He did realize it is nice to splurge every now and then and enjoy a nice time out with his spouse.

Overall, the most interesting part was to see that there are frugal celebrities out there. I had no clue because you rarely hear about them. You normally hear about the sports stars who go bankrupt after their career ends but never about the celebrities who manage their money and wealth well. Gilbert’s lifestyle was a nice change of pace from the normal excess you seem from celebrities on TV.

Did you see Celebrity Wife Swap last night? Did you enjoy the show or have any other highlights you’d like to share? Do you think that Gilbert is the exception as a frugal celebrity? Do you think Alan will apply anything that Gilbert’s wife tried to teach him?

Like What You See?

Join the other readers who have signed up for our email newsletter! No spam, just periodic updates to help improve your finances!

About Lance Cothern

Lance Cothern, a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) licensed in the Commonwealth of Virginia, is the founder of Money Manifesto. You can read more about him here or connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Pinterest.


  1. Since having our son and spending a lot more time in front of the TV while nursing him back to sleep I have become semi addicted to wife swap. I haven’t seen this episode, but it sounds good.

  2. No, sadly, I missed that episode last night. 😉 I think that Gilbert isn’t the exception that some might think. Now, he might be on the extreme end on frugality for a “celebrity”, but I definitely think there are more like him than we’d imagine.

  3. Haven’t seen the show. The public is normally more interested in the celebrity casualty or blowup than they are in them doing something right. Just because they make a lot of money the public thinks they are smart which is not true.

  4. Gilbert is frugal, I can tell you firsthand! I work at a large Las Vegas casino and he was there performing for one week. I ran into him on the casino floor and he was asking me for directions for a place to eat, and he had one specific place in mind: the employee dining room. So I escorted him down there and he had dinner for free!

  5. I have made it known that I don’t plan on cancelling my cable subscription anytime soon either. Call it a vice that I need to overcome, but tv shows this day in age are just too good! I remember Gilbert Gottfried when he use to host late night television on USA television network. Thanks for this blast from the past.

  6. That was a great episode last night. I’m a little disappointed that they are going back to “regular” people. I was really surprised at how frugal Gottfried was – I wasn’t expecting it at all. I loved when they had dinner at the back kitchen of that restaurant for free. I really wonder how much of it was played up for the camera.

  7. Interesting, and no I didn’t think there were any frugal celebrities out there but it’s nice to know now!

  8. Interesting concept! I didn’t even know the celebrity version of that show existed. Frugal is such an interesting concept because we can look at celebrities as a totally different creature. Some are still frugal but have big houses per say…but it’s all relative to their income. I have heard of some celebs being downright cheap though with something like tips at restaurants.

  9. Stanley Telega says:

    He was on the Howard Stern show and Howard was talking about his extreme cheapness. He said “Gilbert, don’t you realize that by never tipping the waiters will spit in your food?”
    Gilbert said “If they stopped I might complain that the food didn’t taste right”

Share Your Thoughts