Judge John Hodgman on Frugality

One of my favorite podcasts currently is Judge John Hodgman (JJHo).  The premise of the show is that John Hodgman (of The Daily Show and The Areas of My Expertise) hears “cases” brought by regular Joes and issues judgements.  The cases are often silly and relatable, such a wife who wants to get chickens but her husband doesn’t and a man who wants his friend to stop smoking ecigarettes in sports stadiums.  It took me some time to get accustomed to John Hodgman’s humor and his banter with the co-host and “bailiff” of the show, Monte Belmonte, but now I find it quite funny.


The most recent episode I listened to, titled Snooze Control, surprisingly veered into personal finance territory – personal to me, even!  I’m going to parse through some of the dialogue from the podcast and criticize it; I realize that JJHo was probably speaking off-the-cuff and trying to inject some humor so he might mean his comments literally but I’ll take them that way for the purpose of this discussion.


The premise of the case was that a husband wants to bump up the time that he sets on his alarm for himself and his wife so that their mornings can be less hurried, while the wife wants to sleep as late as possible and doesn’t mind rushing to get out the door.  To get all the salient details JJHo asked the couple to run through their morning routine in detail and we found out that the husband makes lunch for both of them each morning and that they carpool together to work every day.


Here are two segments from the episode; between each I discuss my reaction to the clip.


19:58 and following:


JJHo: And I take it owning two vehicles is not an option for you young crazy Canadian kids right now?

Wife: *laughs* Uh, no.

JJHo: You kids are – you’re brown-bagging it, right, so you’re not going to get yourself a second Porche – you’re not going to get yourself a second Range Rover this time.  What are you – what are you driving by the way?

Husband: We drive a Nissan Versa.

JJHo: Oh, ew, that’s one of those Nissans I’ve never even heard of. [Husband], what are you putting in the lunch? I want to be specific. She’s saying like some kind of sandwiches…

Husband: Yes, uh, *laughs* yes, I make sandwiches. Um, sometimes we have… We make extra for suppers so we have leftovers so I just kinda have to throw those in the bags.

JJHo: And the sandwiches are just two pieces of bread put together? *laughs* Is that what it is? Yeah?  Do you split a hardboiled egg?  Aww, I feel bad for you guys.  You’re making – you’re brown-bagging it and then you’re making – you’re like having the leftovers of your brown-bag lunches for dinner, is that what I understand?

Wife: Yep.

Husband: Yep.

JJHo: Boy-o-boy. It’s hard being a young couple, isn’t it? No wonder *laughs* no wonder you want to sleep and escape reality for so long.


So if you remember, Kyle and I pack our lunches every day and we share one car, carpooling to work together every day.  I often batch-cook and bring the “leftovers” for lunch, even.  We are right where this couple is in terms of this behavior, but I don’t think anyone should pity us due to these practices.  In fact, if we had more disposable income I would keep the habits 95% the same.


1) Packing my own lunch is way healthier than buying lunch on campus (because I don’t eat grains) and saves a lot of time.  I really, honestly enjoy eating food that I prepare myself.  Kyle would be more open to the convenience of buying lunch on campus but still likes his sandwich+vegetables+fruit every day.


2) I enjoy commuting with Kyle despite the occasional scheduling inconvenience.  I just like spending time with the guy!  Dropping down to one car has – no joke – improved our marriage.  We not only spend additional time together in the car but our schedules are much better synched which means a lot more time spent together while we’re at home – and since my love language is quality time, I eat that up!


My argument is that while it’s likely hard to be forced into super-frugal circumstances because of a low income, JJHo doesn’t know if this young couple is being forced or if it’s just their choice.  I mean, we could eat out way more often and drive my car, but we’d rather shovel money into our Roth IRAs.  And no one needs to feel bad about that!


26:02 and following:


JJHo: Is there a way that you guys are gonna eventually be able to have a separate lunch and dinner? Like, is there a plan in your lives financially, such that… Because I don’t know what you’re compensated for childcare and I don’t know what you’re compensated for accounting-wise.  But whatever’s going on here I-I-I think you agree that you’re – that you are having difficulty making ends meet. And this may be because you guys are, you know staring out and-and you’re not paid very much.  It may be that you are-are living in a 40-room mansion that you can’t afford… I don’t know. You may have terrible debts that I’m not aware of. But is there a career goal that is going to afford you greater financial flexibility in your future?


I think it’s fine for JJHo to want an increased income in the future for this couple (though it’s a bit outside the scope of the podcast).  I have hope for a higher income in a few years, too.  But I disagree that packing a lunch and sharing a car indicates that this couple is failing to make ends meet!  In fact, I think it’s an indication that they are making ends meet quite successfully, even if they are paying off debt in the meantime.  It’s great to have ambition to better your financial situation but you have to be satisfied where you are as well.  I think JJHo was projecting his “deranged millionaire” expectations onto this couple (and, by extension, us) when they themselves expressed zero discontent with their financial situation, only their wake-up routine.


I encourage you to listen to the podcast (you can stream it from the episode link above)!  I found it very entertaining.  Kyle and I actually have had a similar conflict to this couple as he is like the wife and I am like the husband, but we worked out something agreeable to both of us when we started carpooling.  Thankfully we don’t usually have to be at work at any particular time so we don’t have to rush really hard.


Do you feel sorry for people who pack their own lunches and carpool?  Do you think it was appropriate for JJHo to delve so far into this couple’s financial status when it had little to do with their conflict?


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3 Responses to "Judge John Hodgman on Frugality"

  1. Emily too says:

    Aw, that’s kind of funny in how out of touch it is. Thanks for the podcast recommendation, though!

    Funny thing is, in my home, I’m like the husband and my husband is like the wife, but I just get up earlier, although not as early as before we met. He has no trouble getting back to sleep after my alarm. But! We have to be long distance this fall, and I’m back to getting up as early as I did before we were married…and he’s now getting up at the same time, i.e. earlier than HE did before we met! He was a bad influence on me, and now that I’m gone he’s the opposite! My hope is that our schedules will be more coordinated as a result when I get back, though….

    1. Emily says:

      Haha yes I hope he can keep up the earlier waking. We have a similar compromise as I take longer to get ready in the morning (cooking! blogs!) so I just wake Kyle up after I shower and start my breakfast.

      1. Emily too says:

        Haha, yes to cooking! blogs! slowing you down in the morning.

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