Created By: Earnest on April 26, 2014 Last Edited By: Earnest on September 16, 2014

Eyes Bigger Than Their Wallet

A character oggles awesome, expensive gear, but finding out the price settles for stuff barely better than trash.

Name Space:
Main
Page Type:
Trope
A character, usually a naive type, goes into a shop or market stall and admires some obviously high quality, luxury super-item. Maybe it's the Infinity+1 Sword, suit of armor, ball gown, motorcycle, or just a really nice skillet. The shopkeeper comes up and explains how awesome it is, and the character now wants to buy it even more ... then notices the price. So the shopkeeper will offer up progressively cheaper items until he enters the character's price range. Turns out she can afford: a pointy stick, a stained t-shirt, a ripped skirt, half a unicycle, or a dented spoon.

The scene may end there with the character leaving empty handed, and the plot can easily never revisit the point that this character has material wants she can't fulfill. However, this can lead to a launching off point for the character or her loved ones trying to get the awesome item some way or another. Up to and including:

  1. Alice buying a way cheaper but more ridiculous item.
  2. Alice trying to find money for the thing.
  3. Alice just goes home and gets a surprise of someone buying that very item for her.
  4. Alice trying to find the same thing more cheaply at another store.
  5. Alice mugging the storekeeper to get the item for smaller payment - if not for free.
  6. etc.

If an author wants to Shoot the Shaggy Dog Alice may get the money to buy the item, only for someone else to have beat her to it. Double subverted if it's a loved one who later gives it to her. If Alice doesn't learn the price until it is too late, see Shockingly Expensive Bill.


Examples

Film
  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone: On the Hogwarts Express Harry sees Ron eyeing the sweets on the food cart, but Ron has to brown-bag it because he has no money. Harry buys everything on the cart for them to share. (It doesn't quite happen this way in the book.)
  • In Peluca, the short film that inspired Napoleon Dynamite, Seth and friends go a store to buy a wig for Pedro's cousin Gabriel. While there he spots a fanny pack and is tempted to buy that instead, but then sees the price tag and chucks it away.

Literature
  • In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Charlie oogles the displays of chocolate in the sweetshop window but can't afford anything. When he finds a dollar in the street he rushes in and blows it all on chocolate, finding the last Golden Ticket in the process.
  • In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry has to keep this trope in mind to stop himself blowing all the money he inherited from his parents, while being tempted by various things he sees while living in The Leaky Cauldron. In particular, he really wants a Firebolt broomstick which someone mysteriously buys for him on his birthday later in the story.
    "[Harry] had to remind himself that he had five years to go at Hogwarts, and how it would feel to ask the Dursleys for money for spell books, to stop himself from buying a handsome set of solid gold Gobstones."

Live-Action TV
  • In the Community episode "Digital Estate Planning", Annie and Shirley search the game for weapons the group can use in their quest. They visit a blacksmith's shop but upon seeing how expensive the weapons are, Annie asks "What's free?" She then tries to pick up a torch which results in an accidental Ballistic Discount and a Fiery Cover Up.
  • Kayle in Firefly saw a very pretty ball-gown in a store window which she couldn't afford on her engineer's salary. When the episode's plot required the crew infiltrate a high-society ball, Captain Mal buys it for her much to her delight. She even hangs it on the roof of her cabin to remember the occasion.
  • In one episode of Open All Hours, Arkwright is finally convinced to consider getting rid of his vicious old finger-trap of a shop till. He admires one of the modern ones until the salesman tells him the price. The old till was not replaced.

Video Games

Western Animation
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: The episode "Trade Ya" has two subplots with variations on this trope, though both involve bartering rather than buying:
    • Rainbow Dash is set on getting a signed, first-edition copy of the book Daring Do and the Quest for the Sapphire Statue, but all she has to trade for it is a "lucky horseshoe". When the book's owner won't trade for the horseshoe, Dash embarks on a Chain of Deals to get the one item that the owner will trade the book for.
    • Applejack and Rarity pool their goods so they can afford to trade for something more expensive, but they both find items that will cost their entire pile and which that they absolutely must have. They argue over which to trade for and don't reach any agreement. Eventually, they split their pool and settle for similar but less-expensive versions of the items they originally wanted.
  • In Futurama, Bender receives a $300 tax refund and wants to use it to buy a cigar made from the declaration of independence. When he finds out the cigar is worth more than $300, he buys a burglar's kit instead... and then uses said kit to steal the cigar.
Community Feedback Replies: 27
  • April 26, 2014
    robinjohnson
    The example you've listed isn't an example of the trope you've described, since Kaylee got the dress she wanted.

    It looks like a good trope until the last bit, which makes it general enough to be "character wants something and can't afford it".
  • April 26, 2014
    DAN004
    "Finding enough money to buy something" in general also makes for a good plot trope.
  • April 26, 2014
    randomsurfer
    In Charlie And The Chocolate Factory Charlie oogles the displays of chocolate in the sweetshop window but can't afford anything. When he finds a dollar in the street he rushes in and blows it all on chocolate, finding the last Golden Ticket in the process.
  • April 26, 2014
    Earnest
    ^^, ^ So split this into "buys junk after ogling something awesome" and "Eventually gets the money to buy it"?
  • April 26, 2014
    CrypticMirror
    In one episode of Open All Hours, Arkwright is finally convinced to consider getting rid of his vicious old finger-trap of a shop till. He admires one of the modern ones until the salesman tells him the price. The old till was not replaced.
  • April 26, 2014
    Bisected8
    ^^ It makes more sense to just reduce this to "Something expensive and awesome which they can't afford" (plenty of narrative there) and treat the parts about if/how they get it as incidental.
  • April 26, 2014
    DAN004
    Expanding from ^, the situation can lead to some things:
    1. Bob buying a way cheaper but more ridiculous item.
    2. Bob trying to find money for the thing.
    3. Bob just goes home and gets a surprise od someone buying that very item for him.
    4. Bob trying to find the same thing at another store.
    5. Bob mugging the storekeeper to get the item for smaller payment - if not for free.
    6. etc.
  • April 26, 2014
    justanotherrandomlurker
    I agree with robinjohnson, in my mind, the only examples I can think of result in the people actually do get what they were wanting in the end, albeit with consequences along the way (i.e. a friend or a family member steals it for them).
  • April 26, 2014
    Tuckerscreator
    In Peluca, the short film that inspired Napoleon Dynamite, Seth and friends go a store to buy a wig for Pedro's cousin Gabriel. While there he spots a fanny pack and is tempted to buy that instead, but then sees the price tag and chucks it away.
  • April 26, 2014
    Earnest
    Okay, rewrote the OP with the observations. Is that more what everyone else is thinking?
  • April 27, 2014
    Arivne
    • Capitalized the title.
    • Added media section title(s).
  • April 27, 2014
    robinjohnson
    ^^ Yes, this is better.

    Eyes Bigger Than Their Wallet works as a title.
  • April 27, 2014
    DAN004
  • April 27, 2014
    MetaFour
    • My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic: The episode "Trade Ya" has two subplots with variations on this trope, though both involve bartering rather than buying:
      • Rainbow Dash is set on getting a signed, first-edition copy of the book Daring Do and the Quest for the Sapphire Statue, but all she has to trade for it is a "lucky horseshoe". When the book's owner won't trade for the horseshoe, Dash embarks on a Chain Of Deals to get the one item that the owner will trade the book for.
      • Applejack and Rarity pool their goods so they can afford to trade for something more expensive, but they both find items that will cost their entire pile and which that they absolutely must have. They argue over which to trade for and don't reach any agreement. Eventually, they split their pool and settle for similar but less-expensive versions of the items they originally wanted.
  • April 27, 2014
    randomsurfer
    Harry Potter And The Philosophers Stone: On the Hogwarts Express Harry sees Ron eyeing the sweets on the food cart, but Ron has to brown-bag it because he has no money. Harry buys everything on the cart for them to share. (It doesn't quite happen this way in the book, which is why I put it in the film namespace.)
  • April 28, 2014
    DAN004
    Too witty a title, methinks...
  • April 28, 2014
    Earnest
    ^It's a derivative of a Mexican saying "his eyes were bigger than his stomach", usually used to mean he asked for a dish or got a portion much larger than his appetite. The wallet related one is used to similar effect.

    I am actually open to name suggestions.
  • April 28, 2014
    randomsurfer
    Not just a Mexican saying; anyway, it's better than the one with the sticks.
  • April 28, 2014
    Bisected8
    Definitely not (it's one of those idioms that's too old and widespread to even find the origin of).

    Eyes Bigger Than Wallet probably works, although the lack of a pronoun bothers me, and something a little shorter would be better.

    • In ''Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban, Harry has to keep this trope in mind to stop himself blowing all the money he inherited from his parents, while being tempted by various things he sees while living in The Leaky Cauldron. In particular, he really wants a Firebolt broomstick which someone mysteriously buys for him later on his birthday.
      "[Harry] had to remind himself that he had five years to go at Hogwarts, and how it would feel to ask the Dursleys for money for spell books, to stop himself from buying a handsome set of solid gold Gobstones."
  • April 28, 2014
    Bisected8
    For some reason my post glitched out and won't let me correct a typo;

    • In Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban, Harry has to keep this trope in mind to stop himself blowing all the money he inherited from his parents, while being tempted by various things he sees while living in The Leaky Cauldron. In particular, he really wants a Firebolt broomstick which someone mysteriously buys for him on his birthday later in the story.
      "[Harry] had to remind himself that he had five years to go at Hogwarts, and how it would feel to ask the Dursleys for money for spell books, to stop himself from buying a handsome set of solid gold Gobstones."
  • April 28, 2014
    DAN004
    ^^ OIC.
  • April 28, 2014
    Earnest
    ^ What does OIC mean?
  • April 28, 2014
    DAN004
    ^ oh I see. :P
  • April 29, 2014
    bitemytail
    In Futurama, Bender receives a $300 tax refund and wants to use it to buy a cigar made from the declaration of independence. When he finds out the cigar is worth more than $300, he buys a burglar's kit instead... and then uses said kit to steal the cigar.
  • May 20, 2014
    nitrokitty
  • June 14, 2014
    Omeganian
    For when the person doesn't learn the price until it is too late, see Shockingly Expensive Bill.
  • June 15, 2014
    BKelly95
    • In the Community episode "Digital Estate Planning", Annie and Shirley search the game for weapons the group can use in their quest. They visit a blacksmith's shop but upon seeing how expensive the weapons are, Annie asks "What's free?" She then tries to pick up a torch which results in an accidental Ballistic Discount and a Fiery Cover Up.
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