Eyes Bigger Than Their Wallet
A character oggles awesome, expensive gear, but finding out the price settles for stuff barely better than trash.
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(permanent link) added: 2014-04-26 07:34:12 sponsor: Earnest (last reply: 2014-06-15 08:28:52)

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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.

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
  • 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.
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