Informed Poverty

You have to learn not to buy luxuries before you've bought necessities. You can starve learning which is which. Necessities are food and a place to sleep, shoes and pants. Luxuries are tobacco, restaurants, fine shirts, throwing away a ruined meal while you're learning to cook, quitting a job you don't like. A union is a necessity.

In Real Life, poverty is a hard thing. People live from paycheck to paycheck, having to skimp on meals and healthcare, and having to live in poor conditions, if they aren't homeless entirely. In works of fiction, though, this isn't always the case.

Informed Poverty is when a character is stated to be poor, but in fact seems very well off. In some works, if a character doesn't live in a mansion and have an expensive car, they can be considered poor. In works where a teenager is supposed to be in a poor family, it's common for this "poverty" to be shown by them not having cars (or at least not having new ones) and having to work to afford luxuries. It's rare for them to be shown working to pay for necessities like food and house bills. The viewer is usually expected to accept the character's status as "poor" because all the other characters are filthy rich. This trope is more common in works aimed at teenagers. From a filming standpoint, this trope is usually in play because it's easier to film in large homes and sets, though it still doesn't justify having a pristine interior and exterior, fancy furniture, or multiple cars. Poor characters are also often seen as more sympathetic, so the "poor" label may be tossed on for that reason.

There may sometimes be some Values Dissonance with this trope. What is considered poor for some places may be seen as normal or even wealthy for others. For example, in the United States, houses tend to be larger than in many other countries.

Related to "Friends" Rent Control, where characters live in homes they shouldn't logically be able to afford. Also closely related to Pottery Barn Poor, where characters have large homes and nice furniture even if they're supposed to be poor. May also be related to Penny Among Diamonds where a character is only poor compared to others around them. Bath of Poverty avoids this trope.


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     Anime & Manga 
  • In-universe example in Ouran High School Host Club. The fabulously wealthy host club members believe that Haruhi lives in abject poverty, but when they finally visit her home, it turns out she and her father live a fairly normal working-class existence. While they do talk about money being tight, they're not destitute.
  • Sayaka Miki, in Puella Magi Madoka Magica, describes herself as "glad I wasn't born rich," implying herself to be poor or at least working-class. However, it's shown later on in the series that Sayaka lives in a two-story house. This is very rare in Japan, where property values are very high, particularly in an opulent city like Mitakihara, implying the Mikis to be very wealthy in reality but poor by the standards of Sayaka's peers (Madoka's house is huge).

  • In Pretty in Pink, Andie is stated to be poor and even gets picked on for it, but she lives in a nice little house and even has her own (pink!) car. We're supposed to believe she's poor because all the other kids in the school are filthy rich.
  • In Some Kind of Wonderful, it's a similar situation to the above. The "poor" characters don't really have it that all that bad, and are really only considered poor because the other kids drive Corvettes and don't have to work for their college fund.
  • Done in She's All That. Lanley gets teased by the bullies with comments like "Isn't your dad my pool man?", yet when we see her house, it's actually very nice and could easily go for a good deal of money in real life. Apparently just being comfortably middle-class is too low for her schoolmates.
  • A weird example in Life As A House, Kevin Kline's character is a middle-aged architect who lives in a run down house, and the movie takes place in a supposedly middle-class neighborhood. The problem is that kind of real estate on the edge of a cliff with a view of the ocean anywhere in California would be obscenely valuable.
  • Roger Ebert on Because of Winn-Dixie:
    "It is one of those parties you see only in the movies, where the people may be poor, but they have an unlimited budget for candles. Hundreds of them. Thousands, maybe, all over the yard outside Miss Gloria's house."
  • One of the problems with Daddy Day Care is that it stars a couple who are visibly quite well-off, living in a McMansion and driving matching his-and-hers BMW SUVs... and then when the husband loses his job, they're scared how they'll get by. Did we mention that they only have one kid? Maybe we're meant to assume that they're financially irresponsible and went deep into debt to afford their lifestyle.
  • In the remake of Poltergeist, the family are supposed to be struggling financially due to the father losing his job, and in one scene he has several overdrawn credit cards declined. The next time we see him, he's bought hundreds of dollars of electronics and jewellery as 'treats' for his family, and while it's obviously played as a rash decision there are no consequences at all. And that's without touching on them having a shiny new car, multiple giant TV sets, laptops and iPads, and the house they're 'downgrading' to is huge and beautiful even if it is built on a burial ground.

  • One of the problems given by critics of Eragon. The main character's family is supposedly very poor, but they are given money to waste on trinkets and are described with relatively lavish dinners. They also seem to own an enormous amount of land and live in quite a large house.
  • Septimus Heap. Despite being called a poor Wizard family, the Heaps notably seem to lack any financial trouble.
  • Little Women is likely to strike the modern reader as this trope due to Values Dissonance; it's hard for 21st c. girls to see a family with a live-in servant as 'poor' even if the older girls have to get jobs rather than just sit around the house looking pretty until marriage.
  • The Weasleys in Harry Potter are constantly described as being a poor family. In practice, this usually comes down to them having lots of hand-me-downs and secondhand supplies. They live in a big house, always have plenty of food for their large family (and frequently Harry and Hermione as well), and are never mentioned to be in debt. Mrs. Weasley doesn't have to work.
    • The food thing may be justified when you remember that, while wizards can't make food from nothing, they can multiply it. It's possible Mrs. Weasley is feeding eleven people for the price of one. The same for the house, since spells that make things larger or more spacious seem pretty simple and it's implied that magic is the only thing keeping the house together.
    • It's also possible they are only poor by comparison; the only frame of reference we have are with Harry, the Malfays, and the Blacks. All three are enormously wealthy by wizard standards.
  • In Vampire Academy, Mia Rinaldi's parents are servants of the Drozdov family. Yet Mia gets to attend a prestigious school, wears fashionable clothes, and royals treat her as a peer.
  • The protagonist of J. Porter's Can A Duck Swim? is a member of the bourgeoisie who attends an elite private school so prestigious that it accepts only 30 new students each year. The luxurious lives of Indian nobility (some of whom later befriend her), are portrayed as drastically extravagant in comparison to this.
  • In Hush, Hush, Nora and her mother are stated to be poor, which is shown through her mother working a low-paying job and Nora occasionally lamenting being unable to afford the expensive clothing her Alpha Bitch wealthy rival wears. The two live in a huge house that seems to take a lot of fuel to heat (bought when her father was still alive, but there's no mention of debts or difficulty in maintaining it), own two cars, and seem to eat well. Additionally, Nora's mother hires someone to check in on Nora occasionally when her mom is on business trips. Nora herself has no job (even though she's old enough to at least work part time) and seems to have enough money for frivolous things like eating out constantly or visiting amusement parks. Crescendo has Nora's mother stop paying the housekeeper and sell Nora's car, but Nora continues to do things like eat out without issue and only gets a job later on in the book (for the purpose of buying a new car and distracting herself from Patch, not to help with the house finances) and loses it by Silence.

    Live-Action Television 
  • The Chances from Raising Hope are poor, but get to live in a pretty nice house by taking advantage of their senile grandmother. What isn't explained is how they can afford many of the things they buy, though it is implied that a lot of their possessions (like the computer) were acquired by Burt and Virginia through their jobs, and another episode showed Virginia is an Extreme Couponer. Virginia and the other maids all fight over the stuff that the very rich people they clean for throw out, so seeing as the computer was an older desktop it's quite possible she got it that way.
  • Maddie from The Suite Life of Zack and Cody constantly complains about being poor as dirt, but when you actually get to see the apartment that her family lives in, it's not bad at all. Likely supposed to be seen as poor because she's being compared to her crazy-rich friend who constantly goes on shopping sprees, while Maddie *gasps* has to work to get luxuries.
  • Wallace and Veronica from Veronica Mars fit this trope. Wallace's house is huge and the worst Veronica has to put up with are cold showers, yet they're both supposed to be "lower class."
  • Gossip Girl has the Humphreys. They aren't upper crust, but they are definitely played up as being poor...yet they can somehow afford a two-story loft and pay for both children to go to college (one of which is in France!). When describing her poverty, Jenny says that she was reduced to...taking the subway each day.
  • 2 Broke Girls tries to avert this trope by regularly pointing out that two waitresses have to spend all their money on rent and food, and they have to obtain any additional spending money by working extra jobs or by selling a possession. The one area where the trope is played straight is with Caroline's horse, which is a leftover from her days as a rich heiress. With their income, they should never be able to afford to maintain and feed the horse. The horse ends up Put on a Bus and sent to a farm outside the city.
  • The Bundys of Married... with Children. A running gag is that Al earns next to nothing at the shoe store and drives a 20-year-old wreck of a Dodge, yet they live in a large, two-story house in a neighborhood that is at least nice enough for their wealthy next-door neighbors.
  • Mike and Susan in the last season of Desperate Housewives. They rent out their house to move into a cheap apartment, are prepared to do anything for extra cash, and claim to be in terrible poverty, but at the end of the day they're living in a large, comfortable, attractive flat and don't seem to have changed their lifestyle at all.
  • Frasier: After Maris kicks Niles out and freezes his accounts, he's shown to be eating baloney sandwiches and has to downgrade his car to a "hunchback." Yet as a successful practicing psychiatrist, one must wonder where his paychecks are going.
    • Another episodes discusses this in depth. Frasier floats Roz a loan when she mentions she's struggling while they were laid off. However, soon after, she's frequently mentioning going to an exclusive spa, carrying bags of expensive shoes and perfumes, and dining in nice restaurants. When Frasier confronts her about this, she mentions how her finances were as bad as she said, and all the luxuries were easily explained: her friend took her to lunch, her mother treated her to the spa, the shoes were a store credit.
  • The ladies on The Golden Girls. We're constantly reminded of how tight money is. Blanche seems to rely on the money she receives from renting her rooms out, her "job" at the museum being decidedly part=time and low-effort. Sophia only gets a small amount of Social Security; Dorothy works as a substitute teacher; Rose doesn't get enough from her late husband's pension to live on, and relies on her grief counseling paycheck or else she'll be on the street. In spite of all this, the girls seem to have plenty of expendable income. Vacations, dining and shopping are never an issue.
  • On the original version of The Muppet Show, the Muppet Theater doesn't make much - if any - income. Tickets to the show are free, and the annual payroll (which Kermit can't even afford the episode it's mentioned) is $24.14, with at least a few of the cast not salaried at all, including Fozzie. Despite this, they can somehow afford some rather elaborate sets, props, and music, along with enough pull to get some of the biggest names in show business to appear. (At the time.)

    Video Games 
  • Dragon Age II: Most characters complain about Kirkwall's Wretched Hive slums (Lowtown, the Alienage, and Darktown), yet two out of three are shown to be very clean, neat, and orderly places. The main character's family spends the whole first Act complaining about the unbearable living conditions in Lowtown, yet their uncle's supposed filthy little hovel is a fairly large and orderly house with multiple rooms, and the neighborhood buildings are as structurally sound and the streets as empty and clean as those in Hightown, save a little smoggy air. The Kirkwall Alienage is also described as below Lowtown socio/economically (with "crumbling shacks," "knee-deep mud," and "drunken louts" stumbling around), yet the alienage looks even prettier, cleaner, and more colorful than Lowtown, and the elven citizens polite and upstanding. (It's especially Egregious when one elven companion moves into the alienage and the characters talk like she lives in a one-room rathole, complete with her apologizing for the mess, yet her house is just as spacious and clean as the uncle's.) Only Darktown seems to live up to its name, and it's underground.
  • In the Ace Attorney franchise, Phoenix doesn't seem to have very much money in general - most of his clients expect him to defend them for free and he's often called on to buy Maya enough burgers to keep her full (and other characters for that matter, since the fifth game ends with everyone freeloading and expecting him to buy them lunch). There's no mention of debts or money troubles with his business. (It's possible he is being paid, but he acts like he doesn't have a lot of money anyway.)
    • In Apollo Justice, Phoenix is now debarred and making a living playing poker/badly playing the piano in a bar, raising a teenage daughter (who has a job of her own, but at least once goes on a shopping binge), and officially hires Apollo (who himself is implied to be in similar financial difficulties). Again, money troubles are just treated like a running joke.

  • Dork Tower: Matt is an unemployed, unpopular cartoonist, Igor is running on a scholarship for a fictitious course and the occasional bribe from the U.S. military to never enlist, ever, and Carson is a talking muskrat. And Igor buys everything - videogames, new pen and paper games, a metric ton of D20 modules, and so on - usually by raiding the rent jar. Despite this, the only actual penalties they seem to suffer are occasional references to cheap food, selling plasma, and being unable to afford something they end up having a few strips later anyway; they regularly visit conventions, keep up with geek culture movies and their DVD releases and are seen playing dozens, if not hundreds, of different games over the strip's history. Either Ken, the only one with an actual paying job, is very generous, or this trope is going on.
  • Ménage à 3: The lead characters don't suffer from informed poverty so much as informed mediocre jobs. Aside from a couple of successful models, the primary cast are mostly waitresses, a call centre worker (who may be making a bit more money, but who spends it all on geeky collectibles), a comics shop assistant (hired with minimal negotiation, albeit as "counter candy"), and similar. But the lead trio share what looks like a nice apartment, seem to have adequate free time, and rarely worry where the next month's rent is coming from — despite their landlady being a serious hardass who greets new tenants not with "Hello" but rather "JOB?!?!"
    • Likewise, waitress Sonya can afford her own apartment, in a building with its own swimming pool.

    Western Animation 
  • In an episode of Family Guy where Chris goes to an expensive, private boarding school, he tells his roommates that he's poor. While one could make the argument that he's poor compared to the other students there, it's a little jarring that he's so quick to call himself "poor" when his family has two cars and a nice, large two-story house. One episode had them mention that they got the house as part of a settlement with a condom company, so their ability to have such a large house may stem from that.
    • This is lampshaded in one episode when Joe wonders how Peter can afford things like a helicopter.
  • An in-universe example in American Dad!. Unlike other examples on this page, it doesn't try to make the viewer believe the characters are poor, instead hangs a lampshade on the characters viewing themselves as "poor". Stan Smith is very well off and isn't afraid to show off, to the point where he invites his half-brother Rusty and his family over every Thanksgiving to brag about the stuff he has. Later, he visits Rusty's home and finds out that Rusty is a billionaire: anything Stan has, Rusty has it times a thousand. Suddenly Stan and the rest of his family (excluding Hayley, who had run off a few episodes prior) start complaining about how little they had because they were comparing themselves to Rusty.
  • Done in The Simpsons. While many episodes claim they're in the lower income bracket and that they have many financial problems (probably thanks in part due to Homer being a reckless spender), the family lives in a large two-story house, each child has their own (big) bedroom and the family has two cars (though one is in a constant state of disrepair). They also seem to be able to afford to travel a lot, even when one ignores the trips they got for free. Some gags even implies homer's salary is in the four digits and Marge once said she feeds them a whole week on a 12$ budget (she uses sawdust for Homer's meat) which reality wise means they should get food stamps.
    Frank Grimes: How in the world can you afford to live in a house like this?
    Homer: I dunno. Don't ask me how the economy works.
  • Played for Laughs in the South Park episode "The Poor Kid." Kenny, who is legitimately poor, goes into foster care with his siblings, and Cartman is horrified to discover that he is technically the poorest kid left in school. (He was trying to find out who it was so that he could make fun of them.) Note that Cartman lives in an average-sized house and is Spoiled Rotten by his Extreme Doormat mother, who even Lampshades the fact that they only make a little less money than any other family in town.
  • In Wallace & Gromit, Wallace is periodically indicated to be skint - his business ventures invariably go belly-up and his inventing tends to cost him money rather than earn it. In one of the comics, he only gets involved in the plot because he can't afford to replace the drum in his washing machine, and his statement of finances in the "Cheese-Lover's Yearbook" receives a typewritten annotation of "Broke" from Gromit. Despite this, Wallace can afford the raw materials for all his inventions, can rebuild his house between shorts, manages to buy another vehicle for Curse of the Were-Rabbit, and so on.

     Real Life 
  • In Real Life, a 2012 British survey revealed that the population thought a family of four needed £37,000 per year just for necessities. If you were to classify people living below that line as "poor", then some poor families are able to have two cars, a flatscreen TV, a house with the mortgage paid off, a mobile phone for everyone in the family, and so on.
  • People who spend a lot of time around very wealthy people sometimes ending up believing that they're poor because they're comparing themselves to people on the upper tier. Alternately, some people only appear wealthy because they spend a lot on luxuries to "keep up with the Joneses", even though this causes them to struggle financially. So when one hangs around with a lot of people like that, he may find himself thinking he's not very well off when in actuality, the people he's comparing himself to really aren't much wealthier than him, they just have poor spending habits and the collection of material goods just make them appear rich.
    • Sometimes this very trope, when seen in TV and movies, can cause people to believe they're poor for the same reasons. When a family on TV that is supposedly struggling financially manages to afford nice cars, a big house or apartment, the latest electronics and plenty of vacations, a viewer might think he must be really poor because he can't get those things.
  • Black Friday sales, savings, gifts, etc., are also things that happen to poor people that allow them to have nice things. You might be living bill to bill and barely scraping by, but have an iPhone that you got free from the phone company, a computer you got on Black Friday (or put together from parts you got on Black Friday, for the technically-minded poor), and a car that was a gift from your parents. Most of which, in this day and age, are necessities for having a job, same as nice clothing. Poor people are allowed to have nice things. It doesn't mean they're not poor.
  • As current issues of inter-class strife in the US illustrate, it's becoming increasingly clear that most upper-middle-class and upper-class Americans simply have no idea what actual poverty is like. Case in point.
  • Sometimes one can be poor while also appearing not to be poor at the same time. A family that was well off and had a lot of luxury items could suddenly be hit with a financial struggle and are trying to make ends meet.