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Ms Red Ink
Oh, that dress would look lovely on me. And it's on sale, for only $5000! Perfect! I'll take it!

... only, there wasn't a spare five grand in the budget for that month, and she's just put the family into serious debt.

This trope assumes that female characters are incapable of handling money, and will therefore waste it. This is loaded with Unfortunate Implications, and fortunately is going Discredited Trope on us. Straight examples will usually be from older media, and/or be set in an era when women were deliberately not taught anything about money management because her father or husband was supposed to take care of such matters for her. (And never mind that given relative ages at marriage in that era, a woman could expect to spend the end of her life as a widow, with no one but herself to balance the checkbook.)

Typical variants include store charge cards and a Credit Card Plot, equating "checks left in checkbook" with "money left in checking account", and expecting presents that are more expensive than the husband can afford. The trope normally requires that the money be spent on luxuries. If the husband is present when the purchase is made, expect a scene where the wife loads her bags and boxes into his arms.

The trope would be inverted in cultures where women are in charge of the household budget, or in situations where the wife is the wealthy one (or breadwinner) and the husband is the one on an allowance.

This can overlap with Henpecked Husband, Trophy Wife, and especially Gold Digger. It can also be a case of Most Writers Are Male And Venting About This.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Comic Books 
  • In the EC Comics Crime SuspenStory "Well-Traveled!", a man whose life's hobby is building a model railroad finds no money to buy the rolling stock, because every time he saves up the money for it, his wife decides to go places. The predictably gory EC conclusion: him taking her dismembered corpse for a ride in his new model train.

    Comic Strips  
  • Used in The Lockhorns every now and then, with Leroy making comments on Loretta's spending habits.
  • This sometimes appears in the Blondie strip, with the title character (Dagwood's wife) buying armloads of items for herself at a store. Has been happening less often since she started her own business.
  • FoxTrot inverts this trope with Closer to Earth Andy and Bumbling Dad Roger. Roger is usually the one who buys expensive luxury items, usually related to golf, and he's even shown sometimes paying the kids to not tell Andy what he bought. However, this trope is played straight when it comes to Paige and Peter, where Paige is the stereotypical teenage girl who LOVES to shop and she always makes Peter drive her and carry her purchases.

    Films — Animation 
  • The "Rhapsody in Blue" sequence in Fantasia2000. John's rather... substantial wife drags him to a luxury pet store where she loads him up with packages for her little dog, then hits him with "Le Bill", which gets to be at least five feet long.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In The Neverending Story 3, Bastian's sister steals the wish-granting auryn from him to go on a shopping spree. The message here (apart from stealing is bad) seems to be that wasting wishes is wrong, although it's never explained why, bordering on Informed Wrongness. (In the 1st movie making wishes was a good thing that helped Fantasia grow, in the 2nd it was bad because it erased memories. Neither seems to be the case here.)
  • Inverted in Thicker than Water, starring Laurel and Hardy. Ollie and Stan repeatedly demonstrate an inability to competently manage their finances. In fact, Ollie's wife actually goes to the bank at one point to instruct the bank to not allow her husband to withdraw any money from their account... after he's already spent all their savings on a grandfather clock that ends up being destroyed anyway.

    Literature 
  • Bujold's Barrayar plays with this. Cordelia Naismith, having grown up on egalitarian Beta Colony, is perfectly capable of earning her own living and living within her means; but she's married into a patriarchal culture where upper-class ("Vor") women are expected to be decorative and waste their husbands' money on frivolities. Early in the book, she purchases a sword-stick for one of her husband's retainers, not realizing that non-Vor are not allowed to own weapons; but because she paid for it with her husband's money, it is technically his weapon, which he can allow his servant to carry around. Much later, at the climax of the novel, we get this exchange:
    Aral: Where have you been, woman?
    Cordelia: Shopping. Want to see what I bought?
    ( Cordelia removes the severed head of Vidal Vordarian from her shopping bag and rolls it across the conference table, to everyone's shock)
    Aral: But of course. Every Vor lady goes to the capital to shop.
    Cordelia: I paid too much for it.
    Aral: That, too, is traditional.
  • Agatha Christie was fond of playing with and inverting this trope.
    • In Death on the Nile Linette was a very wealthy woman who had been trained by her father in managing her financial and legal affairs, and as such was very clever and and capable in business matters. Her husband, on the other hand, had no business sense at all.
  • In Pride and Prejudice, Mrs. Bennet has 'no turn for economy', and it's only her husband's restraining influence that stops her spending outrunning the family's (very generous) income.
  • Beauty and the Werewolf: Isabella's stepmother and father first meet when her stepmother is looking for someone to help her balance the accounts. Averted otherwise in that her stepmother isn't a spendthrift (she wasn't good at bookkeeping, but once she's got help with that she can live within a budget).

    Live-Action TV 
  • In a Christmas Episode of Married... with Children Peg & the kids steal money from Al's wallet and buy stuff for themselves. When he discovers that he has no money they complain that he didn't buy them any presents.
  • Seemed to show up from time to time on I Love Lucy... one that sticks out was Lucy Is Enceinte and Ricky's "Lucy...what did you buy?" when she's trying to tell him she's pregnant.
  • On Mad Men Lane Pryce's wife buys him a brand new Jaguar car as a present. They are in fact completely broke but Lane has kept her in the dark about their dire financial situation. She thinks that they have lots of money and he is just too frugal to spend anything on himself.
  • Sex and the City plays with the idea that this is a Dead Horse Trope. Carrie has no savings because she has spent literally thousands of dollars on shoes. On the other hand, conservative Charlotte who quits her job when she marries Trey has been careful with the money she made at her gallery and refuses to offer Carrie a loan due to her irresponsibility.
  • How I Met Your Mother plays this pretty straight with Lily, while also deconstructing her Unlimited Wardrobe: she's a kindergarten teacher, her husband's up to his eyeballs in law school debt; how does she afford the clothes? Charge it!
  • In the Made-for-TV Movie Hostage for a Day the protagonist's wife takes the almost $50,000 he has saved in his credit union account and gives it to a home remodeler/decorator as a down payment. This despite the fact that she had just had the house redone a few years prior. It is strongly suggested that she has hired the remodeler in order to have an affair with him, as have other women in the neighborhood.

    Music 
  • Led Zeppelin's Lemon Song
    Went to sleep last night, worked as hard as I can, Bring home my money, you take my money, give it to another man.

    Theater 
  • The play My Lady Friends' and its better-known musical version No, No, Nanette had the explicit moral that the only way for a wife to keep her husband from spending his money on other women was to spend it all on herself. It's Values Dissonance indeed: the line "No good woman has two hundred dollars!" has been bowdlerized in revivals.
  • Suggested in A Dolls House by Henrik Ibsen, Torvald Helmer has a pet nickname for his wife Nora: Squanderbird. Whether she's that much of a spendthrift is not mentioned.

    Western Animation 
  • In The Flintstones, Wilma and Betty were often wasting their husbands' money, usually on clothes. "Chaaaaarge it!" was practically their Catch Phrase.
  • The opening of The Jetsons has George handing each family member a bill from his wallet, but when he gets to Jane she takes the wallet and leaves him with the bill.
  • Usually inverted with Homer and Marge on The Simpsons.
    • In one episode, after Homer comes home with yet another expensive useless item. Marge reminds him that they're supposed to discuss unnecessary luxury purchases before making them. He retorts, "You didn't ask me before you bought that new washing machine!"
    • Homer is actually quite good at doing this. He has lost the family's life savings in the stock market, cashed in Marge's life insurance savings on the down payment to an RV (which he wrecks by the end of the episode), and bought a red SUV that he subsequently couldn't drive because he found out it was "a girl's car".
  • In the Robotboy episode "Traffic Slam" Tommy, his friends and his parents are stuck in a traffic jam. Kamikazi, disguised as a girl scout, tries to sell cookies to Mrs. Turnbull so he can steal Robotboy while they're busy stuffing their faces. Mrs. Turnbull tries one and gets instantly hooked, taking the entire contents of her husband's wallet to buy Kamikazi's entire supply.
  • In an episode of Family Guy, Quagmire has gotten himself into an Accidental Marriage with an old, washed up Streetwalker named Charmise. He's afraid he'll have to give her half of his property if he divorces her, so he decides to suck it up and make it work. He decides she could use some new (and more "respectable") clothes, so he gives her his credit card and tells her she can use it to go buy some. She buys about $5,000 worth of new dresses...which she then takes to a pawn shop to sell for crack money.


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