On the Money
An easy way to create conflict is to put characters in a situation where they need a certain amount of money. They may need to pay a fine or a bribe, pay back taxes to prevent their home from being foreclosed, make repairs, purchase a plane ticket, or what have you. The point is, they need a certain amount of money to resolve the conflict, and it is more than they could earn in a reasonable amount time through ordinary means. But they are in luck! A sudden windfall is available, often in the form of a prize for a contest or competition, but sometimes in the form of an inheritance, a hiring bonus for a new job, the price for selling off something the characters own, or some other such thing. And conveniently, this windfall is almost exactly as much as the characters need to resolve their conflict. While the windfall is usually cash, it can come as a MacGuffin or in some other form, as long as it just happens to be exactly what the characters need. The inverse, in which the characters first come into a sudden windfall and then have it taken away by an equally sudden expense of nearly the same amount, such as a fine incurred in the process of gaining that windfall, is commonly used as a Reset Button, especially when the characters are kept in Perpetual Poverty. Status Quo Is God, after all. A Sub-Trope of Contrived Coincidence. Often overlaps with Cash Gate.
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Anime and Manga
- In the Black Cat manga, Sven was just talking with Train about how they have a $15 million debt when one of Chronos' leaders, Karl, asks Train to talk with him. Karl proceeds to tell Train that he wants him to catch Gyanza, and informs him that the bounty he's offering for people to catch him is... guess what? $15 million.
- Inverted by Hayate the Combat Butler (at least in the manga), when Hayate is given 1,000,000 yen to go shopping with, then somehow manages to stumble into disaster after disaster, until he's left with just 12 yen: the same amount of money he had at the very start of the series, just before he met Nagi.
- In Mahou Sensei Negima!, the Magic World tournament prize is exactly how much the group need to buy back Ako, Akira and Natsumi from slavery. It's also the "more believable" variant as the prize is a very round 1 million.
- This happens a lot in Liar Game, as the whole point of the series is for the characters to get out of the millions of yen debt that the organization had put them in in the first place. All the characters are actually required to compete and win the challenges in order to break even or come out with more money.
- In Bowling King, Shautieh Ley needs to get 3 million Taiwan dollars to pay off his love interest's debt... and it just so happens that the prize money for the big bowling tournament is 3 million Taiwan dollars. This is, however, ultimately subverted; the company sponsoring the God's Hand Cup goes bankrupt while the tournament is underway, and the competition is cancelled indefinitely just after the semifinals were finished. Meaning he didn't get the money.
- In Full Metal Panic!, there's the novel side story "Golden Days With Captain Amigo," where Kurz convinces Sousuke to go on a treasure hunt with him. They "borrow" without permission an M6 AS, and get into the cave. They actually end up having gold and jewels, which amount to being worth 10 million dollars. Both Kurz and Sousuke, seeing the possibility of a much nicer future (leaving Mithril and having an early retirement), get very excited, and take the treasure chests out of the cave. However, the cave ends up collapsing, causing the M6 AS to explode. Of course, it turns out that the M6 AS was worth 10 million dollars, and the treasure is taken from them to pay for it. (However, it is mentioned that the executives rounded the cost of the AS to be higher, so that they could take all the treasure from them.)
- Eyeshield 21, at least in the manga. Upon completing the Death March, the Devil Bats need to get enough money to fly back to Japan (don't ask how some 16~ year old kids are permitted to gamble, even if one of them has blackmail on damn near everyone). Monta and Sena get extremely lucky, but eventually lose it all. Cue Hiruma playing blackjack and counting cards, winning the money they need and then some.
- In D.Gray-Man, Allen had to pay off his master's debt as a child. He often spent the exact amount of money on food directly afterward.
- Spider-Man does this around the time of Secret Wars II; he takes a notebook from a building that the Beyonder had turned to gold and he exactly uses up the notebook's value for Aunt May.
Films — Animation
- Drives the plot of Disney's Home on the Range. Patch of Heaven is about to go under unless the cows can come up with $750 in three days, and what do you know? That cattle rustler who displaced Maggie has a bounty of $750 on him.
Films — Live-Action
- In the first Spider-Man movie, Peter needs a certain amount of money to buy a new car and impress MJ. Luckily, that's exactly how much he can win by lasting three minutes with Bonesaw in the steel cage. Since he knocks Bonesaw out in less than that, the promoter decides to give him a fraction of the promised reward.
- In German comedian Otto's first movie, he has to pay a loan shark exactly 9876.50 German marks. During the movie, there's not just one, but many opportunities presenting to him to get exact that amount.
- Averted, though confusingly, in the Israeli movie Ushpizin. The protagonist, a Torah scholar with no income, would need 1,000 shekels to buy a particularly beautiful etrog (a fruit used on the Jewish festival of Sukkot). He finds himself the surprise recipient of 1,000 dollars. Many viewers were mystified at how someone with no money could blow the entire sum he received on an etrog, when in fact 1,000 dollars is worth three to four times as much as 1,000 shekels. Same number, different currency. The dollar is used extensively in Israel, so it's not unrealistic, but it's still confusing.
- Zig-Zagged in Nine Queens. The two heroes, Marcos and Juan, are setting up an elaborate con on a millionaire collector, that will end with him paying them $450,000 for a set of counterfeit postage stamps. After some plot twists, they lose the forgeries, but they suddenly get the possibility of buying the real stamps for only $250,000, thus making a large profit after selling them. It turns out that Marcos has exactly $200,000 saved, while Juan has exactly $50,000 saved. Juan finds it suspicious and accuses Marcos of trying to play a con on him, but Marcos denies it and convinces Juan, and they go on with the plan. It was Juan who was playing the con on Marcos.
- In A Civil Action the protagonist is told how much money his law firm needs to stay in business. Later, he's offered exactly that amount to settle a big case, suggesting that the rival law firm had inside information.
- Inverted in Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. When Ryu tries to get a kidney for his sister on the black market, he's swindled out of $10,000 won. That happens to be the exact sum of money necessary for a transplant should an organ become available legally.
- In Duct Tape Forever, a movie based on The Red Green Show, Possum Lodge is fined 10,000 dollars. Luckily, there is a duct tape competition and the third prize is 10,000 dollars.
- In The Brady Bunch Movie, Mike and Carol owe $20,000 in back taxes that have to be paid by next week. And guess what the prize is at the big "Search for the Stars" contest? And guess whose kids turn out to be, um, a slightly talented pop group?
- The male protagonist of Best Player was a Basement-Dweller until his parents decided to sell their house and move to Florida. Since his parents would no longer support him, he'd have to either cough up $175,000 to buy their house or find another place to live. He then entered a videogame competition where the first prize is $175,500.00
- In Happy Gilmore, the titular character needs $275,000 to prevent his grandmother's home being seized by the IRS. He incurs a $25,000 fine after getting into a fistfight with Bob Barker, but is awarded a $300,000 endorsement contrast with Subway, leaving him with exactly enough to pay off her back taxes. Subverted when he arrives too late to pay the taxes off outright and is outbid when the house is put up for auction.
- Lampshaded in The Night Angel Trilogy, when the protagonist takes the fact that a particular item intended to be comically overpriced to discourage buyers happens to be priced at exactly the amount he got by selling his magic sword as a sign he was meant to buy it.
Live Action TV
- Happens a few times to cash-strapped Miss Brooks in Our Miss Brooks, i.e. Easter Outfit, Fischer's Pawn Shop, The Festival, School T.V. Set.
- Parodied in an episode of Scrubs that was in itself a parody of traditional sitcoms where the gang can win the exact amount they need to not have to fire anyone in a singing competition and lookit, wouldn't you know that Clay Aiken just happens to be the new cafeteria worker. Unfortunately, this is one of the rare times that one of JD's fantasies is used for drama.
- Averting this trope is a running theme of 2 Broke Girls. The title characters need a large sum of money to start a cupcake business but their regular jobs as waitresses barely cover their living expenses so they engage in various schemes to raise the money. However, at best they can raise $100-200 per episode and a lot of the time fail to get any extra money or have to use money they already saved to cover another expense. This is lampshaded at the end of each episode with a shot of a counter displaying the exact amount of money they have in their cupcake fund. A year after they begin, they are still thousands of dollars short of their goal.
- In season 2, a friend loans them the money to start their cupcake store. However, after a few months the business is not doing well and they are running out of money. Fortunately this trope plays out more or less straight and a property development company buys the building where the store is located and offers to buy out their lease for just enough money to cover the loan and any outstanding bills the girls owe. The slight subversion is that rather than having them break even, the cupcake fund actually ends up with less money than they had before they got the loan.
- The Goodies: In "Culture for the Masses", Tim buys a painting for one million billion quintillion zillion pounds and two and a half new pence. Looking for a way to pay this off, they later learn that the art in the National gallery is insured for one million billion quintillion zillion pounds.
- When Jesse briefly gives up the meth trade in Breaking Bad, the $400,000 he has from his last caper is exactly enough to buy the house his parents recently stopped letting him use... after he has his lawyer Saul negotiate a healthy discount in exchange for not reporting the meth lab they fraudulently forgot to mention to prospective buyers. The end of the episode sees him living rent-free in the house, but with no money.
- In the Flight of the Conchords episode "The New Cup", Murray falls for a 419 Scam... that turns out to be surprisingly legit, giving him just enough money to bail Bret and Jemaine out of jail.
- The Telltale Sam & Max games have one of these in almost every episode for the first season.
- The plot of Pikmin 2 involves this. The president of the company Captin Olimar works for took out a huge loan (10,100 pokos, to be exact) and is at a loss as to how to repay it. Luckily, the planet Olimar had just been stranded on happens to harbour trinkets which are VERY valuable (with the bottle cap he brought home as a souvenir being worth precisely 100 Pokos, no less)...
- Request Comics #26 has this here: a competition prize is exactly that needed to save the local library.
- One of the emails in this exchange from 27b/6 mentions one of the potential benefits of homosexuality being "the gift of dance", which "would come in extremely useful if I needed five hundred dollars and saw a poster advertising a dance competition with a first prize of five hundred dollars."
- Pinky and the Brain: The cost to fund Brain's latest scheme is precisely the yield of a perfect run on that episode's Jeopardy parody. He loses - of course - when the Final "Gyp-parody" question was about the same phrase he'd been ignoring from Pinky for the entire episode.
- In fact, a fair share of episodes was about Brain trying to gain enough money to fund a scheme.
- The Simpsons:
- "Round Springfield": The radio station tells Lisa it would play the songs of the late Bleeding Gums Murphy if they actually had a copy of the music. The comic book shop has the album for $250, and when Lisa says that Murphy has just died and she needs the record for a tribute, Comic Book Guy raises the price to $500. Bart happens to have $500 from a lawsuit settlement, and when he sees how upset his sister is, he buys the record for her.
- Parodied on another episode - Marge suggests they send an embarrassing celebrity photo to a tabloid offering "$$$" for them, because as luck would have it, they need to pay a bill which totals "$$$".
- The inverted version is found in the Futurama episode "A Fishful Of Dollars": Justified in that Fry bids his entire $4.3 billion fortune on a single can of anchovies.
- An inversion is found in the "Cartmanland" episode of South Park. Cartman inherits a million dollars, and buys a failing theme park with the intent to keep it all to himself. He lets other people in so that he can cover maintenance costs, and the park becomes a huge success. Cartman sells the park back to the original owner, angry that he can no longer have the park to himself. He ends up not only coughing up the million dollars for taxes he owes and a lawsuit settlement for Kenny's family (since Kenny's death this episode happened on one of Cartman's roller coasters), but he even ends up owing several thousand dollars.
- A more straight example occurs in an earlier episode where Cartman needs $3,000 for the paternity tests to find his father. The other 3 kids just send a videotape showing Cartman having a girly teaparty with his toys to Americas Funniest Home Videos, to win the $10,000 grand prize, but they end up with the second prize instead after already promising to pay for Cartman's test if they win. Guess what the second prize is.
- The "Spidey Goes Hollywood" episode of Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends has Spidey agreeing to act in a movie for the exact amount Aunt May needs to pay the mortgage this month (as opposed to say, enough to pay off the whole mortgage).
- Then again, unless Peter is willing to tell Aunt May he's Spidey, he'd probably have to come up with some excuse to justify suddenly having that much money.
- The Looney Tunes short "The Ducksters" has Daffy Duck playing a sadistic radio quiz show host and Porky Pig as his much-suffering contestant. Once he wins the prize, Porky calls up the station owner and asks his price for the station. As it turns out, it's the exact amount of the prize money to the cent. Cue demonic grin and switching of roles.
- Spider-Man: The Animated Series: When J. Jonah Jameson offered a thousand-dollar-bonus for the first one to bring him a photograph of The Lizard, Peter was thinking about the stuff he could buy with the money until he learned Aunt May will need almost all of it to pay her bills.
- A non-money example: Back at the Barnyard features an episode where the cast needs an appendix. Cut to a shot of The Appendix Cup, a golf tournament with a prize of one appendix.