Pottery Barn Poor

You're watching a movie or sitcom series. The characters are in their spacious home with their nice new, trendy furniture... then they start talking about how hard up for money they are, or the "rich people" across town.

Pottery Barn Poor is when you see a family who are implied to be poor (or simply think they are), but the decor of their house does not even remotely match their claims. Nothing is worn from use, nothing is broken, everything looks new and out of the box. This often happens as a result of Product Placement the moviemakers can defray costs by showcasing a furniture chain's decor line, even though it doesn't make much sense to the actual poor families watching the film. The discrepancy is simply Handwaved.

If it's a sitcom, especially a long-running one, Progressively Prettier typically makes this trope even more noticeable. When the actors clearly have access to personal trainers, high-class hair stylists, and plastic surgery, it just draws attention to how nice all their surroundings really are.

This is different from realistic depictions of "secret" poverty, which may occur when a family is spending every last red cent trying to "keep up with the Joneses" and look wealthy, or when the trappings of wealth are remnants of more fortunate times. What sets this trope apart is that the reason for the discrepancy between the lack of money and the obvious wealth is never explained.

Related to Improbable Food Budget, Informed Poverty, and "Friends" Rent Control. Compare First World Problems and Perpetual Poverty.

Examples

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    Film 
  • In the film version of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Greg and Rowley go off to the "rich part of town" on Halloween because its families give away more candy, when the decor of their own houses (including Rowley's Cool Starship bed), tends to say that their own section of town isn't too badly off.
    • In the Diary of a Wimpy Kid Movie Diary book about the making of the movie, it is pointed out that Greg's pants were specifically faded to show that his clothes are hand-me-downs from his older brother, Rodrick. We can only assume that it's just the pants because all of Greg's shirts look brand new.
  • In Nanny McPhee, the family lives in a huge farmhouse complete with food animals, a vegetable garden, and servants. To quote Roger Ebert, "only in fiction could this be the residence of a man facing financial ruin."
    • The point being that this is stuff they inherited or bought while they were wealthy (thanks to a rich aunt who doesn't want to send money any more), and the father just isn't willing to sell any of it to help lighten the upkeep.
    • Also, he has seven kids, and the oldest is, what, maybe twelve? If they get rid of the servants, who takes care of the baby and other small children? Without a garden and food animals, they have to pay for the food outright - is it not likely cheaper to grow your own than try to feed 8 people on one salary? Who's going to do the upkeep of that, though, without the servants?
  • In Transformers, the Witwickys are described (by Sam's roommate) as being "poor." In truth, they're just cheap.
    • It's implied that Sam's dad could afford to buy him a Porsche, but he thinks that a boy's first car should be a piece of crap. They also have no problems sending their son to Harvard and going to France for a vacation.
  • This Cracked article talks about the extensive use of this trope in 80's teen movies, such as Pretty in Pink and Some Kind of Wonderful.

    Live Action TV 
  • Friends was based on the premise of six twentysomethings struggling to make it in New York City, even though Manhattan apartments like the ones they lived in are far from cheap (outside of shows like these, that is). The trope was literally applied in one episode, when one character decorated their apartment in Pottery Barn furniture and another one didn't like it.
    • It was averted at times, like Monica's kitchen chairs were tastefully mismatched, even more so after Joey and Chandler got robbed, and their replacement furniture were some lawn chairs, a bunny-eared antenna tv, and a canoe.
    • As the series went on, it became clear who was able to actually afford to live in the city and spend money on nice things and who could not; Monica works at some high profile restaurants as a head chef, Ross has a PhD in Paleontology and works in a museum, and Chandler works at some corporate headquarters. Rachel couldn't really afford anything (plus she lived with Monica) when she was a waitress at the coffeehouse but she was able to spend more on herself once she got a high-paying job in the fashion industry. Phoebe's job was giving people massages so her pay wasn't always stable (she then worked at a corporate owned massage parlor for a stable income). Joey's job wasn't secure either since he was an actor so jobs came and went and he didn't have a stable income until the 8th season or so. This disparity was lampshaded in the episode "The One With Five Steaks and an Eggplant" where Ross, Monica, and Chandler want to go out to a fancy place to eat for Monica's birthday, causing Rachel, Joey, and Phoebe to groan in silence because they simply couldn't afford to eat there but didn't want to make their friends feel guilty.
  • The CSI episode "Two-and-a-half Murders" had an in-universe example. The characters were investigating a murder on the set of a sitcom, and Grissom pointed out that the main character of the sitcom was supposed to be a struggling single mother and yet drove a Ferrari. Apparently the sitcom writers had tried to justify it by saying that she won it in a radio contest, but given the upkeep costs of a Ferrari (and the incredibly steep tax on prizes), this trope would still hold.
  • On Married... with Children, the Bundys are said to live in abject poverty, as the only breadwinner in the family is a retail worker earning minimum wage. And yet they live in a spacious detached house in a reasonably affluent Chicago neighborhood. While their furniture and decorations are outdated even for the time period (late '80s to mid-'90s), the fact that they can afford such a house speaks volumes, and the reason characters are constantly talking about how it's a dump is because viewers just wouldn't see it on their own.
  • How I Met Your Mother: The trope is averted when Lily is living by herself in the second season—she lives in a comically tiny apartment and is only able to furnish it with things that Barney paid for. May also be averted with Marshall and Lily: their huge credit card debt is probably the result of their spending habits. Many of the flashbacks are set in years when credit cards and home loans were frighteningly easy to get, even for people who were already in over their heads.
  • On Teen Wolf, Scott, Isaac, and Boyd have all been shown to have part time jobs to help pay the bills. Scott buys at least some of his clothes secondhand. And since Isaac moved in with the McCalls, they now have three people working in one household. Many of the other characters are stated or implied to be very wealthy. The only one that does not make sense is Stiles and his dad living off one modest salary somehow being able to afford to fix his car repeatedly when it gets totaled every other month.
    • In season 4, there is a subplot that revolves around each of the main characters falling into financial hard times. This is justified and portrayed quite realistically with the McCalls and the Stilinskis, who have very specific reasons for going into debt and are all shown to cut back on luxuries and pick up extra shifts at work to try and cover their debt. However, this trope is played straight with Lydia. Her financial difficulties are mentioned in one scene and then never again, where she breaks down in tears because her previously-wealthy family are desperately trying to sell their holiday home for the cash. Notably, during this very same episode Lydia is noted to own a $2000 laptop and a $400 bottle of wine, and she and her mother always seem to have brand new clothes, expensive makeup and styled hair throughout the season. Yeah.
  • While the Chances on Raising Hope have appropriately outdated and well-used furniture and appliances in their home for their income, it's still a surprisingly large house in a middle class neighborhood. This is justified, though, in that the house technically belongs to the Grandmother, who has owned it for decades and, before the onset of her dementia, was highly skilled in a ton of categories and held several well paying jobs.
  • The source of income of the study group in Community is almost always unclear.
    • Jeff was briefly homeless in season 1, indicating that he must not have had a lot of money saved from his lawyer days. However in later episodes, his financial status was fine (in a season 2 episode he was offered consulting work from his old law firm) and he was shown living in an apartment.
    • Britta was repeatedly established as poor and she was the only study group member seen with a job, though she got fired by the end of that episode. She also lived in an apartment.
    • Troy lived with his father but got kicked out and lived with Pierce. In the third season, he lived with Abed together in an apartment but with no source of income indicated.
    • Abed lived on campus for two seasons before moving in with Troy into an apartment. He actually did go into debt with a celebrity impersonator company, revealing he had no source of income. Abed seemed to have depended entirely on his parents until arriving at Greendale, and it's possible that his father still pays for his bills.
    • Annie's financial situation was actually a point in an episode. A recurring claim in season 2-3 is that she lived in a bad neighborhood with her family cutting her off. At one point, she ran so low on money that she is forced to accept a bribe from Pierce. She did say she planned to get a job but this was never elaborated on. In season 3, she began to live with Troy and Abed.
    • Shirley as a single mother presumably received child support from her ex-husband Andre. They got back together and she attempted to start her own business with Andre implied being the breadwinner.
    • Pierce has plenty of money from his company and is heir to his father's fortune.
  • Averted with Roseanne. A great deal of the show focused on the family living on the edge of poverty. The furniture was all old and worn, Dan and Roseanne lament that their bedroom isn't big enough for a king size bed, and they receive hand-me-down furniture from time to time. One of the first things Roseanne does when she wins the lottery is redecorate the house.
  • One of the problems with the audience trying to connect with Byron and his telepathic followers in season 5 of Babylon5 was that the entire group, in contrast to the telepath runaways from season 2, or the regular citizens of the ghetto of Down Below, was that they were all immaculately dressed, had excellently styled hair at all times, and were somehow able to afford rather luxurious decorations to spruce up their section of Down Below. Their complaining about their struggle and discrimination from mundane(non-Telepathic) humans came off as First World Problems instead of a desperate underclass trying to survive.

    Video Games 
  • In Dragon Age II, even when Hawke and Co are mostly poor in Act 1, they seem to have pretty nice places - Gamlen's hovel is surprisingly large, and while there's talk about how dirty it is none of said dirt seems to actually be visible, and Merrill's lodgings in the Alienage (effectively a ghetto for elves) are quite spacious and clean.

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons have a long history with this trope. The eponymous family's financial situation has been implied to be very poor during numerous occasions, but they still appear on the surface to be an average family that owns a house and two cars. This double standard is heavily lampshaded in "Homer's Enemy", where Frank Grimes sheds light on the fact that a perpetual screw-up like Homer Simpson still somehow has enough resources to live an upper-middle class lifestyle. Although later it's shown that it's just a surface, the house is breaking apart, the cars has no insurance and Homer is putting everything on an HELOC and had the plan of declaring bankruptcy to cancel his debts.

    Real Life 

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/PotteryBarnPoor