To survive you need a meal ticket
To stay alive you need a meal ticket
Feel no pain, no regret
When the line's been signed
You're someone else
Do yourself a favor, the meal ticket does the rest"
Basically the target of a Gold Digger. Someone the digger pretends to love for the ticket's money, power, or some other thing the digger wants. Usually, the meal ticket is wealthy, but they may simply have a dependable income that's enough that the gold digger won't have to worry about supporting themselves.
If a rich man is over 50, and the wife is under 40, this is the second most common type of fictional relationship after a May–December Romance. Shows up regularly with Ugly Guy, Hot Wife.
Modern examples usually place a man in the position of Meal Ticket, but from Elizabethan to Victorian times, it was just as likely that the Meal Ticket would be female and an heiress, with a male Gold Digger (or diggers!) in pursuit. Female examples also show up in media targeted at older women (as in the saying that older men are looking for "a nurse or a purse").
In some cases, the digger might grow to love the ticket, but it's rare. Expect fawning until the marriage, and then neglect or even abuse afterward. A happy ending is a toss-up. Male Meal Tickets have a high chance to come across the Black Widow and have their lives quickly shortened.
The trope name has slightly hazy origins; its use for an actual ticket that could be exchanged for a meal in some place goes back to the 19th century, and by the mid-20th, it was being used for someone who another person used as a source of support. "Sugar Daddy" (another bit of old slang) is an alternate term, indicating an older male Meal Ticket who supports the Gold Digger with gifts of valuable items (jewelry is always popular) or sometimes cash. Someone referred to as a Sugar Daddy isn't usually expected to marry their Gold Digger, though; the relationship is less formal than that, and may be fairly short-term.
Suffice it to say, Truth in Television, but No Real Life Examples, Please!
Compare Rich Suitor, Poor Suitor and Nobility Marries Money.
In-Universe Examples Only
- In Berserk, Princess Charlotte is this to Griffith, and in Berserk Abridged he actually refers to her as a meal ticket once.
- In Gungrave, Harry admits he needs Sherry Walken to become the head of the Syndicate. It's not clear whether he really loves her or not, until the last episodes.
- Princess Flora is the female meal ticket of Honey Honey, and rich men from all over the world show up at her birthday party to ask for her hand in marriage. It annoys her to be treated as a prize, so she tucks her diamond ring into a cooked fish and chucks it out the window, where it is eaten by a cat (Honey's kitten Mimi) on the ground. She then says anyone who can retrieve the diamond ring will marry her, which kickstarts the plot.
- Genderflipped in Speed Grapher, where the Meal Ticket of Chouji Suitengu is the local Evil Matriarch Shinzen Tennozou Subverted in that Shinzen knows she's this and tries to use it to her advantage. But she's horribly Out-Gambitted in the end, and dies.
- Kanae Ohtori in Revolutionary Girl Utena is this to End of the World/Akio Ohtori, since, as her fiancé, he's able to have control over the school and perpetuate his plan with the duels. Since the entire series is a deconstruction of prince and princess tropes, in this case, Kanae's situation represents how little power many princesses actually have when they're used this way, and late in the series it's heavily implied that Akio poisons her with the help of Anthy.
- Invoked in Lady!!. Madeleine Wavebury is a VERY rich minor noblewoman who badly wants to socially ascend, and main character Lynn's father is a high-ranked Impoverished Patrician. Naturally, George's snobbish father (who never forgave him for marrying a now-deceased Japanese woman and fathering Lynn with her) encourages him to see Madeleine as this and go the Gold Digger way. It doesn't happen in the end, but at a high prize: George's Big Fancy House must be sold out to clear the family debts.
- Hayate the Combat Butler: Battle Butler Himuro sees his master as a meal ticket.
- PandoraHearts plays with the trope: Jack Vessalius befriends Arthur Barma and uses him as a Meal Ticket, but Jack's main motive for doing this is to get closer to Lacie, a noblewoman he genuinely loves.
- In Tokyo Ghoul, Shuu Tsukiyama attempts to make himself one to Kaneki as part of his efforts to gain his trust, using his family's wealth to finance their group. Muggle Best Friend Chie teases him about this, comparing him to a dirty old man using money to charm a Hostess.
- Shimada in My Monster Secret meets love in the person of... Aizawa Ryou, an alien guy piloting a female Mobile-Suit Human who is always looking for a way to get free meals. He's the only one who doesn't notice right away what "she"'s trying to do. The problem is that Shimada's idea of a relationship with a girl is awkward at best, at worst slightly creepy, as Ryou soon discovers.
- The titular character from Yurika's Campus Life is a Socialite whose father's debts have, by the start of the story, extinguished all of his family's money, leaving her to fend off for herself. With few useful skills to make a living, she eventually decides to live the "gigolette" life, using the inexplicably efficient charm she has over other girls to take advantage of every rich student in the women's university she enrolls in. Because of this, most of the manga's chapters have a "Meal Ticket of the Week" format.
- Booster Gold's unnamed (and unseen) wife in "Formerly Known as the Justice League of America". His friend Blue Beetle chastises him for marrying for money.
- Kristoph is explicitly called one to Apollo in Dirty Sympathy, as he's not only Apollo's employer, he gives Apollo his apartment.
- In the RWBY fic Learning To Bloom, Weiss mentions this trope by name. She's always been a Dude Magnet, but all the boys just want her because she comes from a rich family. Weiss thought that Neptune was different, but he also seems to like her because she's a Schnee.
- Nappa refers to Bulma as Vegeta's "sugar mama" in Dragon ShortZ when saying that she's the one that gave the Saiyan prince both a big house to live in and a son. He's not wrong.
- When Stan is asked to help with Dipper's blossoming relationship with a girl in Universe Falls, he thinks it’s the funniest thing in the world. When he finds out that the girl who might be falling for his nephew is Pacifica Northwest (i.e the heir to the obscenely wealthy founding family of Gravity Falls) he's suddenly all board.
- With this Ring... (Green Lantern): Invoked. When private eye Jonny Double is hired to investigate the disappearance of Hal Jordan and Carol Ferris, his first -flawed- theory is Hal talked Carol into eloping because he wanted her money.
The case seemed simple enough. Carol Ferris had run off with her lover, this hotdog test pilot. Her for love, him for money. Carl Ferris didn't want the guy's hands in [his daughter's] wallet. Maybe. But maybe it wasn't that simple.
- Uncle Fester was this to Debbie Jellinsky, the villainess in Addams Family Values. She wanted the house, the wealth, and all the grotesque treasures of the family. This being the Addams Family, though, they can respect Debbie's murderous tendencies, but not her maltreatment of Fester.
- The father in The Parent Trap (1961) and The Parent Trap (1998). Why is she interested in him? "I can think of a million reasons, and they're all in the bank."
- Priceless: Central to the plot. Irene is a Gold Digger with a whole little black book filled with potential meal tickets. She finally gets a meal ticket named Jacques to propose to her, but an ill-advised one-night stand with a bartender named Jean leads to Jacques dumping her. She latches on to another meal ticket in the person of a second rich guy named Gilles. Meanwhile, Jean, who's in love with Irene and follows after, winds up himself being the boy toy of an older rich lady meal ticket named Madeline.
- In Robin Hood (2010), Robin is asked to act as Sir Robert Loxley, including with Lady Marion. So when he introduces Lady Marion as his wife to his Band of Brothers, they applaud his luck with a "Well-played, Robin!"
- This is how Lex Luthor gets back on his feet after winning a trial and getting out of jail in Superman Returns.
- Big Ben from Problem Child 2 sees his son's rich fiancee, LaWanda Dumore, as this for himself; when his son dumps her, he is then convinced to marry her instead.
- Shiva Baby: Max is Danielle's sugar daddy, while she's on a site that hooks up sugar babies with them as well. They end this arrangement later though.
- This is how Rose's mother in Titanic (1997) sees her daughter's fiance, Caledon Hockley, more for herself than for Rose.
- Thor: Ragnarok: Tom Hiddleston in this interview discloses that the Grandmaster becomes Loki's sugar daddy after the latter arrives on Sakaar.
Hiddleston: In my head, Jeff Goldblum takes Loki out to Rodeo Drive and says, 'Pick the finest fabric you can find...'
- In The Three Musketeers, Porthos has a married noblewoman as his Meal Ticket.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire, the amoral sellsword Bronn, one of the series' many Social Climbers, marries Lollys Stokeworth, younger daughter of Lady Tanda Stokeworth of Stokeworth. Lollys is considered one of the worst marriage matches among the nobility, being over 30 (in a society where highborn women are often married off shortly after flowering), and mentally disabled, along with being pregnant due to being raped by a mob. However, Bronn uses his marriage to end up becoming Lord of Stokeworth, having the men he has gathered throw Lollys' elder and childless sister Falyse out shortly after Tanda breaks her hip in a riding accident. Tanda dies soon after and Falyse dies, making Bronn one of the most powerful men in the Crownlands outside King's Landing.
- Part of the secret to Petyr Baelish's incredibly rapid rise to power from such obscure roots in the Fingers? Lady Lyssa Arryn née Tully. He's leveraged that obsession of hers like you wouldn't believe, at no small cost to himself, too. It's... messy. As in "pretty much the start of the whole plot's pile-up" levels of still-unfolding mess.
- Sherlock Holmes:
- The second story The Sign of the Four has Watson deny himself the possibility of courting Mary Marston because while he loves her he doesn't want her (or anyone) to think that he's only after the treasure they're chasing. Once the treasure is thrown into the Thames he immediately proposes and she gleefully accepts (to Holmes' chagrin).
- The final short story has an impoverished aristocrat mooching off his sister, the widow of a very rich man. She'd actually died shortly before a major horse race he was counting on to clear away his debts, and faked her still being alive long enough to win the race.
- The Bone Maker has a female example in Zera the Bone Wizard, a Retired Badass who now lives in palatial luxury with a large and ever-rotating stable of beautiful, athletic lovers. She offhandedly reassures one that she'll set him up for life in a house of his own when she tires of him. Ironically, he's the one to reveal Hidden Depths and eventually get promoted to her second-in-command.
- In Almost Perfect (2014), Benny's mom keeps skipping her visits with him. But when she reads about his and Breaker's dog show successes in the paper, she sues for custody so she can get rich off him. She even suggests that he trade Breaker for a Pomeranian that would look better on TV. Benny has spent so much time wishing his mom would want him, but now that she does, he realizes that she is fundamentally self-interested and incapable of having the relationship with him that he wants.
- Daredevil (2015): In season 3, Foggy Nelson is encouraged by his girlfriend Marci Stahl to enter the District Attorney race so he can draw public attention to Wilson Fisk's criminal activities, and interim District Attorney Blake Tower's refusal to prosecute Fisk. While Foggy is motivated by getting Fisk brought to justice, Marci is hoping to use this as a springboard to advance her own career. After Fisk is put away and Foggy drops out of the race to instead reopen Nelson & Murdock, Marci expresses mild disappointment as she was getting adjusted to the idea of being married to the district attorney.
- Game of Thrones: Walda Bolton. Not that Roose Bolton is poor, but he still chose her because Lord Walder promised the bride's weight in silver as a dowry.
- On General Hospital. After Carly miscarried Sonny's baby, her rival Liz rather cruelly suggested that losing this trope was what she was really upset about. (Sonny being the town's wealthiest and most powerful mobster).
- Interview with the Vampire (2022): Despite the fact that Louis de Pointe du Lac is independently wealthy, people gossip about Lestat de Lioncourt being his sugar daddy note , presumably due to the assumption that in an interracial relationship, the white man must be the provider, plus Louis lives in Lestat's townhouse. Antoinette Brown has heard rumours at the Azalea that Lestat does everything for Louis. Alderman Fenwick insinuates that Louis is essentially a "kept man" when he says, "your pale lover, with his seemingly endless supply of capital." Grace wants the family mansion to be under her control without having to buy it from Louis at its full value because "You and your white daddy are doing fine in the Quarter. We can't pay you what it's worth, and you don't need the money." Oddly enough, Louis doesn't dispute the speculation, and Lestat has expressed more than once that he wishes to provide for his lover ("I have all the money we need," "We don't need the money [from the Azalea]").
- A non-spousal variation occurs in the Married... with Children episode where Kelly becomes the new weather girl with an annual salary of $100,000. Al refers to her as their "meal ticket" when she is about to debut on TV, but Kelly being Kelly, she misreads the teleprompter and is immediately fired.
- Rita in Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, who dosed Lord Zedd with a love potion so that he'd marry her, forget about banishing her and let her get back to terrorizing Earth. A later episode has Zedd's Dragon Goldar try to reverse the potion's effect, only to find that they'd actually fallen for each other anyway.
- The Plot Against America: It's implied that Alvin is most interested in Minna because her father is successful. When first introducing her to his family, Alvin only talks about her father's businesses.
- Succession has two rather unusual examples:
- While Tom actually seems to love Shiv more than she does him, it's obvious that a big reason he's with her is that her family is fantastically wealthy and have given him an important job he's not entirely qualified for.
- Connor is paying a beautiful woman to date him, and she uses the money to try to start a career as a playwright. She obviously doesn't like him much and is conflicted about their arrangement. He falls in love with her and showers her with more and more money to intensify their relationship, and she finds herself unable to refuse.
- Veronica Mars: Kendall Casablancas, a young hot ex-professional cheerleader marries the elder Dick Casablancas, and when he flees the country to avoid prosecution for real estate fraud, she tries to make her casual sex relationship with her stepson's rich friend more of a sugar daddy thing, despite his being several years younger than herself. Doesn't work.
- Why Women Kill: Rita’s husband Carlo Castillo was simply a means to get wealth and status for her.
- The titular woman in Jonathan Coulton's Millionaire Girlfriend.
- The girlfriend in Tripod's Old Money.
- The Eagles' "Lyin' Eyes" is about a gold digger who regrets marrying her Meal Ticket.
A rich old man, and she won't have to worry
She'll dress up all in lace and go in style.
Late at night a big old house gets lonely —
I guess every form of refuge has its price...
- The Thompson Twins had a very peppy but rather dark song called "Sugar Daddy" about this trope. The "daddy" in question is very aware of the GoldDigger's designs and is going to make the fortune-seeker pay for it.
- Vicki Guerrero certainly played this role with Edge being the Gold Digger foil.
- The unseen husband in all versions of The Women. (In fact, he’s seen in The Opposite Sex.)
- Katherine, the "shrew" of The Taming of the Shrew, is the meal ticket. Petruchio, the gold digger, learns to love her, though. In Kiss Me, Kate, the musical adaptation, Petruchio's motives are made explicit by his song, "I've Come to Wive It Wealthily (in Padua)"
- Portia for all of her suitors, in The Merchant of Venice. Bassanio is just the one who’s somewhat less of a jerk about it.
- In Chicago, Amos Hart ("Mr. Cellophane") is the meal ticket for Roxy. In this case, he's not rich or powerful, he's simply willing to support her no matter what she does.
- In Boston Marriage, Anna is the mistress of a rich man who pays her an allowance and gives her jewelry and other valuable gifts.
- Princess Ovelia to Delita in Final Fantasy Tactics. Um... he might have grown to love her.
- Pretty much any unmarried dwarf in Dragon Age: Origins is either a Meal Ticket or a Gold Digger, due to the way their caste system works ("Poorly," as one dwarven nobleman states). Among the Casteless the only way out of poverty short of leaving Orzammar altogether is to have a child of the opposite gender by a higher caste partner. This is encouraged in Orzammar since it helps maintain the population in the face of Darkspawn attacks. A male Dwarf Noble PC can serve as a meal ticket: there's an Optional Sexual Encounter with a pair of noble hunters during the prologue, and when you return to Orzammar later in the game one of them is pregnant with his son. This sets up a minor quest to get them adopted into a noble house since the player character has been exiled and is no longer counted as a noble.
- As we find out in Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time, Bentley is seen as a meal ticket by Penelope because he's a Gadgeteer Genius; she wants him to invent weapons to sell on the black market for billions of dollars, and then she can Take Over the World — even though they already have more than enough money to last a lifetime from the Cooper Vault, and the ability to convert said vault into a museum. It just shows that Penelope is a sociopath whose greed cannot be satisfied. When Bentley learns the truth, he dumps her out of disgust.
- Wocky Kitaki in Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney.
- Rena's father in Higurashi: When They Cry is Rina's Meal Ticket. She even tries to kill Rena, when Rena threatens to reveal her scheme to con her dad out of his money, even trying to strangle her with her bare hands. Rena manages to get free, and then she murders Rina out of self-defense. Unfortunately, that was only the start of Rena's troubles.
- Sticky Dilly Buns: Amber specifically refers to Nathan as having been her "sugar daddy". (The actual affair was seen during their earlier appearances in Ménage à 3.) She definitely extracted acting jobs and eventually an apartment from him; there may have been other gifts, but they weren't shown. Nathan periodically attempts to rekindle the relationship, and uses (and may be used by) other people in a similar way.
- The "Dependapotamus", according to Terminal Lance
- For the most part, Nancy's just teasing Paul when she calls herself one, in Rhapsodies. Having said that she's the one paying in most of their dates.
- In Helluva Boss, Blitzo seduces an incredibly powerful Overlord of Hell named Stolas Ars Goetia in order to gain access to the Goetia family's Grimoire, a book that among other mysterious powers includes the ability to summon portals to the living world. Unfortunately for him, Stolas destroyed his marriage and estranged his daughter to be with him because he's so madly, madly in love, causing numerous complications for Blitzo and his company.
- Grandpa Freeman in The Boondocks episode "Guess Ho's Coming To Dinner"
- In the Mao Mao: Heroes of Pure Heart episode "The Perfect Couple", Orangusnake agrees to marry Penny after she whispers her credit score to him. He even straight-up refers to her as a meal ticket! It's somewhat justified as the Sky Pirates rarely get to eat actual food.