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Ms. Red Ink

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Oh, that dress would look lovely on me. And it's on sale, for only $5,000! 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. Or that anything a woman is interested in purchasing must be frivolous, and/or that women are not capable of distinguishing between "want" and "need." This is loaded with Unfortunate Implications and is fortunately falling into the realm of the Discredited Trope. 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. It was frequently assumed that her son or another male relative would take over from her late husband.)

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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 or other self-satisfactory goods. 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. Whatever the gender involved, "spendthrift" is the word of choice used to refer to these kinds of people.

This can overlap with Henpecked Husband, Trophy Wife, The Ditz, Dumb Blonde, Retail Therapy, Daddy's Girl, Spoiled Brat, Valley Girl, The Baby of the Bunch, and especially Gold Digger. It can also be a case of Most Writers Are Male and venting about this. See also Rich in Dollars, Poor in Sense. The polar opposite of this is The Scrooge who will not spend an extra penny even though they have millions, or Affluent Ascetic, who isn't as extreme in saving money as the former but still makes sure not to overspend.

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Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • In the EC Comics ShockSuspenStory "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.
  • In Archie Comics Hiram Lodge's chief complaint about daughter Veronica - aside from Archie - is the way she squanders the family fortune on chic clothes and other baubles.

    Comic Strips 
  • This sometimes appears in Blondie with the title character buying armloads of items for herself at a store, often using Dagwood's money, even if she has her own catering service.
  • Dustin: Often happens with the titular character's parents: His mother often splurges a lot of money on clothes and the like (ironically, we rarely see any of these) while his father is described to be the opposite, his credit card being mostly used by his wife... who has her own job and a credit card of her own.
  • FoxTrot inverts this trope with Closer to Earth Andy and Bumbling Dad Roger, the latter being 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.
  • Used in The Lockhorns every now and then, with Leroy making comments on Loretta's spending habits.
  • Toots and Casper had this happen every once in a while. In one occasion, the notoriously stingy Casper tells the squandering Toots to take back the new hat she had just got, also asking her to follow the example of the appropriately-named Mrs. Frugall (case in point, this example is from the 1930s-early '40s). But surprisingly, said hat was mistakenly delivered to them, being actually for the aforementioned Mrs. Frugall. It turned out that Toots had bought a much cheaper hat.
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    Films — Animation 
  • The "Rhapsody in Blue" sequence in Fantasia 2000. 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.)
  • Priceless: Deliberately invoked and lampshaded. Irene's one-night-stand with Jean, which happened in large part because he pretended to be rich, breaks up her relationship with wealthy Jacques and destroys her chance at being a Trophy Wife. Now having to start at square one, Irene the Gold Digger goes to Nice, scrounges around until she finds another rich guy, and wrangles an invitation for dinner...until Jean, who has followed her, shows up at the restaurant and ruins that too. So instead Irene invites Jean to her table at the restaurant and makes him pay for her lavish lifestyle of handbags and dresses and five-star-hotel rooms and $300 dinner entrees. When just two days of this exhausts all of Jean's meager bartender's savings, she leaves him.
  • 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.

    Jokes 
  • A successful man makes more than his wife can spend. A successful woman is married to such a man.
  • A maid runs into her lady's room, worried to death:
    Maid: Lady, your husband just dropped with a heart attack right in front of the main door! He is clutching some kind of bill in his hand!
    Lady: Great, my new furcoat has finally arrived!

    Literature 
  • Lois McMaster Bujold's novel 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 capable in business matters. Her husband, on the other hand, had no business sense at all.
  • King City: One of Wade's corrupt colleagues (who is holding his family hostage during the opening scene) goes on a rant to his wife about how it's all her fault for being such a spendthrift, pointing out how she even had the Home Shopping Network on while they were having sex.
  • In Little Women, Meg often spends frivolously on clothing or accessories when with her wealthy friend, Sally because she is ashamed that she cannot spend like Sally. This causes friction in Meg's marriage, as her husband cannot afford for her to spend this way. (It is, of course, resolved by the end of the chapter.)
  • 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.
  • Persuasion inverts the genders with Sir Walter Elliot and his late wife. She was the one who kept the finances in check; after his death, he runs the family into deep debt trying to maintain his over-inflated ideas of a baronet's standing and is forced to rent out his estate.
  • 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).
  • In Naked Came the Stranger, Marvin's wife Helene is always spending money they don't have on expensive dresses and blaming it on accounting errors. By the time his chapter starts, he has only fifty dollars left. Partly to get revenge on her, he has sex with Gillian, who completely bankrupts him in one day.
  • One of the Dear America books from the POV of a young mail-order bride has her unfamiliar with finances, credit specifically. When everyone at the company store tells the clerk to put their purchases "on the book," she assumes that's the end of the transaction. Her furious husband has to explain to her that those purchases come directly out of his paycheck, and they're now several months in debt. In a Pet the Dog moment, he does recognize that it was an honest mistake on her part and an attempt to bond with her stepdaughters.
  • In the Sherlock Holmes story "Silver Blaze", the criminal's motive is that he was being driven bankrupt by the expenses inflicted on him by his Secret Other Family - most notably his second wife's fondness for expensive clothing. Holmes figured this out when he found a milliner's bill for a twenty guinea (roughly 2,500 pounds or 4-5 thousand USD in 2020 money) dress in his effects.

    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.
  • Daredevil (2015) season 3: in a flashback to Karen's past, it's established that Karen only sticks around in Fagan Corners because her father is very irresponsible with his money and the family diner will go bankrupt if she leaves, as shown when he orders a very expensive set of grills for the diner despite them being broke.
  • Columbo: In the episode "The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case", this is the ultimate cause of the murder. Vivian's extremely expensive tastes led Oliver to first embezzle from the accounting firm and then kill his partner Bertie when he found out. When Vivian reacts to news of Bertie's murder by suggesting they take a trip, she says "I'll buy some clothes!", and a rueful Oliver grumbles "I know you will." Later a panicking Oliver tells her straight up that he's "embezzled funds!" When he shouts "Do you understand?", Vivian looks him straight in the eye and says "No, and I don't think I want to."
  • Casey Jones from Decoy was once engaged to another detective, but she broke it off after he gambled away the $200 they'd saved up for a car. They eventually made up, but he was killed shortly afterwards.
  • A variant in Castle, where Roger Masters, a one-time season 8 suspect, says that he’s in debt because of his wife’s excessive spending on a ‘’charity’’ fundraiser (albeit one where she wanted to hear her favorite author make an appearance).
    • One victim appeared to be this. One of the people they interviewed about her was her family's accountant, who noted several irresponsible purchases. Everything he namedropped turned out to be a Chekhov's Gun setup for the reveal, and then payoff for blackmail to protect the secret.
  • Penny of The Big Bang Theory is this, until she gets a better job that enables her to actually afford her tastes. At one point, when her finances are particularly bad, Leonard notes that she's paying for an expensive cable package despite not having access to TV. She also spent a few minutes agonizing over a pair of shoes she knew she couldn't afford, but wound up buying them anyway.
  • Molly Flynn is in direct line of descent from all those The '50s and The '60s sitcom wives who were incapable of handling money. her cavalier attitude to cash, her maxed-out credit cards and her spendthrift ways are the despair of stolid policeman Mike Biggs.

    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.
  • The woman described in Blu Cantrell's "Hit 'Em Up Style" spends down her boyfriend/husband's money. Unlike most examples, it's not because she's irresponsible with money or anything, but because she wants to "punish" him for cheating on her by cleaning him out before she dumps/divorces him.

    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 Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen, Torvald Helmer has a pet nickname for his wife Nora: Squanderbird. Ultimately subverted in that Nora is the one who's really on top of the household finances and has been making her own money working behind Torvald's back.

    Video Games 
  • Persona 4 has a variation where the woman in question isn't in a relationship with the man nor is she making the purchase for herself: Chie helps newly "human" Teddie pick out some rather expensive clothes at Junes, and arranges for them to be charged to Yosuke, as he works there and is the son of the manager. It comes off as particularly callous as his job is one of the few things Yosuke takes really seriously, and Chie just obliviously set him back significantly on his savings and is completely indifferent - and even a little mocking - when it's pointed out.

    Western Animation 
  • In The Flintstones, Wilma and Betty were often wasting their husbands' money, usually on clothes. "Chaaaaarge it!" was practically their Catchphrase.
  • 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.
    • An episode of Family Guy actually recreates the entire Jetson's intro up to this point, except after Jane tries to leave with the wallet, George grabs her by the arm and starts berating her.
    George: Hey hey hey hey hey hey hey hey no, no, no! No! I took this one out for you! You take this one, I keep this. You are not taking my whole wallet so you can go shopping!
    Jane: I was just gonna buy some groceries.
    George: Bull. Shit.
  • 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 pretty regularly blows money on things that immediately prove worthless: 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".
    • "Scenes From The Class Struggle In Springfield", when they are trying to join a country club, Marge ends up spending several thousand dollars on a new dress. In this case, it was due to social pressure rather than lack of money knowledge; indeed, Marge is portrayed as particularly thrifty, and all her other fancy outfits are actually a single suit with alterations she makes herself.
  • 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.
  • Kaeloo is absolutely terrible at handling money, and she normally winds up broke by the end of the episode if she ever gets any.
  • Quinn from Daria has gotten herself into trouble with her parents with her shopping habits. Most notably, in the series finale, she runs up a $700 credit card bill for a pair of faux alligator shoes, causing Helen to force her to get job so she can pay off the debt.


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