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Pottery Barn Poor

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It was rather idyllic, the sort of house you read about in a romance story, with mossy stones, overgrown ivy, and trellises covered in roses. The sort of house a young woman and her sisters move to after their situations are reduced, but the reader is left confused, because it's a charming, beautiful house that anyone would be happy to have—so it's a wonder why the protagonists are moaning about the size of the sitting room, or lamenting over the parlor being too small to fit a piano.

You're watching a movie or sitcom series. The characters are in their spacious home with their nice new, trendy furniture. They have a TV, computer and car from this year... 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) in the show or story, but the decor of their house does not remotely match their claims. Nothing is cheap, nothing is worn and grimy 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 and products from electronics companies, 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 hairstylists, plastic surgery, and teeth whitening, but they are supposed to be poor, 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 few 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, Unlimited Wardrobe, and "Friends" Rent Control. Compare First World Problems and Perpetual Poverty. Contrast Horrible Housing, when poor people live in bad living conditions. For a realistic depiction of poverty, see Kitchen Sink Drama.


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    Comic Books 
  • Robin: Lampshaded when Jack Drake falls into a depression and refuses to even leave his room or talk to his wife or son after being forced to declare bankruptcy and give up Drake Industries — forcing his wife and son to do all the paperwork — acting like he has been made destitute by his financial blunders, even though he is living in a ritzy apartment, located in an expensive downtown Gotham neighborhood. Dana points out that they are still well off, while he mopes about being broke.
  • All-New Ultimates: Jessica is short of money and must live off one dollar pizza, but still lives at a huge apartment, with a giant LCD TV, pieces of abstract art, etc.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Dark Knight Rises: Lampshaded. Bruce Wayne's estate is gradually losing funding due to a series of bad investments. When Bane hacks the stock exchange, he manages to splurge the last of the Wayne fortune on stagnant shares, leaving Bruce completely broke. When Bruce talks to Selina Kyle about this, Selina's immediate reaction is to scoff at how he still has a mansion to live in.
  • 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.
  • 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."
    • Justified in that the children's wealthy Great-Aunt Lady Adelaide Stitch has been supporting them all with an allowance (and has been, for years, since Cedric's income isn't enough to provide for the family), and it's only the stoppage of that that causes them to face total financial ruin.
  • 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 (who drives a classic convertible) could afford to buy him a Porsche, but he thinks that a boy's first car should be a piece of crap. At the end of the first movie, though, they get an unknown but probably quite large amount of hush-money from the US government, which helps with sending their son to Harvard, remodeling their house, and going to France for a vacation.
  • The Young Victoria: Lampshaded by Princess Victoria's mother, the Duchess of Kent: She claims 17 additional rooms in a palace that are admittedly empty, but which she still has no right to, and her daughter openly calls her on it:
    Duchess: "Are we to live like rabbits crammed in a hutch!?"
    Victoria: "We do live a palace, mama, we're a lot better off than most people."

  • House Ladrian in The Alloy of Law is deep in debt, and Wax refuses to sell the family manor because it would put the servants out of work. Wax is frustrated when the mansion has new electric lights installed; while he doesn't want them and couldn't afford them now, they were commissioned when the house wasn't poor, making it an expense he can't cancel.
  • Exaggerated to the point of Lampshading in the D.H. Lawrence short story "The Rocking Horse Winner". The family is middle class and lives in a big, nice house with paid help, but the protagonist's mother still perceives them as poor because they're not as successful as their neighbors or relatives, and all the children are aware of the constant whispers of, "There must be more money!" The family is also in considerable debt due to keeping up such an expensive lifestyle, but it seemingly never occurs to them to just live a little more modestly.

    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 apparent "Friends" Rent Control, that is). The trope was literally applied in one episode, when Rachel, with apparently enough disposable income to nonchalantly buy numerous pieces like a $500 apothecary coffee table, buys up enough Pottery Barn furniture to warrant Ross comparing her living room to "page 72 of the catalog."
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • One of the problems with the audience trying to connect with Byron and his telepathic followers in season 5 of Babylon 5 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. Not to mention that they received this space at the expense of other, presumably even more impoverished inhabitants of Down Below who were forced out of it. 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.
  • Beck in You (2018) managed to live in a spacious New York apartment and hang out with her upper-class friends despite having student loans and being unemployed at least twice. Averted with Joe, who works at a bookstore and lives in a smaller apartment where his neighbors are both victims of domestic abuse.
  • My Cat from Hell: The owners of Missy & Fluffy from Season 10 don't get Missy spayed because "it's expensive." They live in Redondo Beach, California (within walking distance of the ocean), where average house prices are well over $1 million.

    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.
  • EarthBound: Pokey's father Aloysius Minch mentions he loaned a lot of money to Ness' dad ("It may have been a hundred thousand dollars or more...") and was never repaid so his family lives in poverty now. In a house bigger than Ness' and after coming back from dining in a fancy restaurant.

    Web Original 
  • This Cracked article talks about the extensive use of this trope in '80s teen movies, such as Pretty in Pink and Some Kind of Wonderful. #1 discusses how in Pretty in Pink, Andie's home is a comfortable middle-class style rather than a mansion, and the pink car her parents bought her has a dent in it. She's so poor compared to... the very very rich kids she goes to school with.

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons have a long history with this trope. The eponymous family's financial situation is often implied to be very poor on account of Homer usually being the sole breadwinner, but they live in a large four-bedroom house with an attached garage, own two cars, their family of five is usually able to be fed and clothed no problem, and they can afford to go on vacation frequently. This 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. Some episodes then deconstruct this by showing this is all surface-level comfort; on various occasions, the house is falling apart, the cars have no insurance (and may also be falling apart), Marge engages in various tricks to stretch the family's resources without anyone realizing, and Homer relies on loans and credit to pay for things and is on the verge of bankruptcy due to his debts. (There's also the complication that the show is such a Long Runner that cost-of-living increases mean in the latest seasons Homer realistically couldn't afford a tiny fraction of what he could afford for his family in the earlier seasons.)
  • Superman: The Animated Series: In "Monkey Fun", Lois complains that she lives in a tiny apartment, but throughout the series (including that episode), her apartment is depicted as being a spacious, multilevel penthouse. Lois was likely invoking the trope in self-defense, at the time, she was trying to not take Titano the chimpanzee home from S.T.A.R Labs.
  • Very common in Barbie movies.
    • In Barbie: Princess Charm School, if it wasn't for the malfunctioning TV, Blair's apartment looks pretty nice. It's vast, clean, with pretty pink and flowered furniture.
    • In Barbie and the Three Musketeers, the four chambermaids heroines have a large room, canopy beds, and show up inexplicably with the fanciest dresses in a ball reserved to nobility.
    • In Barbie & The Diamond Castle, Liana and Alexa are so poor, they have nothing else than jam sandwiches to eat. But they have a big cottage, canopy beds again, and even a mirror in a time they were a luxury only kings could afford.

    Real Life 
  • On her 2014 book tour, Hillary Clinton claimed with all apparent sincerity that she and her husband were "dead broke"note  when they moved from the White House into a mansion in Chappaqua, New York. This was met with well-nigh universal eye-rolling.
  • In 2019, a San Francisco family claimed they were "struggling" while earning $350,000 a year and provided a detailed budget to a financial blog. They were roundly mocked on social media for claiming maxed-out retirement accounts, college savings and charitable contributions as "expenses", while also spending $24,000 a year on preschool tuition, a hefty entertainment budget and two vacations a year.
  • In a segment for the Netflix docuseries Beckham that went viral, Victoria "Posh Spice" Beckham is shown describing both her and her husband David's families as "working class" when they were growing up. Davidnote  then interrupts the interview from an adjacent room and tells her to tell the documentary crew what kind of car her father drove her to school in. Victoria sheepishly admits it was a Rolls-Royce.