Sometimes the obstacle to marriage is just plain money: The man cannot earn enough — or have an independent source of income — to support a family. This trope has a long history — mostly in settings where a woman leaves her parents' home for that of her husband, but also where single adults can live in dormitories and the like, but living in a residence of your own is expected for married couples.
This can be combined with Parental Marriage Veto: The parents ban the marriage until the man can find a position where he can earn enough to sustain himself and his would-be bride. The plot may also revolve about wheedling a settlement out of either set of parents sufficient to support a household. In other situations, it is the practicalities of money enough to get a place to live that rule.
How much money is needed depends on the situation. Usually the woman is expected to hold out for a life equal to her parents, but in some situations, escaping penury — and hunger — may be all that is required. It may also be urged that "two can live as cheaply as one", and that the woman, if a good housekeeper, can ensure that her husband's expenses go down; Feminine Women Can Cook, for instance, instead of his having to buy ready-made meals. If the heroine becomes a Fallen Princess, her parents may be much more open to a poor suitor, since he is no longer poorer. By contrast, an Impoverished Patrician may want his daughter's suitor to be richer than him, in order to give her the life her parents have failed to. Many a Self-Made Man has carried it off in order to marry a woman.
Defying this trope is often unwise. Perhaps they will manage — either he can become the Self-Made Man or they can live happily on less than her parents' opinion — but it can also lead to a marriage becoming unhappy due to constant conflicts over money, and sometimes to injury, illness, or even death owing to privation. Many a rich man's son, disinherited, has learned the hard way that he has no useful skills to support even himself.
If one of the couple is willing to settle for less money than the other, it may be a warning sign of Wrong Guy First — especially if the other insists on servile behavior toward relatives who can make a settlement. Screw the Money, I Have Rules! may chase off the wrong guy.
Unexpected Inheritance is a common Deus ex Machina, making him a Suddenly Suitable Suitor. Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder and Old Flame Fizzle are both possible if he leaves to make his fortune — and so is I Will Wait for You and You Have Waited Long Enough.
As-is it's a Forgotten Trope in modern 21st-century settings, but can be played with the twist that it's the woman's own job that pays better than the man's leading to his insecurity in his manhood.
- In Hayate the Combat Butler, Hayate believes he must pay off his debt (that his truly awful parents foisted on him) before he can consider romance and relationships.
- In Maison Ikkoku Godai could barely support himself for the longest time, so this very much came into play.
- In A Bride's Story, Ali mentions that he plans to get married once he has a stable income.
- In Spice and Wolf, one of Lawrence's motivations for trading is to earn himself enough money to get married. In addition, one person he asks for money when he's in dire straits refuses him because he's running around with a woman, and so he can apparently afford more than he's letting on.
- Several of Junji Ito's protagonists run into this problem. In one case the father was continuing to deny it even from the afterlife.
- In Hajime no Ippo, Eiji Date is a boxer married to Aiko, a woman from a rich family. While his wife's father and younger brother liked Date as a person, they feared that he wouldn't be able to provide for Aiko, who on top of it is an Ill Girl. After a harsh deal where not only he loses a fight for a World Championship but Aiko suffers a miscarriage, he retires from boxing and gets a stable job in an office, much to the relief of her family. And to Aiko's worry, since she soon realizes that Date is a natural fighter and that he's giving up on his dreams for her sake. After they have a healthy son, Yuushi, she confronts him about it and urges him to return to the ring.
- This trope was apparently still extant in The '60s since an early Spider-Man issue had Peter try to negotiate steady (rather than freelance) employment out of J. Jonah Jameson so that he could afford to propose to his girlfriend. Neither the promotion nor the relationship ended up panning out, alas.
- A staple of fairy tales has a poor man try to win the hand of a princess (or otherwise high-born or rich girl), only for her father to refuse to give permission unless the man can prove he has the means to keep the girl in the life of luxury she was used to living in. This usually comes by the father demanding the suitor build a house as fine as his own, which the suitor manages using some magic item or another.
- In "The Wooden-Clog Maker and the King's Daughter", the clog maker and his beloved do not have enough to marry. He receives a peach pit that grows into a tree that will give peaches in the middle of winter to help him.
- In Our Miss Brooks, the the cinematic grand finale of the series of the same name, Mr. Boynton is hoping for an increase in salary so he'll be able to marry (and support) fellow teacher Miss Brooks. It turns out to unnecessary. Mr. Boynton buys a house and marries Miss Brooks, although he doesn't receive the promotion in the film.
- This happens to Westley and Buttercup in The Princess Bride.
Westley had no money for marriage. So he packed his few belongings and left the farm to seek his fortune across the sea.
- In Psycho, Sam Loomis won't marry Marion Crane because he's broke and can't support her. This is why Marion steals the $40,000.
- In Fury (1936), Joe can't support a wife, which is why Katherine leaves town to find a better job. Joe makes good with the gas station and sets out to reunite with Katherine, only to be tragically interrupted.
- In Cafe Setareh, Ebi's inability to support Salomeh is what motivates him to steal Fariba's jewellery, which he gets arrested for.
- Played with in A Knight's Tale. When William's false-knighthood is about to be publicly revealed, his noble-born love interest asks him to run away (rather than see him arrested and possibly executed) and insists they can live a happy life together as peasants. He refuses, mostly because he now sees himself as a TRUE knight, but also because it would mean lowering her to living like a peasant "with the pigs inside the house in winter". If he can't successfully raise himself to her level of society, he won't allow her to lower herself into his.
- In The Marrying Kind, Chet Keefer doesnt have a job due do an injury, and his wife Florence has to get one. He, of course, didnt want her to, but there was nothing else they could do. Mind you, this is during the 1950s when the norm was that the husband holds the job while the wife manages household affairs.
- In the works of Jane Austen:
- In the Back Story, Wentworth had not saved anything from his naval career, which meant he was entirely relying on his position to enable him to marry. This is what led Lady Russell to talk Anne out of the engagement. In the current day of the novel, he has saved enough and is well-off. Indeed, at the very end, he realizes that if he had written to Anne a year after their engagement was broken when he had made a promising beginning to a fortune, they could have reconciled then.
- Charles Hayter is trying to secure a position to enable him to marry Henrietta.
- The reason Captain Benwick and Fanny Harville were still only engaged at the time of her death was that his promotion did not come before then.
- Sense and Sensibility, Colonel Brandon's generosity and a reconciliation with Edward's mother are needed for Edward and Elinor to marry.
- Pride and Prejudice:
- Famously inverted from the opening line: inability to support a wife is the only acceptable motive for not marrying.
- Played straight: Wickham's early attentions to Elizabeth are decried because they do not have money between them. Mrs. Gardiner warns Elizabeth not to get too close to Wickham because he won't be able to support a wife.
- Colonel Fitzwilliam is careful not to let his flirtation and friendship with Elizabeth develop into anything more because he's a second son who will inherit no family estate, and Elizabeth has only a very small dowry.
- Mansfield Park, Fanny's mother foolishly did not heed this and married a poor sailor, and their family life suffered as a consequence.
- Northanger Abbey,
- Isabella comments on the income that James's father could settle on them, and assures them it is just that she can not bear to think of her husband living on little. The Morlands actually have some money and respectable position, but they have a very large family.
- The Happy Ending is brought about because a man who long loved Eleanor inherited a title and so could maintain a wife, which made her father so happy that he agreed to let Henry marry Catherine.
- Love and Freindship, Edward's sister puts her thumb on the problem of his rash marriage.
"But still, I am not without apprehensions of your being shortly obliged to degrade yourself in your own eyes by seeking a Support for your Wife in the Generosity of Sir Edward."
- In the Perspective Flip novel Mr. Darcy's Diary, which explores Pride and Prejudice from Darcy's point of view, this is given as the reason why Darcy helps Wickham get a new position in the military. Wickham says he has to have some kind of post in order to support a wife, so if Darcy wants him to marry Lydia, he'd best help.
- In Poul Anderson and Gordon R. Dickson's second Hoka story, Alex wants to marry but can't on his meager salary.
- In Poul Anderson's "The Corkscrew of Space", Magarac, before the "Dear John" Letter, had gone to Mars to make the money.
- In Poul Anderson's "Critique of Impure Reason", Janet tries to soothe Tunny with the suggestion that they could live in her salary; Tunny rejects the notion, Janet calls him medieval, and Tunny says he can be very medieval.
- A Christmas Carol:
- Scrooge berates his nephew Fred for getting married even though he wasn't exactly rolling in money. Fred's response, when asked why he got married anyway, was "Because I fell in love!" Two film adaptations - the 1910 silent Edison Studios version and the 1938 MGM version take this further and have Fred in love but not married yet because he can't afford it. At the end of these versions, Scrooge makes Fred his business partner, which will let him earn enough to support a wife.
- Ebeneezer Scrooge initially didn't marry his girlfriend because he wasn't established yet in his career. After a few years, though, she became upset by his obsession with having enough money and left him.
- In Charles Dickens' The Pickwick Papers, Pickwick, talking to his landlady, asks whether it's true that two can live as cheaply as one — because he's thinking of hiring a manservant. She takes it as considering whether this trope applies and so a marriage proposal.
- In the works of P. G. Wodehouse, this occurs very, very, very frequently. The plot often involves a Zany Scheme to gain the favour of some wealthy relative who can then give the protagonist an allowance to support his intended.
- In Uneasy Money, Bill's poverty means he and Claire can't marry. Claire is quite unpleasantly explicit about his need to get some.
- In Money in the Bank, Lionel insists on keeping their engagement secret so he can wheedle money out of this aunt.
- One of the Jeeves and Wooster stories. A friend of Bertie Wooster's has two problems with his intended bride: firstly he can't support her, and second, he is an upper-class gentleman and she is a waitress, and his rich uncle (where the money has to come from) will never agree to the marriage. Jeeves arranges for the rich uncle to be read romance stories in which aristocrats marry commoners, to soften his heart. This works... and the uncle marries his own cook, meaning he now needs the money to support a wife and can't give an allowance to Bertie's friend. By an extraordinary coincidence, it turns out that the friend's intended bride was the same young person whom Jeeves himself was involved with.
- In Jill the Reckless, Mrs. Barker is familiar with this trope from romance reading but notes that Derek has his own money, so she is not sure why his mother can interfere. Barker has to explain the My Beloved Smother and Momma's Boy dynamic involved.
- In "Jeeves Takes Charge", the story where Bertie hires him, Bertie is faced with a dilemma: Florence won't marry him unless he steals his uncle's memoirs, to keep them from being published, and he's dependent on that uncle for his money.
- It is central to the plot of Margaret Oliphant's The Perpetual Curate that he is in love and can't marry.
- Part of the Tin Woodman's backstory in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. He loved a Munchkin girl, and she promised that she would marry him when he had earned enough to build her a proper house. The old woman the girl lived with didn't like that idea, and she got the Wicked Witch of the East to sabotage his efforts, which led to him becoming tin so he had no heart and couldn't love.
- Robin McKinley's Beauty: A Retelling of Beauty and the Beast:
- Beauty's sister Hope is in love with a man who wants to leave the city and become a blacksmith, which would never let him get money enough for a wealthy merchant's daughter. When their family is ruined, he pays his suit and tells her father that they can all come and live at the house he can get. (It helps that the girls' father likes him anyway, and might have consented to the match regardless.)
- The other sister Grace's fiancé is a sailor who sets out on a voyage to make his fortune so he can better provide for her. Unfortunately, his ship goes down in the storm that destroys most of the merchant's fleet and he's presumed dead, until Beauty learns with help from the Beast that he's still alive.
- Aubrey/Maturin series: In the second and third novels, Mrs. Williams does not permit her daughter Sophie to marry Jack Aubrey until he can prove that he is able to support her. Luckily for Jack, Sophie resists all attempts to marry her off to someone else until he earns a fortune from the East India Company.
- In Stephen Hunt's Secrets of the Fire Sea, Jethro explains he had been engaged to Alice Gray but lost his living, making it impossible.
- At the end of The Curse of Chalion, Cazaril, being landless and having just been replaced as Iselle's secretary, cites this among a number of other protests when he is betrothed to the new Royina's lady-in-waiting Beatriz. Iselle simply points out that she is making the post of Chancellor a salaried position... whereupon Cazaril starts suggesting useful candidates.
- Gene Stratton-Porter's Freckles
- McLean believes that Angel and Freckles's romance is doomed in part because she is of a wealthy family, and he has nothing.
- In the Back Story, Freckles's father hit the problems caused by ignoring it.
"It was slow business, because he never had been taught to do a useful thing, and he didn't even know how to hunt work, least of all to do it when he found it; so pretty soon things were going wrong. But if he couldn't find work, she could always sing, so she sang at night, and made little things in the daytime. He didn't like her to sing in public, and he wouldn't allow her when he could HELP himself; but winter came, it was very cold, and fire was expensive."
- Dorothy L. Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey novels:
- Clouds of Witness: Denver had been able to dismiss Goyles because he couldn't support Mary or any other wife, and while he would have been willing to live on Mary's money, she doesn't get it without her brother's approval of the match.
- The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, the aged General Fentiman's original will left his married grandson George what little money he had because his older brother Robert wasn't married and had his commission. Then the old General finds himself the heir to a large fortune. By now George has become a Shell-Shocked Veteran and his grandfather seriously considers leaving half the money to his wife Sheila instead. Robert later explained that he found the old General's body when he was coming back to point out to his grandfather that leaving the money to George so that he could support his wife might help stabilize him.
- Unnatural Death, when recounting the Dawson family history, the Old Retainer explains that when they lost their money, Mr. Stephen was thrown over by his rich fiancee.
- Her Father's Daughter: Donald's mother urges him not to ask Linda to marry him for this reason.
"Oh good Lord," cried Donald, "'marry!' How could I marry anyone when I haven't even graduated from high school and with college and all that to come?"
"That is what I have been trying to tell you," said his mother evenly. "I don't believe you have been thinking about marriage and I am absolutely certain that Linda has not, but she is going to be made to think about it long before you will be in such financial position that you dare.
- In Patricia A. McKillip's "The Kelpie", inverted. Ned confesses to being rich, which is what makes Emma wonder that he's not married.
- Briefly mentioned in The Belgariad. A talented journeyman glassblower gives Garion a beautiful glass sculpture to present to his Aunt Pol. He admits that the reason he's doing this is because if people in the court see the King's aunt in possession of one of his works, they might commission some work from him themselves, and he needs commissions if he wants to be able to open his own shop, which he has to do before he can seriously court his master's daughter. When he's next seen, he's succeeded in becoming a master with his own shop, though whether or not he got the girl isn't mentioned.
- In John C. Wright's Titans of Chaos, at the climax, Victor reveals his love for Amelia; he had wanted to wait until he had more to offer than himself, but the danger is too great.
- In Anthony Trollope's Ayala's Angel, this is the main problem for Ayala's sister Lucy and her suitor Isadore Hamel, a sculptor who refuses to compromise his principles to make money, despite the attempts of Lucy's uncle to convince him to do so. He's ready to marry her despite his lack of money; though Lucy's sensible uncle prevents this until Ayala's suitor gives him some money and he achieves some more success.
- In Patricia C. Wrede's Frontier Magic novel The Far West, Roger explains he can not ask Eff to marry him because the expedition will be years, but he will be able to support a wife at the end of it.
- In the 1632 series, a recurring theme is the uptime Americans coming to grips with how big a deal this is for downtimers. The short story "To Dye For" deals with this specifically when Tom "Stoner" Stone falls in love with a local woman. He's an aging hippie with a heart of gold and no interest in money. His love interest would be happy to live on his commune with him, but her father forbids the union solely because of Tom's financial status. This triggers him to use his uptime chemical knowledge to build the world's only synthetic dye industry, winning her father over (and ultimately becoming one of the dozen or so richest men in Europe).
- Prominent in Gone with the Wind after the war. Alex Fontaine wants to marry Dimity Munroe, but honor prevents him from asking her until he can support her. Frank Kennedy holds off on marrying Suellen for the same reasons. Scarlett at one point bemoans that there will be a lot of old maids in the South because of this trope.
- In Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, when Mr. Norrell arrives at his first party in London, he overhears a man telling a woman how he persuaded one young woman to give up her true love for a wealthy man: first he introduced her to the charms of fine (and expensive) jewelry, then he got her penniless love to gamble, so he was deeply in debt — and pointed out to him that a man with no money was one thing, but one in debt was another.
- In Stephanie Burgis's A Most Improper Magick, Sir Neville and Mr. Collingwood are brothers, but since Sir Neville inherited all, he's the only eligible one.
- Shows up a few times in Rudyard Kipling's short stories—particularly Plain Tales from the Hills, explaining why a particular character came to India or giving him additional motivation to distinguish himself there.
- In Heart of Darkness, Marlow speculates that this is why Kurtz went to seek his fortune in Africa:
"I had heard that her engagement with Kurtz had been disapproved by her people. He wasn't rich enough or something."
- In Jo's Boys by Louisa May Alcott, Daisy's mother Meg opposes to Daisy marrying Nat because she fears he plays this trope straight, what with him being a poor orphan turned into a struggling musician. Once Nat makes a name for himself in music, Meg relents.
- Journey to Chaos: When Eric talks about how he wants to get stronger and advance through the ranks of his guild, Tasio quotes this trope to tease him about his crush on Annala. Eric denies this is the case.
- In And Then There Were None, this leads to the death of a child. You see, his governess was in love with the child's uncle, who was in this position because of the child's existence. With the child out of the way, the uncle would inherit the family fortune and be able to marry the governess. She did fail to factor in that the uncle genuinely loved his nephew...
- In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Remus Lupin cites his poverty as a reason why he can't marry, albeit not the major one. All of his friends unite with his beloved to say he should, and he yields.
- Kide, the protagonist of Pavane In Pearl And Emerald, is unable to support a wife in spite of being a lord at the Coral Palace. He's been trying to marry the princess for years before the book starts since as an heiress the princess would be able to support herself and any children she has.
- In A Brother's Price, women must have enough money to pay the sisters of one of the rare men the eponymous "Brother's Price", and support the husband. As all the sisters in a family usually share one husband, this is doable for most, but Jerin's former teacher is still overjoyed that she and her sisters can finally afford a husband.
- Towards the end of Dodger, the main character invokes this on himself: he can't propose to Simplicity while he's a tosher (a job involving scrounging for lost valuables in storm drains and sewers, which has a decidedly irregular income and low life expectancy). Fortunately, by the time he makes this decision, he'd also acquired the contacts necessary to find a more respectable (and better paying) career for himself.
- On one episode of Bonanza, a local businesswoman asks Little Joe for help. She wants to marry a nebbishy but sweet-natured man who loves her, but he feels that it wouldn't be right to propose to a woman who has more money than he. She gives Little Joe a large sum of money and tells him he should use it to buy a supposedly worthless plot of land from her beloved. After a pair of unsavory fellows get involved, silver is discovered and hilarity ensues.
- Occurs in The Wire season 2 with Nick Sobotka and his girlfriend Ashley; the two can't afford to get a place together.
- The trope name is jokingly referenced in Gilligan's Island. A rather large native island girl wants to marry Gilligan. Before her parents approve, he must pass a series of tests, including demonstrating the ability to lift and carry her. He falls. She lands on top of him.
Gilligan: (in a pained voice) Skipper... I don't think I'm going to be able to support this wife!
- The legend of the Lovers of Teruel is kicked off when Diego leaves his beloved Isabel to gather the fortune he needed to be able to marry her...
- The XTC songs "Love on a Farmboy's Wages" and "Earn Enough for Us" are about couples trying to defy this. They might as well be the trope's theme songs.
- Flanders and Swann: The singer in "The Youth of the Heart" wouldn't marry his sweetheart until he'd earned enough to support her... by which time, she'd married someone else.
- In Rudyard Kipling's "The Post That Fitted", Sleary, while engaged to Carrie, proposes to another woman whose family can get him a post, and then persuades her to call it off by feigning epilepsy.
Certainly an impecunious Subaltern was not a catch,
But the Boffkins knew that Minnie mightn't make another match.
So they recognised the business and, to feed and clothe the bride,
Got him made a Something Something somewhere on the Bombay side.
Anyhow, the billet carried pay enough for him to marry —
As the artless Sleary put it: — "Just the thing for me and Carrie."
- In Oklahoma!, Will gains some money and bids on Annie's lunch to prove he has it; her father points he just spent it and so is a too poor suitor again; Ali Hakim desperately outbids him to escape marrying her himself.
- In Why Marry?, why Ernest can't marry Helen.
Theodore: See here! When are you ever going to marry?
Ernest: When am I ever going to get more than two thousand a year?
- A sad and — unusually — gender-flipped occurrence can be found in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim with a bit of looking: there's a man called Ranmir drinking by himself in Winterhold after his fiancee disappeared, seemingly having run off with another man. The innkeeper, worried about the man, asks the player to try and find out what happened to Ranmir's fiancee. It turns out that she left to try and find a valuable artifact to make enough money to support both of them, but was killed before she found it.
- In Papers, Please, if you can't make enough money to keep even one member of your family alive, the government fires you from your job as border control, ending the game.
- In Love Nikki - Dress Up Queen, Zhong Lizi is a Self-Made Man who seriously fears that he won't be able to provide for his girlfriend Bai Jinjin (who comes from a very rich family). He even considered breaking up with her and leaving for a while, then returning only after he's made a name for himself. Her response was running away from home to join him.
- In Amnesia: Memories, Spade World has the heroine's father cite that Ikki isn't a good match for his daughter because of this. Ikki politely informs him that he's a fourth-year university student, and already has a well-paid position ready to start in a rather well-known company upon graduating.
- Gender-inverted in The Royal Trap due to its unique take on Heir Club for Men: while men rule, women inherit and pass control of their lands to their husbands, meaning that direct sons have no inheritance on their own and must marry into power. This is why protagonist Madeleine is initially so resistant to the idea of a Childhood Friend Romance with Oscar; as the second daughter of a minor noble house, she has no inheritance of her own to fall back on, and all of her income comes from Oscar's parents paying her to make their son worthy marriage material in the eyes of a princess. In most routes this results in Madeleine letting Oscar down gently, not wanting him to give up her entire future for her, but you can choose to pursue a romance with him and eventually get a happy ending.
- A Whole Episode Flashback ofThe Simpsons tells the story of how Homer and Marge got married. Homer accidentally gets Marge pregnant, forcing them to marry. The trouble is, they're both living with their parents working dead-end minimum wage jobs. Their relationship almost falls apart because Homer can't figure out how to make enough money to support the family.
- Since the early 21st Century, a new social/economic class of people has emerged, known as the 'precariat'. This class is commonly prone to 'involuntary celibacy' and other difficulties in maintaining relationships, due to the precarious employment situation of those who are a part of it. It is worth noting that this incarnation of the trope is hardly limited to men. In Japan such people are known as 'freeters' or 'herbivore men'.
- Napoleon Bonaparte:
- The matter of money was an obstacle to a marriage project involving Junot and Napoleon's sister, Pauline (suggested at a time where both men were unemployed officers, and Bonaparte was even poorer than Junot).
- When General Junot told his friend Napoleon Bonaparte (who was then First Consul of the French Republic) of his desire to marry a charming but impoverished young lady, Bonaparte answered:
"How right you were to say that you're madly in love! And I who recommended you to marry a rich woman! After all, you're not rich."
- However, Junot subverts the trope with the following.
"Excuse me, General, but I am! Aren't you my protector?"
- Bonaparte proved him right by giving them both large sums of money.
- Jane Austen's sister Cassandra was engaged to her father's former pupil Thomas Fowle. Fowle needed money to marry, so went to the Caribbean as chaplain with a military expedition. Unfortunately, Fowle died there of yellow fever in 1797. Cassandra inherited 1000 pounds from him (a sum that gave her some financial independence), but she never married.