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[PC raises sword to Druid circle in front of the biggest tree of the forest]
PC: "O wisest elder shamans, perform the Ritual of the Flaming Blade, infuse my weapon with the power of fire, to vanquish Baron Von Evil and his minions!"
Druid: [wryly examines sword] "Seven grand. Take it or leave it"
PC: "But... I have no-"
Druid: "You some kinda retarded? Listen, kid, we got bills to pay, and we 'aint exactly running a charity here. Cough up the dough, or get out, 'fore I have Smokey here pull yer head off" [motions with head toward a rather fierce-looking Dire Bear]
The idea was actually to take out actual currencies and use some kind of material that would be necessary for the ritual to be completed.
The "currency" could just be story progress. As in, once they've gotten to the level where they would have enough money to upgrade their weapon, they instead acquire some means of upgrading for free.
Yes, basically. However, giving them a budget gives them the freedom of investing it as they wish, something the OP asked for. Do you invest this 6000 destiny points (or whatever) in making your +1 scimitar a +1 keen scimitar, or into upgrading your ring of protection +1 to +2, or do you enchant your cloak to become a +2 cloak of Charisma, then improve 6 potions of cure light to cure moderate, and save the rest for when you'll be able to upgrade your full plate to +3? That's all in your own hands.